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Israel marks Memorial Day with sirens, solemnity amid fears that politics and terror could disrupt

Leading coalition and opposition politicians reiterated calls for unity in reverence for the dead

Israelis stand still in silence next to graves of Israeli soldiers at the Mt Herzl military cemetery in Jerusalem, as a two minute siren sounded across Israel, marking Memorial Day, Apr. 25, 2023. (Photo: Erik Marmor/Flash90)

In the State of Israel, Memorial Day commemorations for soldiers and terror victims began after sunset on Monday evening with a one-minute siren sounding across the country.

On Tuesday, a two-minute siren sounded nationwide at 11 a.m. to mark the beginning of the official state memorial ceremonies at military cemeteries across the country.

The main event for Memorial Day is held at the National Memorial Hall for Israel's Fallen on Mount Herzl in Jerusalem. A name-reading ceremony for fallen soldiers began at 8:30 a.m, attended by Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, the director-general of the Defense Ministry Maj.-Gen. Eyal Zamir and representatives from the Israel Defense Forces and Israel Police.

The names of the fallen soldiers will be read continuously throughout the day.

The IDF reported that 59 soldiers have died over the past year in service to the country.

Later in the day, the main event at the cemetery will be attended by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, President Isaac Herzog, Knesset Speaker Amir Ohana, and Supreme Court Justice Esther Hayut. It will also include a flyover by Israel Air Force jets flying in formation.

A state memorial ceremony for fallen Israeli soldiers, at the National Hall For Israel's Fallen soldiers at Mount Herzl military cemetery in Jerusalem on April 25, 2023. (Photo: Arie Leib Abrams/Flash90)

Memorial Day ceremonies contain a service in memory of the victims of terror attacks, held at the Victims of Acts of Terror Memorial on Mount Herzl. That ceremony takes place at 1 p.m. in Israel.

There has been a significant concern this year that the ceremonies could take on a political nature due to the current strife over the judicial reform legislation.

Some bereaved families asked government officials not to attend ceremonies, while other families requested that the tradition of having government officials continue as usual.

Due to concern for protests, some government representatives, including Cabinet ministers, canceled their appearances at certain events.

In a ceremony at the Western Wall on Monday evening, President Herzog and IDF Chief of Staff Herzi Halevi pleaded with all groups not to bring politics into the memorial ceremonies.

“May we let that feeling of longing envelop us together,” Herzog 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,” he continued. “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!”

“Tomorrow, we will stand in the cemeteries by the side of the families," said Halevi. "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,” .

Hours before the start of Memorial Day, a terrorist car-ramming attack near Jerusalem’s Mahane Yehuda market reminded the nation why it also recognizes terror victims during the ceremonies each year. Thirty-one civilians have died in terror attacks since last year’s Memorial Day.

Despite the increased threat, during a broadcast on Tuesday morning Gallant said the nation of Israel is strong/

"If we are destined to live by the sword, then it should be held in our hand, not laid on our neck. We need to be able to defend ourselves with our own force," Gallant said.

He also said he believes Israel will continue to achieve peace with its neighbors.

"As a result of our ability to defend ourselves, I believe that we will reach many agreements with our neighbors and be able to live here, a life of prosperity and peace," he said in the interview with Israel's Kan news.

The All Israel News Staff is a team of journalists in Israel.

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