Israel observes Memorial Day with siren, ceremonies


Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said during a national memorial ceremony for Israel's fallen soldiers that no one will succeed in destroying Israel.

“Since the birth of the State of Israel, many have tried to destroy it. They will never succeed. The IDF is stronger than ever,” Netanyahu said Monday at the ceremony on Mount Herzl, moments after a two-minute siren that brings Israelis throughout the country to a standstill on Memorial Day. “We will continue to strengthen our forces and act toward achieving peace with our neighbors and to protect our state. We always remember that we wouldn't be here without our soldiers' willingness to fight for our existence.

“We salute the fallen, our loved ones, the heroes of the State of Israel. May they rest in peace,” he said.

The ceremony was one of hundreds across the country in which Israel remembered its more than 25,000 fallen soldiers and terror victims

Yom Hazikaron, or Memorial Day, began in Israel on Sunday night with the sounding of a siren.

“We will not forget even for a moment and will always remember those for whom the survival of Israel and its glory are indebted,” Israeli President Shimon Peres said in an address to bereaved families Sunday night at the national ceremony held at the Western Wall.

Peres praised the courage and spirit of Israeli soldiers and their commanders.

Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Benny Gantz also addressed the bereaved families.

Judah Pearl, the father of slain Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl, lit the memorial flame Monday at the annual Yom Hazikaron ceremony at the Jewish Agency and National Institutions Compound in Jerusalem in memory of Jews killed in terror attacks and anti-Semitic incidents around the world.

“The last words of my son were, 'My father is a Jew, my mother is a Jew and I am a Jew.' For 11 years I have prayed for the moment that I would have the honor to read Daniel’s words in Jerusalem, the city where he celebrated his bar mitzvah,” Pearl said. “Today I can realize that privilege by lighting the memorial flame here in Jerusalem. This is a memorial flame, but it is also the flame of Jewish pride and a collective pledge that terror and evil will never be victorious and that our grandchildren will enjoy a better world.”

Also participating in the ceremony were Daniel Pearl’s two sisters; his wife; Mariane; and his son, Adam, who was born several months after his father’s murder in Pakistan.

Netanyahu at the opening of the weekly Cabinet meeting said Sunday, “We are here thanks to Israel's fighters who joined the struggle for our existence, thanks to those who survived the wars and thanks to those who fell. We do not forget, even for a second, that we are here thanks to the fallen.”

On Saturday night, Netanyahu visited the grave of his brother, Yonatan, who died in 1976 during the rescue of kidnapped Israelis in Entebbe, Uganda.

Some 92 names were added to the list of Israel's fallen this year.

According to the Ministry of Defense, there are 17,553 bereaved families of security personnel in Israel, 2,324 orphans, and 4,964 widows of the Israel Defense Forces and the defense establishment.

More than 1.5 million Israelis will visit military cemeteries throughout Yom Hazikaron. The end of Yom Hazikaron on Monday night marks the start of Yom Ha'atzmaut, Israeli Independence Day.

Also Sunday, in advance of Yom Ha'atzmaut, Israel's Central Bureau of Statistics released its annual population report, which found that Israel’s population hit 8 million for the first time. It represents an increase of 1.8 percent, or 137,000 people, over last year.

Israel stops to remember victims of Holocaust


Israel came to a standstill as a siren sounded for two minutes in memory of the victims of the Holocaust.

Following the siren Monday morning, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry participated in a wreath-laying ceremony in the Yad Vashem Hall of Remembrance as part of Yom Hashoah, or Holocaust Remembrance Day.

Kerry then joined Israeli President Shimon Peres for the “Unto Every Person There is a Name” ceremony held each at the Knesset, where Peres read out the names of his relatives who were victims of the Holocaust. Names of Shoah victims also were read by the chief rabbis, ministers, Knesset members, former Knesset members, members of the Yad Vashem administration, members of youth movements, soldiers, world association representatives, and delegations from abroad.

Peres and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Sunday night at the national Yom Hashoah ceremony at Yad Vashem that the hatred of Jews is still strong more than 70 years after the Holocaust began.

“The map of Europe still contains local stains of anti-Semitism,” Peres said at Sunday night's ceremony in Jerusalem, his voice breaking with emotion. “Racism erupted on that land in the last century and dragged it down to its lowest point. Ultimately the murder which came from her, damaged her.”

“Not all the flames have been extinguished. Crises are once again exploited to form Nazi parties, ridiculous but dangerous. Sickening anti-Semitic cartoons are published allegedly in the name of press freedom.”

Netanyahu said in his address to Holocaust survivors and their families, “Hatred of Jews has not disappeared. It has been replaced with a hatred of the Jewish state.”

