Israelis Honor Fallen, Celebrate Independence

Jerusalem, April 24 — Mourning will give way to celebration as Israelis honor their fallen soldiers and victims of terror during the country’s Remembrance Day tonight and Wednesday and then on Thursday commemorate the country’s 64th year of independence with festive events. [Click here for The Israel Project’s Israel at 64 Press Kit]

Sirens will sound across the country at sundown Tuesday and again Wednesday morning as Israelis observe a moment of silence to honor the 22,993 men and women who have died defending the Jewish state or as victims of terrorism. During The Day of Remembrance, Yom Ha’Zikaron in Hebrew, roughly a million Israelis are expected to visit military cemeteries nationwide.

“It is the duty of our conscience that leads us to stand with eyes closed and not only remember but look toward the future as well,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in remarks to bereaved families. “Today, the People of Israel lay aside disagreements and stand as one beside you. Today we remember the fallen of Israel's wars, all of our dear ones. Each one had a family. Every name has a life's story of its own; an entire world has been cut short.”

“The unbreakable bond between Remembrance Day and Independence Day underscores the fact that our dear ones who fell in Israel's wars did not fall in vain,” Netanyahu said. “Thanks to them, the State arose. Thanks to them, the State of Israel will continue to develop and prosper, and thanks to them the members of the younger generation will also be able to live their lives in security and tranquility.”

Netanyahu noted that he stands among the bereaved, having lost a brother who commanded a rescue operation in 1976 to save Israelis taken hostage on an Air France plane hijacked and flown to Uganda.

The first siren, sounded at 8 pm, lasts for one minute. Israelis stop all activities including driving, and stand to attention. The official ceremony to mark the opening of the day takes place at Jerusalem’s Western Wall, and the flag of Israel is lowered to half staff. A two-minute long siren will sound at 11 am Wednesday.

On Wednesday evening, the flag is returned to full staff and sadness will turn to joy as Israelis begin celebrating Independence Day, Yom Ha’Atzmaut in Hebrew. Israelis typically spend the day with their families, holding picnics, barbecues and going on nature trips. Many Jewish communities in the United States and around the world also take part in celebrating the holiday.

Streets in central Jerusalem and elsewhere will be closed off to vehicles for live musical performances, street dancing and other activities. Fireworks displays will also take place across the country.

The State of Israel was formally established on May 14, 1948, when the British relinquished control over the territory and Israel’s first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion, declared independence. The following day, armies from the surrounding Arab nations invaded the nascent Jewish state. After months of heavy fighting and casualties on both sides, the War of Independence officially ended in January 1949.

Independence Day is observed on the 5th of Iyar in the Hebrew lunar calendar, which means it falls on a different date each year in the western calendar.

The Declaration of the Establishment of the State of Israel guarantees freedom of worship to all citizens – Christians, Muslims, Jews and all others.

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