Last updated: 22 April, 2015

Sirens sound as Israel honours its fallen

Israel marked its annual day of remembrance for fallen troops and slain civilians Wednesday, with people standing to attention across the country for two minutes while sirens wailed.

Over the past year alone, 116 security force personnel have been killed in the line of duty, according to the defence ministry.

In total, Israel remembers 23,320 servicemen killed since 1860, the year it considers to be the start of the conflict with the Palestinians, when Jews founded the first neighbourhood outside the walls of Jerusalem’s Old City.

In addition, 2,538 civilians have been killed in political violence since 1950, including 122 foreign visitors, according to National Insurance Institute figures.

Speaking at the ceremony for fallen soldiers on Mount Herzl, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu recalled the moment in 1976 when he heard his elder brother Yoni had been killed in a commando raid in Entebbe, Uganda, to free passengers aboard an Air France plane hijacked by Palestinians.

“There is nothing that can compare to the intensity of the cry from a mother and father who are told of the death of their child,” he said, recalling how it fell to him to tell his parents.

“For those of us who went through it, there is nothing that can compare to its intensity, its shockingness, its pain and its torment, and we know that the wound will never really heal,” he said.

Wrapping up a largely personal speech, Netanyahu ended with an address to everyone.

“My brothers and sisters, bereaved families… only here can we piece together the fragments into a whole. We are one family, Jews and our non-Jewish brothers: Druze, Muslims, Bedouins, Christians, Circassians.

“We share in the bad and the good, in the grief and the joy.”

– Controversy over a name –

Remembrance ceremonies began at sunset Tuesday and continue until nightfall Wednesday, when the sombre mood gives way to raucous celebrations marking 67 years since the declaration of the Israeli state in 1948.

The date is marked according to the Jewish calendar and falls on April 22 this year.

Palestinians mark the anniversary on May 15, when they commemorate the Nakba, or “catastrophe” of the creation of Israel, which sparked the exodus of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians.

On Tuesday, Israel added the name of a Palestinian teenager burned alive by his Jewish kidnappers to its memorial wall to the civilian victims, but it was later removed following objections from his family.

Haim Pitoussi, spokesman of the National Insurance Institute which administers the wall in the national cemetery on Mount Herzl, confirmed that the name of Mohammed Abu Khder, 16, had been erased.

Speaking to AFP Tuesday, Hussein Abu Khder said his son’s name had been placed on the memorial without the family’s consent.

“I am Palestinian, not Israeli, even if I am a resident of east Jerusalem, and I do not want his name written next to that of Israeli soldiers,” he said.

There are two memorial walls on Mount Herzl — one bearing the names of fallen soldiers and the other those of civilian.

New figures released ahead of Independence Day by the Central Bureau of Statistics showed Israel’s population now stands at 8,345,000.

Of that number, 6,251,000, or 74.9 percent, are Jews. Another 1,730,000, or 20.7 percent, are Arabs.

The remaining 340,000 listed as “other” comprise non-Arab Christians, members of other religions and those unclassified in the population register.

The figures include around 310,000 Palestinian residents of east Jerusalem, which Israel captured in the Six-Day War of 1967 and later annexed in a move not recognised by the international community.