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Israel Pays Tribute To 20,368 Soldiers And Civilians Who Fell In Defense Of The Jewish Homeland

In Past Year, 169 Soldiers And 63 Civilians Have Been Killed, Mainly In Palestinian Terror Attacks

IDF Chief Of Staff Yaalon: 'It's Not Clear What Will Happen After Gaza Withdrawal But IDF Is Prepared To Cope With Palestinian Escalation In Terror'

IDF Ceremony

During Memorial Day, tens of thousands of Israelis have attended services in military cemeteries throughout the country. At eleven o'clock in the morning, sirens wailed and the nation paused for a two minute silence in tribute to the service-men and women who have died in defense of Israel. At the main ceremony on Jerusalem's Mount Herzl, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon spoke of Israel's readiness to make peace with her neighbors while being prepared to face any challenge. Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin, who opposes the upcoming Gaza withdrawal, warned of Israeli leaders who would try and partition Jerusalem but would be opposed by common Israelis. IDF Chief of Staff Moshe Yaalon, who retires next month, also spoke about future developments.

IDF Ceremony - Bedouin

The sirens wailed and Israelis paused to remember the soldiers and civilians who fell in defense of the Jewish state. Every Israeli has at least one relative, friend or colleague who fell in battle. As always, tens of thousands of mourners flocked to military cemeteries throughout the country to honor the fallen.

  • Prime Minister Sharon: At the main ceremony on Jerusalem's Mount Herzl, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon declared that Israel was stronger than ever despite those who would destroy her. Yet Israel did not seek war but peace. Although the hope for peace was more real today the road ahead was arduous and strewn with obstacles; Israel would take that road with caution and determination.
  • State President Katzav: President Moshe Katzav spoke of peace being within reach if the Palestinians wanted it. But he also warned: 'One Palestinian wing cannot seek Israeli concessions while another tries to spill Israeli blood!'
  • Knesset Speaker Rivlin: When he addressed a Jerusalem memorial service, Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin caused a stir when he criticized Prime Minister Sharon and his Gaza withdrawal plan. Rivlin warned of high and mighty leaders who would be ready to partition Israel's capital Jerusalem. He did not mention Sharon by name but this was clearly the intention of the Speaker who is vehemently opposed to the Prime Minister's disengagement plan. Rivlin went on to say that the Israeli fighters who had died in liberating Israel's capital had left the legacy that Jerusalem never be divided again. He spoke of the common people rising up to form 'an iron fist that would prevent a partition of Israel's eternal capital.'
  • IDF Chief of Staff Yaalon: Gen. Yaalon said the Israel Defense Forces are preparing for the day after the withdrawal and includes being ready to cope with an escalation in
Palestinian terrorism. Israel was fulfilling her commitments to the Palestinians but the Palestinian security reforms were too slow.
General Yaalon

The Chief of Staff said the U.S. and Israel were right in demanding that Hamas be disarmed if it is to participate in the political process. He told Israel Radio that most of the settlers would not forcibly resist being evacuated from their homes in the Gaza Strip and 4 West Bank settlements. However, Gen. Yaalon warned: 'I do not rule out the possibility that some Jewish fanatics might open fire on other Jews during the evacuation!'In an interview with the Maariv newspaper, Gen. Yaalon said he did not know what would happen the day after the disengagement and whether the evacuation was in Israel's interest. Many factors were involved including how the withdrawal would be perceived. Would it be viewed as a positive Israeli step leading to a breakthrough with the Palestinians or would Hamas portray it as a victory for terrorism? He expected that Hamas would call it a victory for the terror campaign it has spearheaded against Israel. The Gen. noted that the Egyptians also presented the Yom-Kippur War of 1973 as a victory although it forced them to realize they could not defeat Israel militarily.Forced to retire next month, the Chief of Staff said the IDF had achieved the upper hand in the war with the Palestinians. He compared the confrontation to two boxers in the ring who kept exchanging blows. Yaalon had no doubt the Palestinians would hit the canvas first and he added: 'It will not be a clear knockout because for one reason and the other the IDF cannot bring its full power to bear'. It was mainly a war about the staying power of the Israeli and Palestinian societies and Israel had proved she would not break under the wave of Palestinian suicide bombers.

David Essing

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