He followed his assertion with quotes of anti-Semitic statements made by Iranian religious and political leaders.

Six Holocaust survivors told their stories in a prerecorded video before they lit the six torches representing the 6 million Jews killed during the Holocaust.

The ceremony was broadcast on all Israeli television channels and on several radio stations. On Yom Hashoah in Israel, places of entertainment are closed and Holocaust themed-movies and documentaries are shown on television channels. Memorial ceremonies are held throughout the country.

On Monday, the B’nai B’rith World Center in Jerusalem and the Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael held a joint Holocaust commemoration ceremony dedicated annually to commemorating the heroism of Jews who rescued fellow Jews during the Holocaust. The ceremony took place in the Martyr’s Forest “Scroll of Fire” Plaza.

The ceremony recalled the rescue activities of Otto Komoly, president of the Zionist Federation in Hungary and the chairman of the Hungarian Jewish community’s clandestine Rescue Committee, and later director of the International Red Cross' “Department A” responsible for rescuing Jewish children.

On Sunday, Israeli military chief Lt.-Gen. Benny Gantz left for Poland with an Israel Defense Forces delegation to the March of the Living in Auschwitz-Birkenau. Gantz will lead the March of the Living — the first time the march was led by a current IDF chief of general staff. Some 10,000 people from all over the world are participating in the march.

Gantz also was scheduled to lay a wreath on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Warsaw, where a military service will take place.

On the weekend prior to Yom Hashoah, dozens of young Poles who recently discovered their Jewish roots came together in Oscwiecim, the site of the Auschwitz camp,  for a weekend educational seminar under the auspices of Shavei Israel.

Rockets pound Israel for seventh day


More than 80 rockets were fired at southern Israel in the seventh day since the beginning of Operation Pillar of Defense, including two aimed at Jerusalem.

An air raid siren sounded in Jerusalem on Tuesday afternoon; two rockets fell in the Gush Etzion area south of Jerusalem. Hamas claimed responsibility for the rockets aimed at Jerusalem.

Shortly before the alarm, a rocket struck a building in the Eshkol Regional Council, reportedly injuring several people. Rockets also hit a home in Netivot and damaged homes in Sderot and Beersheva.

An Israeli reserve soldier was injured by a rocket that fell in the Eshkol Regional Council.

A volley of 16 rockets was fired Tuesday toward Beersheva. One hit the road in front of a bus, damaging the bus, which the passengers had exited due to the air raid siren. A second rocket hit a house and a third hit a parked care. Nine of the 16 rockets were intercepted by the Iron Dome missile defense system.

The Israel Defense Forces said in a statement that on Tuesday, it targeted 11 terrorist squads involved in firing rockets toward Israel and planting explosive devices at the border. The IDF also bombed 30 underground rocket launchers and a hiding place for senior terror operatives that was used to store weapons and ammunition, the IDF spokesman said. Overnight, the IDF said it targeted 100 terror sites in Gaza, including underground rocket launchers, terror tunnels and ammunition storage facilities.

“The sites that were targeted were positively identified by precise intelligence over the course of several months,” the IDF statement said.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton reportedly will land in Israel on Tuesday to encourage a cease-fire. She also will meet with Palestinian Authority leaders, but no one from Hamas, Haaretz reported. United Nations General Secretary Ban Ki-moon also arrived in Israel on Tuesday to meet with Israeli leaders.

Siren ushers in Israel’s Memorial Day


A one-minute siren marked the beginning of Fallen Soldiers and Victims of Terrorism Remembrance Day, Israel’s official Memorial Day.

Tuesday evening’s siren was immediately followed by a national ceremony held at the Western Wall and televised to the entire nation.

“Your beloved ones had a crucial part in the achievements of the state,” Israeli President Shimon Peres told the bereaved families at the ceremony. “We shall forever remain indebted to your children. No act or gesture on our part can relieve your pain and the memories that will not vanish.”

According to official figures, the total number of fallen security personnel and terror victims from 1860 to 2012 stands at 22,993, with 126 killed since last Remembrance Day. There are 10,524 bereaved families of security personnel, 2,396 orphans and 4,992 widows of the Israeli military and the defense establishment.

At a ceremony earlier in the day at the Yad Lebanim memorial, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told the bereaved parents and political and religious figures on hand, “It was the heartfelt duty of our dear ones that led them to face the enemy.  It is the duty of our conscience that leads us to stand with eyes closed and not only remember but look toward the future as well. Today, the people of Israel lay aside disagreements and stand as one beside you. Today we remember the fallen of Israel’s wars, all of our dear ones. Each one had a family.  Every name has a life’s story of its own; an entire world has been cut short.”

