The IDF and Israel's security forces are the only thing that prevents the past slaughter of the Jewish people from repeating itself in the present, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stressed on Monday in his speech at the Memorial Day ceremony on Mount Herzl in Jerusalem.
"A mother, a Holocaust survivor whose entire family was exterminated in the crematoriums, told me 'my son was killed wearing (army) uniforms and carrying a weapon for the safety of Israel,'" Netanyahu recalled. "Another mother told me 'my brother was killed as an army officer on a tank, and was not led to slaughter.'"
He noted that while Jewish blood was spilled during its years of exile, the immense pain was without purpose or response.
"Here, in Israel, the cure for the pain is understanding its purpose" in defending the people of Israel, Netanyhu said.
"Israel is a strong, secure country that can defend itself facing any threat, but this security costs a price too heavy to bear of the loss of our loved ones," he said.
The prime minister described the slaughter of tens of thousands of people in Syria, who cannot defend themselves, asking, "Does anyone have any doubt that this could have been our fate as well, if it wasn't for the strength of the IDF and the bravery of our fighters' spirits?"
Netanyahu also described the unimaginable pain felt by bereaved families. The prime minister lost his older brother Yonatan, who was the commander of the elite commando unit Sayeret Matkal and was the only soldier killed in action during Operation Entebbe in Uganda.
"Those who did not experience bereavement on their own flesh cannot truly understand the full meaning and depth of our grief, the powerful shock that clung to us, the feeling of loss," Netanyahu said.
"On that horrible day, when the graves of our loved ones opened before us - there we sat, there we wept, and there we remembered our sons and brothers who died for Zion."
"There's nothing more terrible than the pain of parents who are told of the fall of their children," he continued. "The blow that strikes at the sound of the terrible news, that cuts through the raw flesh, whips the mind relentlessly, shatters daily life, and does not let go."
"I've seen this up close when my parents were thrown into the dark pit of bereavement after my older brother was killed. This is a deep pit with slippery walls. It's hard to climb out of it and in a way they have never quite gotten out of it," Netanyahu said.
Despite that, the prime minister insisted, grief could be eased. "You could recharge with the current of life, you can rebuild and contribute and strengthen others - but never forget. Always remember."
It was the fallen soldiers' sacrifice that has allowed the State of Israel to form and continues allowing its sustainability, Netanyahu said. "We are grateful for their sacrifice that has allowed us to live here, in an independent country proud of all of its citizens, in a country that is the national home of our people."
Tens of thousands of people have arrived at military cemeteries across the country to honor the memory of their loved ones in state ceremonies held to mark Memorial Day for fallen IDF soldiers and terror victims.
A two-minute siren was sounded at 11 am, halting Israel into a stand-still.
The Department of Families and Commemoration at the Defense Ministry said over a million and a half people were expected to arrive at the 52 military cemeteries and at the hundreds of military burial sites across the country for Memorial Day services.
The bereaved families are facing a heat wave, with degrees in Tiberias expected to reach a high of 39 degrees Celsius, and 40 degrees Celsius in Ein Gedi and Eilat. In Tel Aviv and Haifa, a high of 35 was forecast, while Jerusalem will experience a high of 33 degrees.
Hundreds of buses and shuttles were dispatched to take families to military cemeteries, where bottles of water and flowers were provided. Over 130 Magen David Adom ambulances have been stationed in the 52 military cemeteries, and some 650 paramedics are on hand to provide medical assistance when needed.
The Defense Ministry has also built shading in the military cemeteries and placed chairs near each grave for the families.
The Department of Families and Commemoration is urging the general public to take precaution against the heat, drink a lot of water, and seek aide from the paramedics stationed at the cemeteries.
The IDF has imposed a curfew on the West Bank. The curfew will be removed on Tuesday before midnight, in accordance with the situation on the ground. During the curfew, only humanitarian, medical and special cases will be allowed through the border passes, in accordance with permits from the civil administration.
Police has raised the level of alert to level C and has stationed thousands of policemen in different spots and large gathering places across the country.