Protests for 17th consecutive week dampen festive mood
Israelis stand still to observe two minutes of silence to mark the country’s annual Memorial Day. Pic/AP
Israel marked its Memorial Day for fallen soldiers and victims of militant attacks on Tuesday against the backdrop of some of the deepest political divisions in its history and soaring tensions with Palestinians. Memorial Day is one of the most solemn moments on Israel’s national calendar, in honour of its 24,213 war dead and 4,255 attack victims.
It is typically a day of national unity but this year, tensions between Israeli supporters and opponents of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government bubbled up. In Tel Aviv, a group of bereaved families held a separate, alternative ceremony instead of the traditional visit to the cemeteries, to avoid politics.
“This year, the nation is torn between extremists and we don’t want to confront the politicians and bring their agenda inside our sacred place,” said mourner Israel Shur, who attended the alternative ceremony near a building where Israeli independence was declared 75 years ago.
As is customary, people across the country came to a standstill when a two-minute siren sounded late in the morning. Motorists and pedestrians halted in the street and stood with heads bowed. Bereaved families visited cemeteries and attended ceremonies while television and radio programming shifted to sombre music and documentaries about slain soldiers.
In a speech at the official ceremony at a Jerusalem military cemetery, Prime Minister Netanyahu recalled the lives of several fallen soldiers and spoke of the “brotherhood” of the Israeli people, a kinship fortified by military service that is compulsory for most Jews.
Meanwhile, in Beersheba, National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir attended a Memorial Day ceremony at a cemetery in the city, despite being asked by grieving families to stay away. Even before he arrived, a scuffle broke out. Some threw water at each other following the ceremony. Protesters also planned demonstrations for the 17th week in a row on Saturday with the parliament to resume session next week.
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