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Memorial Day in Israel

At precisely 9:30 Saturday night, sirens wailed all over Israel announcing the start of Memorial Day. They sounded again at 11 a. m. Sunday when commemorative services for the 16,200 men and women who lost their lives in Israel’s wars and in terrorist attacks since 1948 began at the Western Wall in Jerusalem and at military cemeteries throughout the country.

Premier Yitzhak Shamir addressed the main observance at Har Herzl in Jerusalem. Vice Premier and Foreign Minister Shimon Peres spoke at the Mount of Olives cemetery. Defense Minister Yitzhak Rabin and Education Minister Yitzhak Navon addressed crowds gathered at military cemeteries in Tel Aviv.

All stressed Israel’s overriding desire for peace but noted that political and military circumstances made it essential for Israel to be prepared to defend itself.

Lt. Gen. Dan Shomron, the newly installed Israel Defense Force Chief of Staff, made this clear in his Memorial Day order of the day: “We have been entrusted with the mission of continuing forward on a path fraught with dangers and difficulties, to march the IDF boldly forward toward the challenges which perhaps still await us on the battlefield, and in the training, development and building of the army’s strength for the future.”

MESSAGE BY RABIN

In a message to the families of war dead and victims of terrorist assaults, Defense Minister Yitzhak Rabin stated: “Even if it will not ease your burden, I do feel the need on this painful day to reaffirm to you that there is nothing more precious to us than human life.

“In each and every decision made by us, by the IDF’s General Staff, by me as Defense Minister and by Ministers of the Israel government, the cost in blood is weighed. For me, the sanctity of life is the supreme consideration. The number of fallen exacted from us this year to maintain Israel’s security may have been smaller than in previous years, but this is no comfort to any of us.

“It is our highest obligation to do every thing in our power so that parents will no longer stand by their son’s grave, and children will not follow their father’s coffin. To the fallen and to you, the members of the families, we owe every possible effort on the long road which leads to the prevention of war and to peace.”

Memorial Day observances were similar to those a week ago in memory of the six million Jews who perished in the Holocaust. All places of entertainment, restaurants and cafes were closed for 24 hours, beginning Saturday night, a requirement of the law. Israel Radio played solemn music during the day. Documentaries and interviews were broadcast dealing with Israel’s wars.

The busiest people were florists who worked through the night preparing the countless wreaths to be placed on graves in official and private ceremonies.

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