As Israel’s Memorial Day draws to a close, Israel’s Independence Day celebrations begin. As is traditional, on Memorial Day, sirens wailed twice, during which traffic stopped and Israelis stood in silence, in honor of those who died in service to the country as well as those who were victims of terror attacks. In Israel, on Memorial Day, radio stations play somber music and TV stations run programs about war and soldiers killed in combat. 116 soldiers have died this past year, including 67 during last summer’s Gaza war. At the annual Memorial Day Service, President Reuven Rivlin asserted that Israelis do not strive to go to war, but are “forced to fight,” while Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared that “anyone who has experienced the anguish of bereavement is not eager to go to battle.” In his remarks, President Rivlin also urged Israelis to fight for “a more just home, a more compassionate home, a home where not only those who have fallen, but all those within it are equal.”
Independence Day began the evening after Memorial Day with a torch-lighting ceremony on Mt. Herzl. This year the ceremony highlighted 14 Israeli trailblazers, inspiring people who broke the mold and made significant contributions in the fields of science and technology, defense, economics, medicine, agriculture, culture and sports. Among these individuals, all of whom lit the torch, is Danny Gold, who was one of the individuals who invented the Iron Dome missile defense system, which has protected Israeli civilians during past wars against Hamas and Hezbollah. In the last Gaza war, the Iron Dome intercepted 735 rockets.
Other torch-lighters included individuals who have made groundbreaking advances for women and minorities in Israeli society. One of these women was Alice Miller, who was Israel's first female pilot. In 1997, when the IDF refused to allow her to take the entrance exam, she successfully petitioned the Supreme Court and cleared the way for women to serve as pilots in the IDF. Lucy Aharish, an Israeli Arab journalist and Israel’s first Arab news presenter on prime-time TV, also had the honor of lighting a torch. She has been an outspoken voice in support of tolerance and currently hosts a daily news broadcast on i24 News in English.
Other torch-lighters included Ehud Shabtai, developer of the popular Waze traffic app; Rafi Mehudar, an inventor who revolutionized irrigation systems that have helped Israel and developing nations conserve water; and Rami Levy, owner of the popular discounted food chains that serve both Israeli and Palestinian customers across Israel and the West Bank.
Israeli President Reuven Rivlin spoke out strongly on the question of the Armenian genocide in a closed session with journalists held last week in Jerusalem in honor of Israel Independence Day. The comments, made in response to a question posed by The Tower and cleared for publication today, will do little to ease relations between Israel and Turkey—which strongly condemns any efforts to use the term “genocide”—and will also form a sharp contrast with the refusal of U.S. President Barack Obama to use the word “genocide” in discussing the tragedy of the Armenians in 1915, despite having promised to do so when he ran for president in 2008.
April 24 will mark the internationally recognized 100th anniversary of the systematic extermination of over one million Armenians and their expulsion from their traditional homeland in Turkey in 1915. Ninety percent of Turkish Armenians, it is estimated, lost their lives.
In his comments, Rivlin drew a direct historical link between the world’s failure to prevent the Armenian genocide and the Holocaust. “The Nazis,” he said, “used the Armenian genocide as something that gave them permission to bring the Holocaust into reality.”