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Israelis honour soldiers who have died in war

Ahead of Israeli independence day celebrations on Thursday, country commemorates soldiers who have fallen over past 67 years
Reali School students march during a ceremony for the Israeli memorial day in Haifa (MEE/Oren Ziv)

HAIFA, Israel - Students at the Reali School, many of whose graduates have gone on to serve as key figures in the Israeli army and government, took part on Wednesday in Israel’s national commemoration of soldiers killed in the last 67 years. 

Events across the country for Israeli Memorial Day, called Yom Hazikaron in Hebrew, began at sunset on Tuesday and will continue until nightfall on Wednesday when a sombre mood gives way to fireworks and more raucous festivities marking the declaration of the state of Israel in May 1948.

The independence celebration, which is separate from memorial day commemorations, is marked according to the Jewish calendar which falls this year on 22 April.

Palestinians mark the anniversary on 15 May when they commemorate the Nakba – "the catastrophe" in Arabic – the creation of Israel that sparked the exodus and displacement of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians and the destruction of hundreds of villages.

Early in the morning at the school, 1,200 students that were dressed with white shirts and blue hats marched to the sound of drums and performed military drills on the school’s football field, as thousands of school students, parents and school graduates watched. 

As the marching students took their positions on the school's yard, students and teachers read, one by one, the names of around 300 students that died during their service in the Israeli army.

"The fallen soldiers of the Reali School were beautiful, confident, and life-hungry, but their lives were cut short,” Yossi Ben Dov, the school’s director, told the crowd.

“Last year, I did not imagine that in the summer another war will take place, and that to the long list of fallen soldiers two of the school's graduates names will be added."

Reali School Director Yossi Ben Dov speaks during a ceremony for the Israeli memorial day in Haifa (MEE/Oren Ziv)
Many of the school’s 22,000 graduates became key figures in the Israeli establishment, including four graduates who have served as the chief of staff of the Israeli army, and one who became the Israel’s president.

Ben Dov went further, saying there is a need for change after last summer’s war and this year’s election, in order to examine what is happening in Israeli society.

"The last elections were hard and full of inclinations, and the last summer was full of rage, and our society became divided,” he said. “Now when the military battle is finished and the political battle also comes to an end, we need to stop and examine how can we change the public discussion around us.”

According to the Israeli defence ministry, 23,320 soldiers and civilians have been killed in wars or during attacks since 1860. In the past year, 67 soldiers were killed during the Israeli war in Gaza. During the conflict, more than 2,100 Palestinians, mostly civilians, were killed.

Many of Haifa’s residents attended the ceremony on Wednesday morning, several who said they attend each year.

"As a child I was marching, and since I graduate I came back to watch the ceremony every year, 46 years in a row,” a man named Gilli told Middle East Eye.

“Today, my daughter was marching here and, when she graduates, she will join the Israeli army."

Israeli high school students march during a ceremony for the Israeli memorial day in Haifa (MEE/Oren Ziv)
Naomi Sroka, a 84-year-old graduate of the school, a former teacher and a member of the school's boards of directors, told MEE said she had attended every ceremony since the first one in 1949.

"Since then, I did not miss one ceremony. I am really excited to attend every year, and in the recent years there has been a change, the students wear blue and white instead of khaki uniforms, and it shows this is not a militaristic ceremony,” she said.

After watching the ceremony for the past seven years, Yuval, an 8th grade student, took part in the march for the first time this year. 

"It was physically hard, but I understood how important it is,” he said. “I’m watching the ceremony from the first grade, but to march myself is a different thing. You see the big crowd that gathered here today, and this is very exciting.”