A two-minute siren sounded across Israel at 11 am Monday, as the nation united in marking Remembrance Day for Israel's Fallen Soldiers and Victims of Terrorism.
According to the Defense Ministry's commemoration unit, Israel's fallen number 22,867 soldiers and terror victims. The past year has seen 183 Israelis killed in the line of duty or in terror attacks. Israel's bereaved families now include 2,543 orphans, 4,999 widows and 10,819 bereaved parents.
Monday's State ceremony honoring Remembrance Day was held at Mount Herzl in Jerusalem. President Peres, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, IDF Chief Gantz and Police Commissioner Yohanan Danino will attend the service.
Netanyahu opened the ceremony at Mount Herzl: "It is hard to estimate the full price our state has paid with its fallen – families never established, children who were never born, creations never created," he said.
"I can appreciate, and well, the price that you have paid, members of the bereaved families. I am a part of you. I know how great the pain is… the scar that will never heal, the feeling of destruction and loss," Netanyahu said.
"We each have our own way of dealing, ways of dealing with the torment of loss, which is the torment of hell. I wish I could advise those of you who have this year joined our family, the family of bereavement, but I am powerless to do so. I know that even though the entire nation accompanies you, you have been sentenced to walking alone with this pain and the abyss that has opened up in your lives."
"How to live when our arm has been severed, and how to be consoled when our soul is wounded?" he went on. "We find solace in the flow of life, in our private and national activity for reconciliation and peace."
Until there is peace, Netanyahu said, Israel will be strong "because we have learned through our nation's history that only if we defend ourselves can we ensure the existence of the State of Israel".
Monday's ceremony at Mount Herzl (Photo: Gil Yohanan)
'We will not live at mercy of foreigners'
Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin spoke at the second state ceremony at the Mount of Olives cemetery. "As we stand at this hour before the plots of heroes, we announce that this city will find its protectors," he said.
"Those who fought for it back then, when it was besieged by foreigners, will not stand by this time either. We will not sit on our hands while others raise a hand against the city that has finally come together.
"We have not come here to live at the mercy of foreigners and their decrees. We were born for freedom and for the freedom of Israel have we fought, and this ancient mountain will once again be a symbol of life, construction, and renewal. This is the will of the children."
Shin Bet chief Yuval Diskin said, "There is no remedy for the indescribable feeling of loss, but there is room for pride for what has been achieved in 63 years of independence."
In a statement dedicated to the bereaved families he added, "Together with the profound sadness and the identification with bereavement… Memorial Day is a day in which we must all stand proud of this great achievement called the State of Israel."
Soldiers at Mount Herzl (Photo: Gil Yohanan)
Opposition chairwoman Tzipi Livni spoke at the ceremony in Afula. "Israel is often misunderstood in the world and no foreigner can understand the depth of sadness Israel has discovered over the loss of one, and its yearning for the return of a single captive soldier," she said.
"I am proud today to be an Israeli, and a part of this nation forced to fight without pause, with a singular courage, which cries for each victim and misses those who never return. I am proud of each of the fallen without ever having known them because I know the material from which they were formed and what the values were that led them to battle."
Peres: One day hostility will end
Remembrance Day was somberly ushered in on Sunday evening, with a one-minute siren, and the lowering of all flags to half-mast.
The State Remembrance Day ceremony was held at the Western Wall, where President Shimon Peres, IDF Chief of Staff Lieutenant-General Benny Gantz, representatives of the bereaved families and other dignitaries spoke of the sacrifice and its national meaning.
"Israel today is stronger than ever," Peres said during Sunday's service at the Western Wall. "One day hostility will end and we shall live as neighbors. One day we shall know that they (the fallen) not only defended our lives but were the ones who paved the way to peace. They are both heroes of war and bearers of peace."
Stav Spivak and Omri Efraim contributed to this report
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