Israel plans to establish a national war monument in Jerusalem to honor the memory of the 22,684 soldiers and security personnel who have fallen defending the land of Israel since 1860 – the year the first Jews left Jerusalem’s Old City walls to settle other parts of the country.

A few hours before the beginning of  Remembrance Day, which began with a minute-long siren at 8 p.m. Sunday night, Defense Minister Ehud Barak announced plans to erect the new monument, during a ceremony at its future location on Mount Herzl in Jerusalem.

“As a society we owe a great moral debt to bereaved families,” Barak said. “In its 62 years of independence this country has stood before complicated challenges and overcome them due to the generation after generation of talented youth who were, and still are, prepared to defend this country with their lives.”

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Under the Defense Ministry plan, the monument will include all of the names of the soldiers and security personnel who have died since 1860, with a memorial light next to the name that will be lit up on the anniversary of the soldier’s death. At the monument, the Defense Ministry will also set up computer consoles, where visitors will be able to look up the stories of the fallen.

Barak said that Mount Herzl was the most appropriate location for the new monument, since it would be located between Yad Vashem and the graves of Israel’s founding fathers, and adjacent to the graves of the IDF’s fallen.

“These soldiers are the silver platter upon which we received the State of Israel, and there is no place more fitting to memorialize them than on this mountain,” Barak said.

President Shimon Peres opened the state ceremony on Sunday evening ushering in the 24 hours of mourning for fallen soldiers.

“Bereaved families, whose Remembrance Day does not start with the siren that calls for a minute of silence, or end with the kindling of the beacons; you who came to this place, in the nebulous light of dusk, in the chilly Jerusalem evening air, facing the remnants of the Temple, [represent] over 20,000 households in Israel who lost the most precious of all, in the storm of battle, and in the line of duty,” the president said.

“I am aware that nothing can compensate for the sound of the steps of a son you expect to hear on the staircase, which has suddenly turned silent. The son whose uniform you hung on a hanger in the closet, which generates a yearning to smell the smell of his body one last time,” he went on.

“Facing your tormented eyes – there is a loss of words. A testimony of the truth that destiny has inflicted upon you the heaviest of prices – bereavement. And bequeathed to our nation the greatest of achievements – revival,” Peres said.

Consoling the families that their sacrifice was not in vain, Peres said, “In their battle, the fallen prevented the destruction of the new tabernacle of David.”

Speaking of future challenges to the Jewish state’s survival, Peres noted that “there are still those who wish to annihilate us. And at their head, the autocratic Iranian regime that seeks to cast its rule over the Middle East, silence it with lethal weapons, and launch an anti-Israel incitement campaign to deflect Arab concerns.

“On no account must we disregard these threats. Nor should our enemies belittle our capabilities,” he declared.

“A threat to the peace of the Jewish people always carries the danger of turning into a threat to the civilized world as a whole, to its well-being and values,” Peres warned.

He insisted that Israel “does not seek war. We are a nation that yearns for peace” – but he cautioned Israel’s enemies that Israelis “know how to, and will know how to, defend” themselves.

IDF Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi, speaking after Peres, reflected on the road he had traveled on his way to the ceremony, from the Kirya military headquarters in Tel Aviv to the Western Wall in Jerusalem.
“As I was making my way from the plains near the beach to the mountain, I gazed upon the changing views of the road leading to Jerusalem, all silent witnesses of the battles and, together, one immense memorial monument to the heroes of the land who gave their lives for Israel’s security,” he said.

“Only minutes pass before I traverse the fortress at Latrun, between the canyon and the mountain, where warriors for Israel’s independence held bloody battles, where sabras fought shoulder-to-shoulder with new immigrants, survivors of the Holocaust fresh off the ships, who did not even speak Hebrew.

“In Sha’ar Hagai, I silently looked at the skeletons of armored vehicles, memorials of those who broke a path to Jerusalem as their ranks were dwindling. I then passed the Harel interchange, named after the brigade commanded by Yitzhak Rabin, a brigade that fought to take hold of the Castel overlooking the routes to the city,” Ashkenazi said.

“And as I reach the gates of Jerusalem, seeing in my mind’s eye the paratroopers fighting on Ammunition Hill and near Augusta Victoria, those who arrived here, to this place for which the Jewish people yearned over generations, I remember the sounds of shofar by Rabbi [Shlomo] Goren and [then-IDF chief of staff] Mota Gur’s eternal call: ‘The Temple Mount is in our hands.’”

He quoted poet Haim Hefer, who “wrote, ‘Only those who lost their finest friends could ever understand us.’ I stand before you today as a warrior and commander with more than 36 years of military service, where I lost my best friends and colleagues, and came back from the killing fields with spaces in our ranks. I understand the feelings of loss and yearning. There does not pass a day where the bitter taste of yearning is absent from my and my fellow commanders’ minds.”

He went on, “In the name of these friends, I stand here today as the Israel Defense Forces’ Chief of General Staff, proudly look to you, and salute them. As a member of the second generation after the Holocaust, who began his path as a warrior on the southern front in the Yom Kippur War and who fought for years in Lebanon, I met, and sadly continue to meet, the tormented gaze of families whose loss darkens their doorstep and know: The existence of the State of Israel is not an obvious thing.

“We must continue to guard it from enemies even as we strive to establish here a just, developing and democratic society, a society that sanctifies the values over which the sons and daughters went on their last missions,” Ashkenazi said. “May their memory be blessed.”

Jerusalem Post staff contributed to this report.

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