Memorial Day ceremony
Memorial Day ceremony at the Western Wall on Sunday Photo by Olivier Fitoussi
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Olivier Fitoussi
Memorial Day ceremony at the Western Wall on Sunday night. Photo by Olivier Fitoussi
Olivier Fitoussi
Netanyahu in Jerusalem, May 4, 2014. Photo by Olivier Fitoussi

Memorial Day ceremonies began Sunday night with a one-minute siren followed by the lighting of a memorial torch at the Western Wall in Jerusalem in the presence of President Shimon Peres and Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Benny Gantz.

Ceremonies commemorating fallen soldiers and victims of terrorism on behallf of Israel were held at the same time in communities throughout the country.

“Sixty-seven years ago, the United Nations decided on the establishment of a Jewish state. But it was not this declaration that established this wondrous state. It arose from the blood of its sons, the sweat of its pioneers and the vision of its prophets,” Peres said. With regard to the fallen, Peres said, “Every word they left behind was a testament that tells us to be as principled as the Ten Commandments, to be strong and of good courage, to be a productive, enlightened society, to be a free and democratic country, to be a people that strive for peace.”

He continued, “To our neighbors, we offer a true partnership and a new life in which trees bearing fruit will take the place of arrows sowing agony. I am certain that all of us will yet see those days.”

Gantz said the relative quiet on the security front of the past few years is an “illusion that would take only a spark to set on fire.” Gantz said the army promised to stand ready to respond to any mission required for Israel’s security.

Earlier, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu took part in a ceremony at Yad Lebanim, an organization for families of fallen soldiers and secuirty personnel, in Jerusalem, where he said that Israel must not forget it exists thanks to the sacrifice of the men and women who gave their lives in its defense.

Speaking at ceremony at Yad Lebanim in Jerusalem, Netanyahu said that the fallen are "the heroes of the nation."

"They come from every part of the people, and from every part of Israeli society, and the simplest, most essential truth is this: We would not be here if not for their sacrifice, we would not be here if not for their readiness to give their lives so that we will be here," he said.

"During the years of our exile," added Netanyahu, "we were simply slaughtered, and the great difference since the revival of Israel is our ability to station our sons and daughters to defend us, and even if this carries a pain like none other."

Ya’alon announced Sunday morning that he ordered the closure of the Palestinian territories from 6 P.M. Sunday to midnight Wednesday, following Independence Day. Palestinians will be allowed passage into Israel “only in exceptional humanitarian cases and pending authorization from the Civil Administration,” the army said.

The 57 soldiers who died since last Memorial Day are included in Israel’s 23,169 military casualties, counted from the year 1860, as are some 50 wounded veterans who are posthumously recognized as military casualties.

Official memorial to be held Monday

On Monday at 11 A.M. a two-minute siren will be heard, after which the official memorial ceremony for the fallen of Israel's wars will take place at Mt. Herzl in the presence of the president, prime minster and IDF chief of staff. At the same time memorial ceremonies will be held at military cemeteries around the country, with the expected attendance of some 500,000 people, according to the Defense Ministry.

At 1 P.M. the official memorial ceremony for victims of terrorism will take place at Mt. Herzl. At 8 P.M. at Mt. Herzl the torch-lighting ceremony will begin, marking the transition from Memorial Day to the start of Independence Day celebrations.