Memorial Day for Israel’s fallen soldiers began Sunday afternoon with a ceremony at Yad Lebanim in Jerusalem, attended by the prime minister, 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."

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.

"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."  

Earlier on Sunday, Netanyahu opened the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem with a somber tone: "Today, the State of Israel will come together in memory of its fallen soldiers. Since the moment the state was founded, it has never ceased wishing for peace with its neighbors, while at the same time, its enemies never ceased aspiring to eradicate it from this land."

"We are here thanks to the Israeli fighters who enlisted in the struggle for our existence," Netanyahu said. "Thanks to those who survived Israel's operations, and thanks to those who fell. We will not forget, even for a moment, that we are here because of those who fell."

At 8 P.M. a one-minute siren will sound throughout the country, marking the official opening of Memorial Day, followed by commemoration ceremonies. A torch will be lit at the Western Wall in Jerusalem, in the presence of President Shimon Peres and Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Benny Gantz.

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.