Memorial Day 2015: Israel Remembers Its Fallen Soldiers and Civilians

23,320 Israelis been killed in battle or attacks since 1860, when Jewish settlers first moved outside the walls of Jerusalem; memorial day begins with candle-light ceremony at the Western Wall and a siren across the country.

A siren sounded across Israel at 8 P.M. on Tuesday night to mark the Memorial Day for those fallen in the Israel Defense Forces operations or killed in terror attacks.

The day officially begins with a candle-lighting ceremony at the Western Wall in Jerusalem, presided over by President Reuven Rivlin and Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot.

The ceremony was opened by Rivlin, who said upon taking the podium: "We are not people of war. Our sons did not go to battle thirsty for blood. Not this past summer, not those before, not in our sorrow in those that god forbid are still to come. We are forced to fight. Our children are sentenced to continue to hold a weapon in order to guard our borders, to defend our homes, on the factory that we have built here. The defense of our existence is the way of our lives."   

"The geography of pain, I've learned, crosses Israel in its length and width – but it does not divide it," he added. "Death commands the believers and those who do not. There is no camp – no camp – in which there is no death. I've seen the sons of kibbutzim and settlements, moshavim and villages, Jews and non-Jews, urban people, lone soldiers and immigrants. I came to them too late. I got to know them when they were no longer here."

"The bereaved family is tied together by the bonds of a common destiny, a destiny forced upon it, whereas the society of Israel, in every camp, is connected not just by the bonds of fate, but by destination and significance."

Eisenkot, who spoke after Ruvlin, said that the IDF will "continue to stand guard, continue to fight for the existence of the State of Israel." He also expressed hope that there will be no more deaths in wars for the land of Israel: "If only the land would be peaceful and no names were added to the long list of the fallen."

"We will continue to strengthen the readiness of the IDF for every scenario and carry out everything necessary to achieve our mission - to deter our enemies, to prevent war and conflict from our borders, and if required on the day of battle - we will overcome those arising against us with determination and strength. That is our mission and that is the mission of the IDF," he added.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Rivlin, Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon, Deputy IDF Chief Yair Golan and Police Commissioner Yohanan Danino will attend a separate official ceremony in the Knesset, at 9 P.M.

Netanyahu visited the Yad Lebanim monument in Jerusalem early Tuesday evening, to open Memorial Day, and said: "The more we overcome the threats of our enemies to destroy our home, the more our determination to protect our home grows. There is no future for the Jewish people without the State of Israel."

On Wednesday at 11 A.M., another siren - this one two minutes long - will sound, after which the official memorial ceremonies will begin throughout the country. 

At 1:00 P.M., the official memorial ceremony for terror victims will take place at Mount Herzl, attended by Netanyahu, as well as Rivlin and Eisenkot. A ceremony at the Kiryat Shaul military ceremony will be attended by Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon, while additional ceremonies will take place throughout the country.

The Defense Ministry estimates that roughly 1.5 million people will visit military cemeteries throughout the country tomorrow.

Memorial Day will continue until sunset on Wednesday, when Independence Day begins and the mourning turns to celebration. At 8:00 P.M., the official Independence Day torch lighting ceremony will take place at Mount Herzl, marking the end of Memorial Day and the start of Independence Day.

23,320 Israelis been killed in battle or attacks since 1860, when Jewish settlers first moved outside the walls of Jerusalem.

In the past year, 116 members of the defense establishment were added to the list of fatalities, according to the ministry's figures. Of those, 67 were killed during Operation Protective Edge last summer.

First Sergeant Oron Shaul, who died during the operation, is defined as a fallen soldier whose burial site is unknown. He is one of 553 soldiers whose places of burial are unknown.

Mohammed Abu Khdeir, the East Jerusalem teenager who was killed was beaten and burned by right-wing Jews in retaliation for the kidnapping and murder of three Jewish teens by Palestinians in the West Bank, was added to the plaque commemorating terror victims.

The plaque is located at Jerusalem’s Mount Herzl, home to the Victims of Acts of Terror Memorial and Israel’s main military cemetery. Also buried there are luminaries such as Theodor Herzl and Yitzhak Rabin. Activists protested the decision and demanded that his name be removed.

There are 16,760 bereaved families in Israel, according to the figures.

Included in the numbers are members of the Israel Defense Forces, the Shin Bet security service, the Mossad, the Israel Police, the Israel Prisons Service and the World War II Jewish Brigade who fell in action.

The Defense Ministry is expecting over a million-and-a-half people to visit the country's military cemeteries over the course of Memorial Day.