Netanyahu’s brother Yonatan was killed in the Israeli military’s July 1976 mission to rescue hostages at the Entebbe Airport in Uganda.

“As a member of a bereaved family, Remembrance Day is very significant for me,” the prime minister said. “It is not only a national day of remembrance, it is also a private day of remembrance for me and my family, as it is for all of you.”

Memorial services will be held in communities and military cemeteries across the country on Wednesday, culminating with a torch-lighting ceremony on Mount Herzl at 8 p.m., which ushers in Yom Ha’atzmaut, or Israel Independence Day.

Also Tuesday, Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics announced that Israel’s population stands at 7.88 million. There were 806,000 residents of Israel when it was established in 1948.

Three-quarters of the population, or 59.3 million people, is Jewish. The 1.62 million Arabs in Israel comprise 20 percent of the population.

Eight members of the Levi family adjust to rockets in Ashkelon


ASHKELON, Israel (JTA) — Another rocket warning siren wails and eight members of the Levi family, including a grandmother and a newborn baby, quickly cram into the small bedroom made of reinforced concrete that serves as the family’s bomb shelter.

“Come on, come on! Get in!” they shout. Just before the heavy metal door slams shut, the family dog, Pick, quickly is whisked inside.

Standing shoulder to shoulder, they listen as the sound of the siren’s wail trails off, replaced by the thud of the rocket landing. Returning to the television news a few minutes later, they see it has landed a few blocks away at a local soccer stadium.

Earlier in the day, another rocket landed much closer — just across the street.

The Grad-type missile hit a construction site, killing Hani el Mahdi, a 27-year old construction worker from a Bedouin town in the Negev, and injured several other workers at the scene, some of them seriously.

“After hearing the boom this morning I’m just not myself,” said Geula Levi, 50, whose house quickly filled up with family members. “I’ve been trying to make lunch but I simply can’t seem to get anything together.”

Since the fighting began over the weekend, two of Levi’s adult children have moved back in, one of them bringing his wife and their 2-month-old daughter. The baby never leaves the reinforced room. Her mother, Vered, ventures out only to get food from the kitchen.

About 60 rockets were fired from Gaza into Israel on Monday. Many landed in Ashkelon, about 10 miles north of the Gaza Strip. Some reached as far as Ashdod, some 20 miles from Gaza, killing one woman as she bolted her car to take cover at a bus stop.

This week marks the first time these two major coastal cities have been subject to ongoing rocket barrages from Gaza. Ashkelon, home to some 120,000 people, had been targeted before, but hit only rarely. Ashdod had been considered out of range of Gaza’s rocket fire, but Hamas’ newly imported missiles — thought to be smuggled into the strip from Egypt during the six-month cease-fire that officially ended Dec. 19 — have increased the range of Gaza’s rockets.

Geula Levi said she was fully supportive of the army’s operation in Gaza, which by late Monday had killed 350 Palestinians in Gaza, most of them Hamas militiamen, according to reports.

“They learned their lessons from the Second Lebanon War so I think this time things will be conducted more intelligently,” she said of Israel’s military leaders.

“We’d rather suffer with the missiles now than become like Kiryat Shemona, which suffered for years,” said her eldest son, Avichai, 27.

Outside, the sound of Israeli artillery being fired into Gaza echoed in the streets, which were quiet and mostly empty. Staring out into the eerie emptiness were campaign posters for the upcoming election, including a billboard with a photograph of Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni next to the words, “The courage to say the truth.”

Livni’s party, along with those of her main rivals, canceled campaign events scheduled for this week.

At the entrance to Ashkelon, one of those rivals, Defense Minister Ehud Barak, the architect of the Israeli strike on Gaza, had his own image up on a billboard with the slogan “Looking truth in the face.”

For the people of Ashkelon, who are living their leaders’ “truths,” there was stoicism mixed with fear.

“It is miserable but it will go on for a while,” said Capt. David Biton, the police commander who oversees the southern district that includes half a million people and stretches from Ashdod to Sderot — all now within range of Gaza’s rockets.

Galit Ben-Asher Yonah, 37, said it was “the shock of my life” to discover that her home in Gan Yavne, a bedroom community near Ashdod, now has come under attack.

Gan Yavne was hit for the first time Sunday, and two more rockets fell Monday. It is the farthest point north that the rockets have reached to date.

Yonah, originally from Los Angeles, is the mother of two young daughters and a newborn son. She says she will be keeping all her children at home for the next few days.

