Israelis Remember Those Who Died in Israel's Defense

By Julie Stahl | July 7, 2008 | 8:08 PM EDT

Jerusalem ( - Israelis stood at attention for two minutes on Tuesday morning as sirens wailed, calling them to remember the nearly 20,000 Israeli soldiers who have died in the service of their country.

Israel came to a halt, with drivers stopping their cars on highways, cutting the engines and standing in respect for the fallen.

For most Israelis remembering comes naturally, since many have lost a brother, father, sister, son, daughter or close friend in the army.

Memorial Day began Monday evening with a one-minute siren and an official ceremony at Jerusalem's Western Wall - the ancient retaining wall of the Holy Temple, destroyed nearly 2000 years ago by the Romans.

The radio played solemn music and the television aired lengthy video biographies eulogizing those who have died.

"Today, when new hope for peace and security may be realized, we carry in
our hearts the testimonies of your dear ones who fell in the wars for Israel's defense, who fought valiantly for the historical right to live as a free people, living on its own land in peace and security," Prime Minister Ehud Barak wrote in a letter to the bereaved families.

Barak, a former Chief of Staff, has spent his first year in office in intensive, if sporadic, negotiations with the Palestinian Authority and the Syrians and has given the order to withdraw Israeli troops, based in a security zone, from south Lebanon.

He vowed "to make every effort to find any path in order to put an end to this bloody and terrible conflict, to return our sons from Lebanon and to guarantee them and the generations who follow a life of peace and security, of development and creativity."

"When we were forced to go out to defend the nation and country, we did not hesitate," Barak said. "Now, we will not hold back in our efforts to achieve peace
and security for the sake of the memories of our dear ones who are not able to be here with us at the opening of new hope."

Since the U.N. decision to partition Palestine into a Jewish and an Arab state on 29 November 1947 and the subsequent War of Independence, 19,109 Israeli soldiers have died.

Apart from the 1948 war, Israel fought wars in 1956,1967, 1973 and 1982.

Earlier, between 1860 and 1949, another 1,594 Jews died in conflict in the land under first Ottoman Turkish, then British rule.

There are currently 17,812 bereaved families in Israel, a nation of six million.

For the third year, those who were killed in terror attacks are also being remembered on this day in a separate ceremony.

At sundown, Israelis will make a transition from the mourning of Memorial Day to the celebration of Independence Day, with a beacon lighting ceremony at Jerusalem's military cemetery.

Independence Day follows Memorial Day each year as a reminder of the cost Israelis paid for their independence. Israel is marking it 52nd birthday on Wednesday.