A one-minute siren sounded throughout Israel on Sunday night, marking the official opening of Memorial Day. A torch was lit at the Western Wall in Jerusalem, in the presence of President Shimon Peres and Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Benny Gantz.
"We know full well that there are no words we can say this night to assuage your pain," Peres told bereaved families in his speech. "We are here today to say that we know that there can be no solace for those who lost sons, husbands, fathers, or brothers, and that we cannot bring back those who are lost," he said. "But, perhaps the fact that we remember them, and honor them, will provide some solace. Their faces will never be erased from the images of our lives."
According to Defense Ministry figures, the total number of Israel’s fallen is 23,085. Since last Memorial Day 92 names have been added to the list: 37 soldiers, 12 police personnel and 43 disabled veterans who died over the past year. The relatives of the fallen - parents, spouses and children up to age 30 - number 17,533.
Speaking at the Western Wall, Peres added: "From within our sorrow, we examine the historic miracle called the State of Israel. The victories on the field of battle and of peace. The creativity which thrives here. The outstanding achievements that put this country at the forefront of many fields. Our pride knows no bounds, my pride knows no bounds. There is no longer any doubt as to the existence of the State of Israel. The IDF is prepared for any threat, against any danger.
"The fighting spirit of the IDF's soldiers and commanders," he said, "their bravery and faith in their mission, together with their devotion to moral values, guarantee that the IDF will always prevail. We know this. Our enemies have tested it. They should not err again.
"Not for a moment will we forget those who made Israel's existence possible. Those who for 65 years gave their lives to this land, defended its borders, its citizens and their safety, its freedom and independence. Behold, Israel is as dear to us as our soldiers are mighty and brave, and our pain over their falling is just as deep."
The IDF Chief of Staff, Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz also spoke at the ceremony at the Western Wall. "Tonight I stand before you, Chief of the General Staff of the Israel Defense Forces, and promise you, that just as our land, full of memorial sites,is a land that carries their names, the IDF is an army that carries their names. We train, teach, and guide our soldiers and prepare our objectives and operations with the light of the fallen to guide our paths.
"This year we commemorate forty years since the Yom Kippur War. Forty years later, we need everyone, the best from all portions of Israeli society, to band together, shoulder-to-shoulder, among the IDF's ranks. Forty years later, if it seems that our enemies are no longer knocking on our door, do not let the quiet fool you. The land is in rife with turmoil, and a storm is brewing beneath the surface, full of dangers and developing threats. At all hours a steadfast and courageous defensive system is working within our borders and beyond them to ensure our safety.
"Tonight, while we soberly gaze at our enemies, and the steel of the IDF and its soldiers, forged in the flames of unity, I say to you: Our people's defensive wall is always ready. Our sword is sharper than ever. Our deadly flame can reach any distance. Those who need to, know that there is no place, and no target too far away for the long arms of the IDF to reach. I know that when we will once again be needed, we will be prepared, as always, and readier than ever. We will continue our struggle to guarantee the safety of the people of Israel."
Earlier on Sunday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke at a ceremony at Yad Lebanim in Jerusalem, attended also by the speaker of the Knesset and the Sephardi and Ashkenazi chief rabbis.
"The grief does not let up for any one of us grieving families," Netanyahu said at the ceremony. "But the wounds of the loss did not diminish your great souls and firm spirits."
The Jewish people, Netanyahu said, "have always had to fight for our liberty and our existence. The haters of Israel deported us, persecuted us and wished to erase the memory of Israel. Today, too, there are those who threaten to destroy us. They have not succeeded; they will never succeed. We do not wish to fight, but if forced, we will wield our sword and step out into the battlefield."
"Only a mighty defense will ensure we are not harmed," Netanyahu added. "My family too paid the price of Israel's independence. I have also experienced the pain of loss. My consolation, our consolation, is that the sons and daughters, the parents and mothers, did not lose their lives in vain. Only because of their sacrifice can we be a free people in our country."
On Monday, after the sounding of a two-minute siren, ceremonies for the fallen will begin throughout the country. A state ceremony will take place on Mount Herzl, with the participation of the prime minister, the president and the chief of staff. Another ceremony will be held at the military cemetery of Kiryat Shaul in Tel Aviv, to be attended by the defense minister. A ceremony for the victims of terror attacks will be held at 1 P.M. on Mount Herzl with the president, Social Affairs Minister Meir Cohen and the chief of staff.
According to the National Insurance Institute, 2,493 civilians have been killed in terror attacks since the end of the War of Independence, including 120 foreigners. Since the beginning of the second intifada in 2000, 974 civilians have been killed in terror attacks, 10 of whom were killed over the past year. The Defense Ministry’s commemoration department says it expects more than 1.5 million people to visit military cemeteries throughout the country. Its representatives will be on hand at the cemeteries to distribute flowers and bottled water. A flag, memorial candle and flowers will be placed on each grave.
The traditional torch lighting ceremony on Mount Herzl on Monday night will end the Memorial Day ceremonies and kick off Independence Day. The theme of the torchlighting ceremony is the protection of national heritage for coming generations, spotlighting state spending of approximately NIS 400 million on restoring and upgrading heritage sites.
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