Netanyahu: We won't stop working to bring home Gilad Shalit
Prime Minister at Memorial Day ceremony honoring terror victims: Their only sin was living in Israel.
Israel will continue its efforts to bring home abducted Israel Defense Forces soldier Gilad Shalit, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Monday at a Memorial Day ceremony in Jerusalem dedicated to the victims of terror attacks.
"We won't stop taking action to bring Gilad Shalit home," said Netanyahu, who also took the opportunity to call on Shalit's captors to release him.
Shalit was captured by Gaza militants in a 2006 cross-border raid.
Netanyahu addressed the families of terror victims, saying, "We commemorate the memory of thousands of terror victims murdered in attacks against Israel.
"The only sin committed by these victims, was that they lived in Israel, or visited Israel. But they weren't sticklers - they killed Israelis outside of Israel too. The murderers slaughtered them only because of their identity."
A bereaved father attending the ceremony interrupted Netanyahu's speech lamenting the government's approach to terror attacks, but he was quickly subdued by security guards and asked to return to his seat.
Resuming his speech, Netanyahu then remarked that terror is not a new phenomenon, and that it has accompanied Zionism since the very beginning. "Today, the support is coming from the extreme Islamist regimes, headed by Iran, who have wholeheartedly adopted the calls to destroy Israel."
"The masterminds behind these attacks as well as those who carry them out erase the lines dividing babies from the elderly, dividing fighter from fighter, and dividing Jews and non-Jews," Netanyahu went on to say. "They have nothing but utter contempt for the values and rules customary in the human and enlightened world."
The prime minister added that Israel will extend its hands to "anyone who wishes to live with us in peace, but those who wish us ill, and those who kill our children, we will pursue everywhere and exact revenge for their hatred and their crimes."
In this comment, Netanyahu echoed sentiments he had uttered several hours earlier during the national Memorial Day ceremony at the Mount Herzl cemetery, during which he had said We are a peace seeking nation who prays for peace."
The prime minister addressed Israel's efforts to achieve peace with its neighbors, saying that "our one hand is extended in offering peace to our willing neighbors, while the other wields a sword to protect ourselves against from those who seek to destroy us."
"On this day," Netanyahu continued, "the entire nation is embracing the mothers, fathers, brothers and sisters, the sons, daughters and wives of the great big bereaved family," Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said
"Our loss is greater than we can bear," he added. "Our only comfort is to continue our loved ones' path and to keep their memory alive."
Netanyahu, who lost his own brother Yoni in a military operation in Uganda in 1976, addressed the bereaved families in attendance saying "my brothers and sisters, members of bereaved families, every family has its own way of dealing with the loss. I remember once when I saw my mother sitting in an armchair in the living room of my parents' house staring off into the distance when suddenly a smile passed over her face. I asked her 'what are you thinking about?' and she said 'I'm thinking about Yoni. I have only good memories.'"
Israelis across the country stood in silence for two minutes on Monday morning to remember the 22,684 soldiers and civilians who were killed in Israel's wars and terror attacks since the beginning of modern Zionism up until today.
Following the two minute siren at 11 A.M., Memorial Day ceremonies began in military cemeteries across the nation. Some 1.5 million visitors were expected to attend the various ceremonies Monday.
On Sunday, Netanyahu addressed a ceremony honoring Israel's Memorial Day at Jerusalem's Ammunition Hill, saying that Israel has learned that peace can only be achieved if it remains strong and prepared to defend itself.
"Over the years, we have learned that the olive branch of peace will be achieved only if we remain strong, only if we are prepared to defend ourselves in the same way our fallen soldiers did at this site," he told the crowd. "They attacked from this site and other hills not out of lust for war, but out of belief in the righteousness of the goal of defending the Jewish people's one and only country."
Netanyahu also stressed the importance of Jerusalem, saying, "Twice we have paid a heavy price to relieve the siege on Jerusalem - the first time during the War of Independence, and the second time when the city was bombarded during the Six-Day War. Jerusalem, which was then a withered, divided city, has returned to being a city full of life."
Since those wars, he added, not a day has passed on which Israel did not extend its hand in peace to its neighbors, "and our hand is still outstretched."
Netanyahu said that Memorial Day and Independence Day are inextricably linked. "We know that the first part is not possible without the second part," he said. "I wish it were different."
At 8 P.M. last night, Israel fell silent for one minute as sirens wailed across the country to mark the start of Memorial Day. Peres then lit a memorial flame at the official ceremony at the Western Wall plaza in Jerusalem and addressed Israel's bereaved families, saying that Israel seeks peace, but will defend itself in case of war.
"On this blessed occasion, I want to say in the name of the state of Israel at large: We do not seek war," Peres told the families. "We are a nation that yearns for peace, but knows, and will always know, how to defend itself."
Nothing, he told that families, can compensate for the loss of a loved one. "I am aware that nothing can compensate for the sound of your son's steps, which you expect to hear on the staircase, but have suddenly gone silent," Peres said. "Facing your tormented eyes, I am at a loss for words."
However, he added, "Israel's strength springs from the strength of its faith, and its greatness emanates from the heroism of its sons. Today we grieve for their loss and are blessed by their legacy."
Noting that Israel still faces threats, he warned those who seek to harm it not to "belittle our capabilities."
"There are still those who wish to annihilate us," Peres said. "At their head is the autocratic Iranian regime that seeks to impose its rule on the Middle East, silence it with lethal weapons and launch an anti-Israel incitement campaign to deflect Arab fears."
Though alone among the nations, he continued, "we had the good fortune to have sons that defended us with great courage. Alone we won seven wars, and emerged from them stronger and more determined.
"We are a democratic country, with many divisions and chasms, internal disagreements and wrangling, yet we are also a nation that knows how to stand united and put aside the bickering in times of need, to defend itself and inflict a resounding defeat on those who wish to destroy us."
He ended by thanking all those who have defended Israel and their families. "We want to express our gratitude, from the bottom of our hearts, to the youths who are no more, whom you raised and in whom you instilled the values that made them what they were until their last breath," he concluded. "It is their courage that gave our people the strength to face the challenges ahead - not to fear the enemy, not to cease building, not to lose faith in the peace to come. And it will come."