The Israeli Fallen Soldiers and Victims of Terrorism Remembrance Day ceremony opened Sunday evening with a minute's siren to the memory of 22,684 fallen soldiers. Immediately following this moment's silence, the ceremony began at the Western Wall plaza in Jerusalem, with an address by President Shimon Peres, flanked by Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat and Chief of Staff Lieutenant-General Gabi Ashkenazi.
The president began his speech with a moving address to the families of the fallen present at the ceremony, saying they represented those homes which had lost that most dear to them in the heat of the battle, in the fulfillment of their duty – "this one a son, that one a daughter, who they will never see again… this one the look in his eyes, that one the smile of a brother, a sister, gone forever."
The ceremony at the Wall. "We don't seek war." (Photo: Gil Yohanan)
"I know that there is no consolation that can come instead of the son whose steps you expect to hear in the corridor which have been silenced suddenly," Peres continued. "The son whose uniform you hung up which you still touch, to feel the smell of his body one more time. The son and daughter whose pictures you look at with yearning which only increases."
The president also referred to the Iranian threat. "There are still those who desire to destroy us, first and foremost the oppressive Iranian regime which aspires to control the Middle East, to paralyze it with threatening weapons, and with spreading hatred of Israel to calm Arab suspicions," he said. "We must not dismiss those threats. But they must not dismiss our capabilities."
Peres sent a message of peace: "We don't seek war. We are a peace-seeking state, but we know, and will continue to know, how to care for ourselves. We are a democratic state, replete with rifts and divisions, arguments and internal disputes – but we are also a nation that knows how to unite and rise up in the hour of need, to defend our lives and defeat those who lie in ambush."
Ashkenazi: 'Understand your loss'
The chief of staff spoke to the families of the fallen. "Only those who have grieved… can understand. I stand before you today as a soldier and commander and during my 36 years of service I have grieved for the best… and I have returned from the battlefields with missing ranks. I understand the feeling of loss and yearning."
Ashkenazi recalled Major Eliraz Peretz and Staff Sergeant Ilan Sabyatkovski, who fell in Gaza. He noted that one soldier was a bereaved brother who insisted on fulfilling his obligation at the head of his soldiers, and the other was a fighter whose love of Israel compelled him to undertake a conversion process at the same time as serving in the army.
These and other stories, he said, were the ultimate sign of a sense of mission, determination and dedication that guide the young people of the country, its soldiers and its commanders.
The chief of staff noted that "in order that the high price paid by our comrades in arms will not have been in vain, we must be able to look at ourselves and say, 'all Jews are responsible for one another' – we must nurture unity, patience and tolerance, honor the contribution made by those who serve, condemn draft-dodgers, and place service for the state as a supreme value."
The number of fallen includes all since 1860, including the Jewish Brigade, the underground, the IDF, the Shin Bet, the Mossad and victims of terror. Since last year's Remembrance Day, another 113 Israelis have fallen.
'Sacrifice was not in vain'. Ceremony at Kiryat Shaul. (Photo: Yaron Brener)
In Jerusalem's International Convention Center hundreds of bereaved families and thousands of guests participated in an event entitled, "Remembering, Singing and Relating – Together with Hope". Miriam and Shulamit Peretz, mother and widow of Eliraz Peretz, were also present.
At a ceremony of the organization Yad Labanim that took place Sunday afternoon at Jerusalem's Ammunition Hill, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said, "The fighters of Ammunition Hill and others gave their lives for the State of Israel in the belief in the justice of defending the only state of the Jewish people. Thus too were the last to fall, Major Eliraz Peretz and Staff Sergeant Ilan Sabyatkovski, who fell in Gaza."
Defense Minister Ehud Barak spoke at a ceremony in Tel Aviv University, saying, "The bereaved families have paid the highest, almost inconceivable price, but their sacrifice on the alter of security was not in vain."