TEL AVIV (Apr. 25)
In a somber day dedicated to the memory of those who have died fighting in this country’s many wars, Israel on Sunday mourned its 17,709 fallen defenders.
The Defense Ministry said in a pre-Memorial Day statement that among the mourners were 24,682 widows, widowers, orphans, parents and children who have lost immediate family members.
The ministry said the number of handicapped people maimed in the line of duty and now cared for by the defense authorities numbers 61,649.
Israel’s Memorial Day began at 9 p.m. Saturday, when a long siren blast heralded the start of ceremonies at the Western Wall in Jerusalem, attended by President Chaim Herzog; the Israel Defense Force chief of staff, Lt. Gen. Ehud Barak; and representatives of bereaved families.
Another long blast, at 11 a.m. Sunday, marked the start of memorial services at the main military cemetery on Mount Herzl in Jerusalem and at 40 other military ceremonies in towns and villages throughout the country.
Flags flew at half-mast and restaurants and movie theaters were closed.
Yom Hazikaron — literally Day of Remembrance — honors not only fallen soldiers of the Israel Defense Force but also those belonging to the pre-state underground forces, the police, border police, and intelligence and secret services.
At the ceremony on Mount Herzl, Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin told bereaved families that Israel would do everything possible to “put an end to the killing and bereavement, and to life by the sword.”
But he warned Arab countries that Israel would agree only to real peace with real security.
MORE KATYUSHAS IN THE NORTH
Rabin said the government would devote the “coming period” to bringing peace to Israel.
“We seek peace with recognition and mutual compromise,” he said. “We must not miss the opportunities,” but, he emphasized, “we must not risk the security of the State of Israel.”
Other official speakers at the various memorial services, including Cabinet ministers and senior army officers, repeated traditional remarks that the dead had paid with their lives in order that Israel should live and remain alive.
These soldiers, they said had also hoped their sacrifices would lead to peace with the country’s Arab enemies.
This year, for the first time, there appeared to be an equal emphasis not only on the mere hope for peace, but also on the fact that concrete steps toward peace were being taken, with the peace talks resuming Tuesday in Washington.
Security had been stepped up throughout Israel in anticipation of Memorial Day.
Security was especially heavy around the northern border because of the recent Katyusha rocket attacks in the region. Rockets landed again Sunday in the border security zone of southern Lebanon, but none apparently reached Israel.
On Sunday evening, the nation switched gears to celebrate Israel’s 45th Independence Day, which always follows Memorial Day.
Torches were lit on Mount Herzl as the official day of mourning ended abruptly at 7:45.
(Contributing to this report was JTA correspondent Cynthia Mann in Jerusalem.)