“Never in my life did I think I would have to explain to my 5-year-old that we have to go to the basement because a bomb was falling,” she said. “And there she was guiding me, telling me to cover my head with my hands and stay away from the window as she was taught in nursery school.”

Tal, her 5-year-old, also brought down a snack of bananas and cookies for them after the first rocket fell, telling her in a serious but calm voice that they might be sitting in the basement, which is reinforced against rockets, for a while.

In nearby Nitzan, where many of the families who were evicted three years ago from the Gush Katif settlement bloc in Gaza live in temporary homes, there are no protective rooms to which to flee.

“We left the Kasssam rockets to get Katyushas instead,” said Yuval Nefesh, 41, referring to the longer-range Katyusha rockets now striking Israel from Gaza. Before, Palestinians relied almost exclusively on the Kassam, a crude rocket with a range of 10 miles and poor accuracy.

He shrugs when asked how the people are coping. “We pray,” he said.

Nefesh is still in touch with some of the Palestinians from Gaza he met while living there, and he said he has been talking to them by phone since the Israeli air assault began.

Outside, the Elikum Shwarma and Kebab restaurant was one of the few bustling businesses in Ashkelon on Monday. Delivery people were busy ferrying orders to the thousands of people staying indoors.

Avi Zarad, working the cash register, tried to maintain a cheerful atmosphere.

“We can’t send out a message of being stressed out,” he said. A few minutes later a siren sounded and, with no shelter to run to, the customers continued eating calmly.

The soccer stadium where a rocket fell an hour earlier is just across the road.

“We are getting used to it, but it’s a horrible reality,” said Kinneret Cohen, a restaurant worker preparing salads in the kitchen. “We just breathe deeply knowing we have to give the army time to do its work.”

Rites to Mark Argentine Terror Attack


At 9:53 a.m. this Sunday in Buenos Aires, a loud siren will sound in front of 633 Pasteur St., where the AMIA Jewish community center is located.

The siren will mark the moment 10 years ago when a bomb went off, killing 85 people in the most devastating terrorist attack in modern Latin American history. Hundreds of Argentines are expected to be standing on Pasteur and in nearby streets to commemorate the anniversary of the tragedy.

The DAIA political umbrella group, together with AMIA and Familiaris de Las Victims — the biggest group of victims’ relatives — jointly organized the commemoration ceremony in Buenos Aires.

The following day, DAIA President Gilbert Lei will be in New York to take part in a commemoration there of the AMIA attack.

The American Jewish Committee, which recently gave an award to Argentine President Nestor Kirchner for his friendliness to Jews and Jewish interests, is sending a delegation to Buenos Aires to take part in the ceremony.

Kirchner said he’ll attend the July 18 commemoration at the AMIA center, and the day will be declared a national day of mourning. The president attended last year’s commemoration a few weeks after taking office, and he has been praised for his commitment to investigating the attack.

Because of infighting in the community, Familiaris at first opposed co-sponsoring the demonstration with local Jewish leaders.

“We finally decided not to show our differences to the world on such a day,” explained Sergio Bernstein, a prominent Familiaris member. “We’re privileged to honor the victims.”

Barely a week before the commemoration, Familiaris still hadn’t chosen a speaker. “We need to make sure we have someone that won’t break down,” Bernstein said.

The Familiaris speech will come after speeches by representatives of AMIA and DAIA. AMIA President Abraham Kabul said he will speak on the 10-year investigation of the attack, focusing on how the case has lost its focus.

Ten days before the ceremony, DAIA leaders also had not chosen a speaker.

“No matter who talks, he’ll express the will for truth, justice and unity that DAIA feels,” said Jorge Kirszenbaum, DAIA vice president.

Many Jews are concerned that DAIA officials — aside from Lei — are still linked to the organization’s former president, Ruben Barrage. Barrage has been criticized by local Jews, because of his ties to former Argentine President Carlos Menem and the former investigative judge on the AMIA case. Menem has been implicated in media reports of hindering the AMIA investigation, because of his ties to Iran, which is believed to have been behind the 1994 attack.

When many Argentine Jews were furious about the slow pace of the investigation into the AMIA bombing, Barrage refused to criticize the authorities. Barrage currently is in prison for developments related to a bank bankruptcy.

DAIA is considering having a victim’s relative speak to avoid public criticism, according to local press reports.

Two other organizations of victims’ relatives, Memorial Active and Anemia, are not taking part in the main celebration. Memorial Active, which for years has been harshly critical of the investigation, will hold a ceremony Saturday night in front of the city’s central courthouse and will then hold an overnight demonstration with the Youth in Guard group.