Israel marks Remembrance Day from a distance

Official Har Herzl ceremony lasts moments, Prime Minister Netanyahu speaks from his office

IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Aviv Kochavi marks Israel's Yom Hazikaron ceremony for fallen soldiers, Har Herzl, Jerusalem April 28, 2020 (photo credit: IDF SPOKESPERSON'S UNIT)
IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Aviv Kochavi marks Israel's Yom Hazikaron ceremony for fallen soldiers, Har Herzl, Jerusalem April 28, 2020
Remembrance Day events began Tuesday morning with a two-minute siren honoring the 24,816 fallen servicemen and the annual state ceremony at Har Herzl military cemetery in Jerusalem.
Due to coronavirus restrictions placed, the short ceremony was held without an audience.
In attendance were IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Aviv Kochavi, deputy chief of staff Maj.-Gen. Eyal Zamir, Shin Bet head Nadav Argaman, Mossad Chief Yossi Cohen, and other officials, all wearing face masks and adhering to social distancing.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who spoke from his office rather than at Har Herzl, said that this past year saw the fewest Israeli casualties since the state was founded and that the IDF is “enduring testimony to the Jewish people's decision to take its fate and its defense into our own hands after thousands of years of feeling helpless."
“We will always be ready to fight to thwart threats,” he said, adding that the state will never stop working to bring home missing soldiers and civilians held captive by Israel’s enemies.
In an op-ed published by Israel Hayom, the Prime Minister defended the restrictions saying that the coronavirus was a “new kind of enemy” and that he would have liked to visit the grave of his brother Yoni who fell in Entebbe.
“They would want us to go on, to live our lives safe and sound. This principle has guided us this year – to preserve life and health and not endanger either needlessly. This is why, this year, we will avoid gatherings in military cemeteries and have military honor guards stationed there,” he wrote.
All cemeteries and memorial sites across the country were closed Monday evening and will remain shuttered until Thursday morning as part of the government’s lockdown regulations to curb the spread of the deadly coronavirus.
Police were deployed across the country to block access roads and entrance to cemeteries and memorial sites but were ordered to not violently prevent people from entering.
Dozens of bereaved families made their way to cemeteries across the country and were greeted by police officers who handed them water and protective gear. IDF Maj.-Gen. Aaron Haliva, the head of the military’s Operations Directorate was also seen greeting bereaved families who went to visit the graves of their loved ones.
The past year saw 75 names added to the list of fallen servicemen and 33 disabled veterans who succumbed to injuries sustained during their service. One Israeli civilian, Rina Schnerb, was added to the list of terror victims after she was killed in an bombing attack near the West Bank settlement of Dolev last August.
Defense Minister Naftali Bennett said that Israel would never place it’s security in the hands of others, especially since it’s enemies have not “reconciled with the existence of a Jewish State in the Land of Israel.”
“We will defend ourselves on our own,” Bennett said, adding that Israel “will no longer allow strategic threats to grow beyond our borders...We have moved from curbing Iran’s entrenchment in Syria to pushing it away, and we will not stop. We will continue to move the campaign into enemy territory.”
Ahead of Memorial Day, flags of the state along with a black ribbon, wreath were placed on all graves throughout the country. Memorial candles and troops saluted each grave.

Due to the restrictions, most ceremonies and event took place online in various formats including the 15th annual Israeli-Palestinian memorial ceremony which over the years has seen many disruptions by protesters and government officials. According to reports in Hebrew-media, the ceremony which was streamed live from Tel Aviv and Ramallah on Monday night attracted some 200,000 viewers.

Another ceremony was streamed live over YouTube on Monday evening by The Base for Lone Soldiers with speeches by the former Israeli Ambassador to the US Michael Oren and by the parents of Michael Levin, a lone soldier who was killed in Lebanon during the Second Lebanon War.

The Lone Soldier Center, which was opened in Levin’s memory, will also broadcast a ceremony in both Hebrew and English, intended for both audiences served by the Center and their families in over 10 countries around the world. The ceremony includes an array of prominent guests including Israeli President Reuven Rivlin, former UK Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sachs, US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman, singer Miri Mesika, Einat Shroff, Pablo Rosenberg and many more.