Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Sunday at a ceremony marking Memorial Day that Israel would not have existed had it not been for its fallen soldiers, calling the bereaved families the cornerstone of Israeli society.
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"A cloud of sadness surrounds the State of Israel today and always envelops the families, the parents, the children, the widows, the spouses, the brothers and the sisters," he said at a ceremony ushering in Memorial Day.
"Today we are marking the mutual responsibility and shared fate that binds all segments of the people with the bereaved family. That is the genuine and to a great extent the unique source of the State of Israel, of our strength, a unique source of strength," he said.
"We stand as a fortified wall facing our enemies. We do not demonstrate weakness. We do not allow our weapon to drop from our hands," Netanyahu stated. "We know that this is the only way for us to repel those plotting [against us], who refuse to become reconciled with our existence, and it is only this way that we will achieve peace with those of our neighbors who want peace. At the same time we maintain our humanity."
For his part, Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein stated: "Even as we have always sought peace with our neighbors, we are well aware that, for the time being, we must be doubly watchful to maintain the security of the State of Israel and its citizens. To this end, during routine times and in combat, we must maintain an Israel Defense Force that is strong and advanced, [committed to] values and morals."
On Sunday morning the new National Remembrance Hall in memory of those killed in defense of the country was dedicated at the Mount Herzl national cemetery in Jerusalem, constructed with bricks engraved with the names of all of those who lost their lives.
In remarks at the dedication, President Reuven Rivlin said: "The dedication of the National Remembrance Hall to those killed in defense of Israel is a seminal event for the State of Israel." Noting that this year marks the 50th anniversary of the 1967 Six-Day War, the president added: "I know that many parents ask: 'Who will remember our child after we are gone?' Through this hall we promise that the memory of our beloved sons and daughters and of the heroes will be deep in the heart of the nation from generation to generation."
Netanyahu's initial remarks were interrupted by a bereaved father, Shaul Chitiat, whose son Omri was killed in 1996. In his statement, Chitiat made reference to the mother of Hadar Goldin, a soldier who was killed in Gaza in 2014 and whose body has not been recovered. The mother, Lea Goldin, recently made emotional comments at the Knesset in Netanyahu's presence in which she accused the prime minister of turning the bereaved families into "enemies of the people"
"Even on this holy day, I won't forgive Lea Goldin's tears. Her tears require a response and a request for immediate forgiveness," Chitiat said.
The beginning of Memorial Day is marked at 8 P.M. with a one-minute siren around the country that brings Israel to a halt. This is followed by the lighting of a memorial flame at the Western Wall in Jerusalem in the presence of President Rivlin and Israel Defense Force Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot and later by a ceremony at the Knesset.
At 11 A.M. on Monday, there is a two-minute siren followed by official memorial ceremonies at military cemeteries around the country. More than half a million people are expected to visit military cemeteries in the course of Memorial Day. At 1 P.M. a memorial event will be held to mark civilian victims of terrorist attacks and other hostile acts.
At 8 P.M. on Monday at Mount Herzl, the country will make the official transition from Memorial Day to Independence Day, marking 69 years since the establishment of the state. Independence Day runs through Tuesday.