Israel commemorates fallen soldiers during tense Memorial Day

Ceremonies nationwide pay homage to 25,000 servicemen and women who have died fighting for the country

Israeli soldiers observe a two-minute silence in tribute to the fallen soldiers and victims of terrorist attacks at the Armoured Corps Memorial to mark Memorial Day. AFP
Powered by automated translation

Israel fell silent on Tuesday as it marked Memorial Day to commemorate fallen soldiers and victims of terror, amid fears that the event could become politicised due to intense divisions over the record of the country’s new government.

The commemoration began officially at 8pm on Monday, and was welcomed in by a minute-long siren. It will end on Tuesday evening.

Speaking at a ceremony in Jerusalem, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said: “This year, more than ever, on the Memorial Day for the brave of our nation, we will remember that we are brothers: Jews, Druze, Muslims, Bedouin, Christians and Circassians.

“Together we will stand as brothers — and guarantee our independence from generation to generation. Together we will stand as brothers and we will bow our heads in endless tribute to the heroism of the fallen.”

Israel has lost 24,213 personnel since it was founded in 1948, although official numbers also include some service deaths that took place before the official establishment. It has lost a further 4,255 to terrorism.

Last year was one of the deadliest in recent times, with more than 150 Palestinians and 20 Israelis killed in the West Bank and Israel, according to UN figures.

On Tuesday, one person was moderately injured in a shooting in the West Bank. It came a day after a Jerusalem car-ramming attack near a busy marketplace in which five were injured and the assailant shot.

Despite the sombre mood, some mourners demonstrated against the presence of government ministers at ceremonies throughout the country.

Scuffles broke out near a cemetery in Beersheba over the attendance of far-right National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir, whose speech was interrupted by shouts from the audience.

The minister had previously vowed to speak at a ceremony despite intense pressure from some quarters for him to withdraw.

In Tel Aviv, Defence Minister Yoav Gallant was met with a sign accusing his government of moving Israel towards a dictatorship.

Other ministers were booed and interrupted at separate memorial events, with some being blocked from entering ceremonies by protesters.

Since its formation almost four months ago, Mr Netanyahu’s government has faced intense opposition over its right-wing policy agenda, particularly plans to radically change the country’s judiciary.

Tensions are building once again as the country’s politicians prepare to reassemble for the parliament’s summer session, concluding a month-long negotiation period for the coalition and opposition to try to find a compromise over the controversial proposals.

Anger has also been simmering over policies that exempt ultra-Orthodox Israelis from otherwise mandatory military service.

In Mr Ben-Gvir’s case, he did not serve in the country’s military due to previous criminal convictions, including racial incitement.

During his Memorial Day speech, one audience member labelled Mr Ben-Gvir “a fascist”, Israeli outlet Haaretz reported.

Updated: April 25, 2023, 11:17 AM