Yom Ha'zikaron and Yom Ha'atzmaut
On Tuesday, April 24, at 8:00 p.m., Israelis will pause for one minute as a siren wails across the country to mark the beginning of Yom Ha'zikaron, Israel's Memorial Day. Israel and the Jewish world will mourn the nation's fallen soldiers and terror victims. The siren will be followed by ceremonies across the country and the Jewish world. During the siren, Israelis stop everything (including driving) and stand in silence, commemorating the fallen. The official ceremony to mark the opening of the day takes place at the Western Wall, where the flag is lowered to half-mast.
The following is a brief review of Israel's battles and wars since 1947:
The State of Israel was established on May 14, 1948 (5 Iyar, 5708). On that Friday, David Ben-Gurion, then the executive head of the World Zionist Organization and chairman of the Jewish Agency for Palestine, announced that the new Jewish state that was just established would be named the State of Israel. This date marked the end of the British Mandate, which was due to expire the next day, May 15.
Since then, that declaration is celebrated annually in Israel and around the Jewish world as Yom Ha'atzmaut, the Day of Independence on 5 Iyar, according to the Hebrew calendar.
The establishment of the State of Israel in 1948 was preceded by 64 years of efforts to establish a sovereign state as a homeland for Jews. These efforts were initiated by Theodore Herzl, founder of the Zionist movement.
The celebration of the first Independence Day was disturbed by the new state's first war, the War of Independence. Soon after the State of Israel was proclaimed, it was invaded by armies from neighboring Arab states, which rejected the UN partition plan.
The war was fought along the entire, long border of the country: against Lebanon and Syria in the north; Iraq and Jordan in the east and Egypt, assisted by contingents from the Sudan, in the south; and Palestinians and volunteers from Arab countries in the interior of the country. It was the bloodiest of Israel's wars. It cost 6,373 killed in action (from pre-state days until 20 July 1949), almost one percent of the Jewish population then, including new immigrants and some foreign volunteers.
In the middle of this first war, Israel's army (known as the Israel Defense Force) was born; the new army was a direct continuity of the Haganah, a Jewish paramilitary organization.
The War of Independence was the first in a series of wars between Israel and its neighbors:
The Sinai Campaign of 1956 (Operation Kadesh)
This second war followed the Egyptian decision to nationalize the Suez Canal. (The canal is a strategic necessity to many countries, not just to Israel.) In a short 100-hour operation, the entire Sinai peninsula fell into Israeli hands. Due to international pressure, Israel was compelled to withdraw from Sinai after the war ended.
The Six-Day War (June 1967)
Egypt, along with ten other Arab countries, planned to attack Israel. Israel was prepared and on June 5, 1967 attacked the Egyptian Air Force. Within a brief six days, the IDF overran the whole Sinai peninsula, up to the Suez Canal; took the entire West Bank of the River Jordan; and in the last days, captured a great part of the Golan Heights. The culminating event was the capture of the Old City of Jerusalem and the re-encounter with the place most revered by Jews, the Western (Wailing) Wall. The blowing of the shofar at the Western Wall reverberated throughout the world. The painful price Israel paid was 776 Israeli soldiers killed during the Six-Day War.
The War of Attrition (1968-70)
The War of Attrition was a static exchange of artillery fire along the entire Suez Canal, which escalated rapidly. 1,424 Israeli soldiers were killed in action between June 15, 1967 and August 8, 1970.
The Yom Kippur War (October 1973)
Starting on the holiest day in the Jewish calendar, the Day of Atonement (October 6, 1973), this attack came almost as a complete surprise and warning notice was given too late for an orderly call-up of the reserves. The Egyptians and the Syrians coordinated the invasion of Israel. The situation turned very quickly, and within a few days the IDF was on the west bank of the Suez Canal, 60 miles from the Egyptian capital, Cairo, and within artillery range of the airfields around the Syrian capital, Damascus. 2,688 Israeli soldiers were killed.
The First Lebanon War (1982)
In June 1982, a Palestinian terrorist group carried out an assassination attempt on Israel's Ambassador to Great Britain Shlomo Argov. In retaliation, the IDF attacked Lebanon and succeeded in its original purpose of wiping out terrorist bases in the south, which had been attacking and launching missiles against northern Israeli cities. During the occupation of southern Lebanon, 1,216 Israeli soldiers were killed between June 1982 and May 1985.
The Gulf War (1991)
After the end of his war with Iran, Saddam Hussein threatened to go ahead with his famous call to "burn half of Israel." Although Israel did not participate in the Gulf War, 39 Iraqi Scud missiles landed in Tel Aviv and Haifa and caused severe damage. Israelis spent 45 days repeatedly running to bomb shelters.
The Second Lebanon war (2006)
This war began on July 12, 2006 and concluded on August 14 with a UN brokered ceasefire. The conflict began when Hezbollah terrorists opened fire on the northern Israeli border towns, wounding several civilians. The purpose of the attack was to capture Israelis who could be used in prisoner exchanges, and two Israeli soldiers, Ehud Goldwasser, 31, and Eldad Regev, 26, were confirmed missing. Israel responded with airstrikes and artillery shelling of Hezbollah targets, and a naval blockade against Lebanon, followed by a ground invasion. After 34 days of fighting, a ceasefire came into effect.
During the war about 149 Israeli soldiers and 44 civilians were killed, and hundreds of thousands of people were displaced from their homes temporarily or permanently.
On June 29, 2008, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert declared the two captives dead. On July 16, Hezbollah swapped the bodies of Ehud and Eldad for four Hezbollah prisoners captured during the 2006 Lebanon War, and the bodies of 199 killed Palestinian and Lebanese fighters.
In between all these wars, Israelis are attacked again and again by different terrorist groups, including thousands of rockets launched at Israel from the Gaza Strip in recent years.
Throughout all these wars and acts of terror, Israel seeks peace (and signed two very significant agreements with Egypt and Jordan) and is willing to pay the price and give land in return for peace.