The State of Israel united in the memory of its 22,305 fallen soldiers and victims of terror on Monday. At 11 am a two-minute long siren was sound throughout the country and memorial ceremonies took place in 43 military cemeteries.
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said during the ceremony, "On this special day, we are all one bereaved family. Each one of us remembers and sees in front of our eyes a close person among the fallen, because there is no one in Israel who has not tasted the price of war.
"Those who have gone cannot be returned, but they will always be in front of our eyes. We shall cherish the virtue of their sacrifice, we shall educate our children in their light, their courage will serve as a pledge of allegiance to value, love and maintain this dear and good country, our national home, the cradle of our homeland and our hope, which was bought with the blood of the fallen soldiers. We shall defend it courageously, and will be prepared to remove any threat and danger."
Two-minute long siren sounds throughout country (Photo: Ofer Amram)
The prime minister called "not to despair and not give up on the belief that peace could be reached, peace with security, to seriously examine every diplomatic initiative, to utilize every chance to the fullest, to be prepared for extreme compromises and even painful compromises, as long as our vital and existential interests are maintained in order to realize our strong desire for peace."
At 1 pm, the central ceremony for victims of terror, also attended by the prime minister, took place on Mount Herzl.
During the ceremony, Olmert addressed the dilemmas posed by the war on terror, adding that "the fate and distress of the (kidnapped soldiers') families are constantly in my heart, just as they are close to the heart of the entire nation. The duty to do everything in order to bring them home soon is a sacred duty toward every citizen and every soldier in particular. The hostage redemption commandment is rooted in Israel's heritage and in previous decisions made by the Israeli government.
"Opposite this duty is the duty which is as important, to judge severely despicable murderers whose hands are filled with blood, to prevent terror organizations at any price from using kidnappings in order to render worthless court sentences given to terrorists and murderers, and not to repeat mistakes made in the past, which resulted in more terror.
"The price paid by civilians, and not only by soldiers, is heavy and dear like no other. The terror organizations' desire to murder has reached great depths of despicableness. Their goal is a racist destruction of every Israeli and Jew, from an infant to a grandfather."
Earlier, Olmert wrote to the bereaved families, "For the 59 years of our existence, war after war, as well as in days of routine, we have paid with the blood of our best sons, for the future of all and for the hope to live in our country in peace. You, the bereaved families, have paid the terrible price of that hope.
"At this day we stand by your side, with a promise and pledge to remember the fallen and to engrave their memory on the nation's heart forever."
Remembering the fallen at Mount Herzl (photo:AFP)
On Monday evening, events marking Israel's 59th Independence Day, and 40 years for Jerusalem's unification will begin.
The IDF will continue to maintain a complete closure on the West Bank and Gaza Strip, which will remain in effect until the end of Independence Day. Police activity will focus on military cemeteries and their surroundings.
On Independence Day, the police will focus on securing entertainment areas, parks and densely packed hotspots. The police are preparing for heaving traffic around the main event which is being arranged by businessman Arcadi Gaydamak in Tel Aviv.
'Israel won't back down'
Israelis across the country stood for a minute of silence at 8 pm Sunday, when the siren marking the opening of Memorial Day was sounded.
Immediately following the siren, the state ceremony commemorating the fallen soldiers and victims of terror commenced at the Western wall plaza, and flags throughout Israel were lowered to half-mast.
Shortly afterwards, northern residents complained about hearing the distinct sound of fireworks coming from nearby Arab neighborhoods.
IDF Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi, who spoke at the Western Wall ceremony, referred to the heavy toll claimed by the Second Lebanon War. "The last year has been hard on the State and the IDF. Names had been added to the memorial plaques – 233 more bereaved families have joined the great family of bereavement. The price is too heavy to bear."
"We are not an army that seeks war, but a defensive army. But if a war is forced on us, we shall not back down. We will do whatever it takes so that the people of Israel can sit peacefully in their homes," Ashkenazi concluded.