Yom HaZikaron 2023: Israel commemorates 24,000 fallen soldiers

Just hours before Memorial Day commenced, a terror ramming took place, leaving five injured and one dead


People visit soldiers' graves at the Mount Herzl military cemetery in Jerusalem on April 24, 2023, on Remembrance Day for fallen soldiers (Yom HaZikaron). - Israel marks Remembrance Day to commemorate 24,213 fallen soldiers and victims of attacks recorded since 1860 by the Ministry of Defence, just before the celebrations of the 75th anniversary of its creation according to the Jewish calendar. (Photo by Menahem KAHANA / AFP) (Photo by MENAHEM KAHANA/AFP via Getty Images)

Political leaders, bereaved families and members of the public were at cemeteries across Israel on Tuesday to remember the nation’s fallen soldiers and terror victims on Yom Hazikaron, amid concerns the political turmoil engulfing the country could mar the solemn day’s commemorations.

Memorial Day commenced at 8 pm on Monday with a one-minute siren that blared across the country, and will end on Tuesday evening with the start of Yom HaAztmaut.

Here's how Israel marked the occasion.

Bereaved Israeli father Yitzhak Nahmani grieves at the grave of his fallen soldier son Adam Nahmani, who fell in the line of duty four years ago, at the start of Memorial Day ceremonies April 22, 2007 at Mt. Herzl military cemetery in Jerusalem, Israel.

With ceremonies, services, and a two-minute nationwide siren, Israel remembered the 19,312 members of the defense forces and security services who have fallen in the line of duty to the Jewish State since its founding 53 years ago.

Sirens brought the country to a standstill in memory of the men and women who have been killed defending the land of Israel since 1860, the year that the first Jewish settlers left the secure walls of Jerusalem to build new Jewish neighbourhoods that led to the establishment of the modern State of Israel in 1948.

At 1 pm, another ceremony at Mount Herzl commemorated civilian victims of terrorist attacks.

Memorial Day events will end on Tuesday evening, giving way to the festivities of Israel’s 75th Independence Day. The abrupt switch from national grief to jubilation may be jarring for some, but it is viewed by many as celebrating the state and its achievements while remembering the sacrifices that made them possible.

At the main state ceremony in the Old City of Jerusalem on Monday night, President Isaac Herzog pleaded for unity after the siren sounded.

“This year, more than ever before, this sound calls on us, in the heart of the stillness that cries out: all of us, together! Their sacrifice has not been in vain,” Herzog said, standing in front of the Western Wall.

“May we let that feeling of longing envelop us together,” he said. “May we let that sound of our collective pain ring loudly on this Memorial Day, free of discord, as we cry for our sons and daughters.”

“We must do everything, everything, to safeguard this shared home. To argue and disagree, like always, with all the fervor and passion, but to love one another as sisters and brothers, for we are one people!”

At 8:30 am, presenters at a state event at the Mount Herzl military ceremony in Jerusalem began reading out the names of fallen soldiers, with Defense Minister Yoav Gallant and the ministry’s Director-General Eyal Zamir in attendance. The names of all of the fallen service members were being read out loud throughout the day at the site’s Remembrance Hall.

Just hours before Memorial Day commenced, a terror ramming near Jerusalem’s Mahane Yehuda market brought Israeli-Palestinian tensions at the root of the conflict back to the fore. Five people were injured, one seriously, and the driver, an East Jerusalem Palestinian, was shot and killed by a bystander.

The run-up to this year’s Memorial Day was fraught with concerns that deep divisions exposed by the government’s plan to overhaul the judiciary could overshadow the day’s rites.

Many of the coalition’s lawmakers were participating in Memorial Day ceremonies, though some bereaved relatives declared that they would be staying away from their loved ones’ graves in protest. Some visited graves on Monday instead of Tuesday.

Some relatives of fallen soldiers had urged members of the ruling coalition who did not serve in the military to nix their participation in Memorial Day events.

Main ceremonies began after the two-minute nationwide siren sounds. 

Among the events taking place Monday evening were a joint Israeli-Palestinian memorial ceremony in Tel Aviv attended by thousands, including hundreds of bereaved families from both sides of the conflict. In attendance were over 150 Palestinians who had lost family members as a result of the conflict and were allowed to receive entry permits to travel from the West Bank, after the High Court of Justice ordered Defense Minister Yoav Gallant to let them in.

IDF Chief of Staff Herzi Halevi said politics should take a backseat on Memorial Day.

“Tomorrow, we will stand in the cemeteries by the side of the [bereaved] families. I hope that on this day, which is above all, we will be faithful to our heritage and devote ourselves exclusively to solitude with the memory of the fallen and with our pain over their passing. Above all, and beyond all controversy,” Halevi said.

Fifty-nine soldiers were killed during their military service since last year’s Memorial Day, according to figures released by the Defense Ministry on Friday. Another 86 disabled veterans died due to complications from injuries sustained during their service. The numbers brought the total tally to 24,213 people who have died during service to the country since 1860.

According to the National Insurance Institute, 4,255 people have been killed in anti-Israel terror attacks since 1851, including 31 who died over the past year. Of the total victims, 740 were minors, 120 were Israelis killed abroad, and 135 were foreign nationals killed in terror attacks directed against Israelis.

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