"Twice we have paid a heavy price in order to release the blockade on Jerusalem. The first time in the War of Independence and the second time when the city was bombed during the Six Day War," Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Sunday during a Memorial Day ceremony organized by Yad Labanim on Jerusalem's Ammunition Hill, the site of one of the conflict's fiercest battles.
Netanyahu added, "One of the critical battles in this campaign took place here. True heroes fell here. They and their friends changed our country's way of life."
"Forty-three years ago Jerusalem was a divided city with a wall at its heart. Today, along that same route the tracks are placed for the light rail, which will connect the thriving neighborhoods that have been built over dozens of years," he said.
"Jerusalem, once a divided city, has become a city of life, productivity and rejuvenation.
The PM added, "Not a day has gone by in which we have not extended our hand in peace to our neighbors. That hand is still reaching out to those who want peace. Over the years we have learned that olive branches of peace will be obtained only if we remain strong and prepared to defend our country.
"The fighters of Ammunition Hill, as well as the other fighters, gave up their lives for the State of Israel. They believed in the righteousness of protecting the Jewish nation's only state," he said.
Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin told Ynet ahead of the ceremony, "The 22,684 fallen soldiers we remember today are those who enable us to mark Independence Day."
Rivlin, who called the transition between Memorial Day and Independence Day a "stark contradiction," said during the ceremony that Israel must continue to pursue peace while defending itself.
"If we won’t defend ourselves, no one will," he said,
Mayor Nir Barkat Supreme Court President Dorit Beinish and chief rabbis Yona Metzger and Shlomo Amar were also on hand for the ceremony, as were IDF soldiers, high school students and bereaved families from all across the country.
Rabbi Metzger said during the ceremony, "Six million people died in the Holocaust, and unfortunately more and more people joint the family of grief each year."
Dalya Mizrahi, who lit a torch during the ceremony, lost her son Shahar during his military service and her daughter Idit, who was murdered by three Palestinian police officers.
She told Ynet that the pain and sense of loss only grow stronger with time. "With help and support from family and friends, I still believe that better days are coming," she said.