President Reuven Rivlin spoke on Sunday evening of the price in lives that Israel has paid for its independence. "We know there is a price for our existence here for our liberty. There is a price and we, with fear and dread, are prepared to pay it," he said, speaking at a ceremony at the Western Wall in Jerusalem marking the beginning of Memorial Day.
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The country must not only ensure the security of Israel's citizens and the well-being of its soldiers. "We must always busy ourselves not with preventing the next war but preventing the next wars -- by every means and channel at our disposal," the president said.
Earlier Sunday, at Jerusalem's Yad Lebanim memorial site, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said: "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."
The prime minister spoke of "the mutual responsibility and shared fate that binds all segments of the people with the bereaved family" and added: "We stand as a fortified wall facing our enemies."
Memorial Day formally began at 8 P.M. Sunday with a one-minute siren around the country that brought Israel to a halt. This was followed by the lighting of a memorial flame at the Western Wall in the presence of President Rivlin and Israel Defense Force Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot.
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.