The prime minister, president and several senior members of the defense leadership unveiled a NIS 100 million memorial hall at Jerusalem’s Mt. Herzl on Sunday morning, built to honor fallen soldiers, just hours before Remembrance Day began.
The domed hall took more than two years to complete and features a winding 850- foot path adorned with more than 23,000 stones inscribed with the name and date of death of each of Israel’s fallen soldiers.
Shortly after the emotionally fraught ceremony commenced at 10 a.m., a bereaved father heckled Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at an inauguration ceremony for the national Hall of Remembrance for fallen soldiers on Mount Herzl in Jerusalem, April 30, 2017 (credit: GPO)
“Even on this holy day I can’t forgive the tears of Leah Goldin!” shouted the unidentified middle-age man, referring to Goldin’s son, Hadar
, whose remains have been held by Hamas in Gaza since 2014’s Operation Protective Edge. “Her tears demand an immediate response and for you to ask her forgiveness. I don’t forgive you!” The outburst followed a letter to the prime minister last week that condemned two Likud MKs for publicly chastising families of fallen soldiers who challenged Netanyahu for not having the corpses of Lt. Goldin and St.- Sgt. Oron Shaul returned.
“Operation Protective Edge isn’t over!” shouted a distraught Leah Goldin during the confrontation.
Netanyahu paused during the rebuke – as President Reuven Rivlin, Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman, Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan and Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Gadi Eisenkot looked on uneasily – then resumed his speech after the man returned to his seat.
“This memorial hall is now one of the symbols of the rebirth of Israel,” Netanyahu said. “The building is dedicated to the people’s heroism and sacrifice and to the land. Its walls are made of the might of the land; its dome made of bravery and sacrifice. And among all of this, there is concrete to connect the memories.”
Netanyahu continued: “We have waited nearly 2,000 years for the renewed appearance of the Jewish warrior. The torch was lit in Modi’in... but it was not put out in the Warsaw Ghetto, or the death camps. It was passed on to the Jewish underground organizations and to the Jewish Brigade Group – and then to IDF soldiers and to all of our security services.”
Following the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948, Netanyahu said, Israelis have “resumed Jewish heroism that appeared cut off throughout the generations.
We have renewed the legacy of fiercely defending the home and the homeland.”
The new memorial hall “combines wondrous personal memories and national memory, and ensures that the memory of the fallen will remain forever in the heart of our people,” he continued.
“Our loved ones worked together, shoulder-to-shoulder in fraternity, friendship, mutual trust – Jews and non-Jews – Druze, Muslims, Beduin, Christians and Circassians.
All of them are brothers, all willing to give themselves up to the greater good to ensure the life of our country. It is thanks to them that we have risen.
We’ll remember them all.”
Rivlin spoke of the importance of tradition and continuity, as the country prepared to celebrate next month’s 50th anniversary of the reunification of the capital that followed 1967’s Six Day War.
“The Jewish and Israeli memory stitches together and connects the past, present and future,” Rivlin said. “It gives us strength as individuals, as a state and as a people. In this memorial hall we promise to treasure the past. But with the same determination, persistence, love and hope we also promise to treasure and create a future.”
Liberman noted that the rebirth of Israel had not come without a profound price.
“From the day we returned to our homeland to rebuild our home we have not known a single day of rest,” he said. “We’ve been fighting one long war against those who rise up against us and attempt over and over again to annihilate the Zionist entity, which is holding on and securing its roots into this land.”
Still, Liberman said, he remained hopeful that the day would come when Israel’s perpetual existential threats would cease.
“Every generation we pray that our sons and daughters will know no more war... It reminds us of the magnitude of our responsibility to guard and protect the State of Israel. Now, as they do every single day, the IDF’s soldiers and the rest of the security forces are working in the air, land and sea to ensure the security of the citizens of Israel. They do so with determination and courage along our borders.
They are prepared to thwart every threat, and get to anyone who plots to harm us.”
In his remarks, Eisenkot called on society to support the bereaved families of the fallen.
“In their death, the fallen have charged us with one more thing: to stand by their families and accompany them on the journey of life after loss, a journey that began on the day the light of their life was put out. We must continue to support them throughout the year to ease their pain as much as possible. Today, we will also remember the IDF’s missing soldiers and the fallen soldiers whose place of burial is unknown, and we will pray that our children return to their own land.”
Separately, Eisenkot lamented that although Israel built the only democracy in the region, as well as the most powerful army, it continues to be scapegoated by the wider international community.
“The IDF is the strongest military in the Middle East...
Israel is the only democracy in the Middle East and part of the family of nations.
But unfortunately it does not get support from the international community at the moment of truth.”
Accordingly, Israel must remain hyper-vigilant in its efforts to defend itself amid such a skewed playing field, Eisenkot added.
“That is why Israel still needs to know how to defend itself, by itself, from all of the threats – separately or together,” he said, noting that he remains hopeful that Israel’s treatment will improve. “I still hope that we will see a change in the one-sided treatment the international community gives Israel, particularly in light of recent terror attacks in Europe, and the world.”
Anna Ahronheim contributed to this report.