IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Gadi Eisenkot called for national unity at the Remembrance Day candlelighting ceremony at the Western Wall on Tuesday evening. His speech follows several controversial episodes in which the military recently was embroiled that turned into domestic political confrontations.
“Beyond the silence enveloping the State of Israel this evening, we discover again how much we are tied to one another, united by a common fate and purpose. This unity is the basis for the Israel Defense Forces, and shapes its image as the people’s army and the state military,” Eisenkot said.
The IDF’s commanders and soldiers leave behind their differences, and are prepared to sacrifice their lives for the nation, their land and their comrades in arms, Eisenkot added. “This is the unity that enables the whole nation to be behind us, which strengthens us and gives our actions backing,” the chief of staff said.
The IDF’s soldiers must know “beyond a shadow of a doubt that the whole nation supports them and stands behind them, even when there are differences of opinion,” Eisenkot stated.
“Unity is not necessarily agreement, but we must not let these differences damage the unity of our goal,” he said.
“The public’s faith in the IDF is essential for carrying out our goals: Defending the country, ensuring its existence and, if needed, to win in war. The IDF and the security forces are our nation’s defensive wall. Only they will ensure our security.”
Eisenkot described losing many friends in past wars and operations, saying, “I carry their memory with me at all times in my heart, and our common path is my compass.”
He said that the goal of terrorism is to “sow fear in the public’s heart. The strong stance of the Israeli home front contributes to the effort against terrorism.
Our military strength is clear. On the eve of Independence Day, the IDF is a powerful military, and it is confident in itself. If we support one another, not defeat.”
Similarly, President Reuven Rivlin called on Israelis to focus on what brings them together.
“The IDF is all of us, secular and religious, Jews and non- Jews… veteran Israelis and new immigrants, city dwellers and those from settlements, kibbutzim and moshavim. The map of bereavement envelops us all – the same pain, the same longing, the same partnership in our fate,” he said.
Trusting the IDF, Rivlin said, is like trusting ourselves and the justness of Israel’s way.
“Over 68 years, we have been fighting the same war, the war for our independence. This is a continuing battle that changes its face and shape, a battle that adds scars to the body of our ancient and strong nation,” Rivlin added. “We are not people of war… We are a nation that loves peace, loves life, hates war. But we understand there is a heavy price that you paid, that is necessary from a nation determined to defend the lives of its citizens and its independence.
“No one should test our determination, because we will withstand any test,” the president warned.
Earlier Tuesday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, whose brother Yoni fell in the July 4, 1976, raid on Entebbe airport, told bereaved families on the eve of Remembrance Day that as a member of that family himself, he, too, “carries the burden of grief” and feels the sadness and pain that “never let go.”
Speaking at the annual memorial ceremony at Yad Lebanim in Jerusalem, the prime minister said that when he received the news of his brother’s death and relayed it to his parents, “my world was destroyed.”
“It happened to you as well,” he told the families, “and the rest of our lives we work to emerge from the rubble.”
Although this is never completely possible, he said, “there is new life.” He noted that he met on Tuesday with the mother of Ben Vanunu, a soldier who fell during Operation Protective Edge in 2014, and that she and her husband were hugging a baby girl. “Tears of sadness and join intermingled one with the other,” he said.
Some 23,447 people have fallen defending the country, and no one who has lost a son, brother, father, husband, friend or daughter does not scream out, “Why?” Netanyahu said.
“What is the purpose? What is the significance of the price paid?” he asked. “Our sons and daughters went to battle standing tall. They fell carrying out a lofty vision – to establish the State of Israel and ensure its future.”
That, Netanyahu said, “is precisely the difference, all the difference, between an enslaved and beaten people, chased and at others’ mercy, which was our situation 68 years ago, and a people in its own land, building its state, controlling its destiny.
But it is a horrible price. Who, like us, knowns the enormity of the pain?” Living in the generation of the rebirth of the Jewish people extracts a personal and national price, Netanyahu said. “But the spirit of our people is strong, and we believe in the eternity of Israel.”
Netanyahu said that Israel will not give up on its hope of reconciling with its enemies, “but first of all let us reconcile among ourselves, and the true reconciliation comes from our shared fate.
“There is no deeper and more noble expression of that shared fate,” he said, “than this day when we salute and remember with great love our heroic sons and daughters who fell so that we could live in our land.”
The Knesset held its annual “Singing in their Memory” ceremony, in which officials read poems written in memory of fallen soldiers.
Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein, Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon, Social Welfare Minister Haim Katz, IDF Deputy Chief of Staff Maj.-Gen. Yair Golan and Police Insp.-Gen. Roni Alsheikh took part in the poetry readings, and popular singers Shiri Maimon, Ninet Tayeb and Harel Skaat, as well as IDF chief cantor Shai Abramson and IDF bands.
Between the poems and songs, short films were shown about fallen soldiers and victims of terrorism and their families. One was a tribute to Dafna Meir, who was murdered in front of her daughter at her home in Otniel in January. A second recalled Hadar Cohen, a 19-year-old border policewoman, who was killed by a terrorist in Jerusalem in February, but managed to save the life of a fellow policewoman by shooting one of their assailants.
In one of the videos, the mother of Yair Golan, a naval commando who drowned, said “How many children do you have?” is one of the most difficult questions for her to answer.
“I gave birth to four, I say, and they ask, ‘Where do they live?’ Mount Herzl [Military Cemetery].”