Israel commemorates war dead with nationwide pause, sirens
TEL AVIV, Israel — Israel honored its soldiers and civilians killed in wars and militant attacks on Wednesday, with air raid sirens wailing nationwide for two minutes and citizens observing a moment of pause for Memorial Day.
Ceremonies and poetry readings were held at cemeteries for the over 24,000 people lost in Israel’s conflicts, before the occasion turns more festive at sundown with parties and military flyovers to kick off Independence Day. This Friday marks Israel’s 74th.
“Brothers and sisters, if we are not together, we will not be at all. We have no existence as conflicting tribes, rather, only as a varied and united nation,” Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said at the national Memorial Day service at the Mount Herzl military cemetery in Jerusalem on Wednesday. “We are all partners. We are all here together with one fate, with one mission.”
Last week, as Israel remembered the 6 million Jews killed during the Holocaust, Bennett pleaded for Israelis to refrain from fighting one another even at a time of great division in the fragile government he leads. He spoke in the context of recent tensions with Palestinians — but also from deeply personal experience.
In recent days, his family has received two separate death threats: packages that included live ammunition, demanding he resign.
Bennett said national unity is Israel’s “duty” to the fallen.
On Memorial Day, bereaved families visit cemeteries and attend memorial ceremonies, as television and radio shift programming to somber music, broadcasts of memorial services and documentaries about slain soldiers.
In the annual ritual, the sounding of a siren blast around the country brought people to a momentary halt. Pedestrians stood still in the street and motorists stopped on the highway and stood with heads bowed.
Israel has fought half a dozen wars with neighboring Arab countries, battled two Palestinian uprisings and endured scores of deadly militant attacks since its establishment in 1948. In addition to the soldiers killed in conflicts, Memorial Day honors more than 3,000 people killed in militant attacks.
The annual ritual came near the anniversary of the 11-day war with Gaza’s militant rulers, and in the midst of a recent spate of Palestinian attacks, Israeli raids in the West Bank, and clashes between Palestinians and Israeli police at a flashpoint Jerusalem holy site. The hilltop compound contains the Al-Aqsa Mosque, the third holiest place in Islam. It is also the holiest site for Jews, who call it the Temple Mount because it is the location of the biblical Temples destroyed in antiquity.
On Monday, the Palestinian militant group Hamas claimed responsibility for a shooting that left an Israeli security guard dead at the entrance of a Jewish settlement in the West Bank last week. It was the first time Hamas has claimed such an attack targeting Israelis in the occupied West Bank since 2018.