A two-minute siren brought the country to a halt at 11 a.m. Monday, as Israel continued its Memorial Day events in remembrance of 25,578 war and terror victims.
Speaking at the official state ceremony for Israel’s fallen, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who lost his brother Yoni in the 1976 Entebbe raid, said he had been asked how to cope by children he met recently who had lost parents in wars or terror attacks.
“I answered honestly that I don’t know how to advise on how to manage with a loss like that. I told them that the death of my brother toughened me,” he told those gathered at the military cemetery at Mount Herzl. “We know that there is no real relief or comforting.”
Netanyahu also said Israel would continue to fight but also work toward peace.
“We will continue to work to make peace with our neighbors and to defend our land,” he said. “From the day of Israel’s birth great forces tried to destroy her. They never succeeded and will never succeed.”
Some 1.5 million Israelis were visiting cemeteries and memorial sites for services Sunday evening and Monday. All in all, 23,085 members of the country’s security forces died while in active service since Israel’s 1947-8 War of Independence, along with those who fought in Zionist pre-state militias going back to 1860.
Later Monday, when darkness descends, Israel will pass into its 65th Independence Day in a striking transition from sirens and memory to fireworks and revelry.
Memorial Day began on Sunday night with a one-minute siren at 8 p.m. and an official ceremony at the Western Wall.
The day commemorates, in addition to servicemen and women, the 2,493 civilians who were killed in terror attacks.
Speaking at a ceremony for terror victims, Netanyahu said violence against civilians had been a constant challenge for the Zionist enterprise, surrounded by enemies who sought to kill or maim.
“We will not give in or surrender. We will pursue the terrorists relentlessly and we will strike them in any place. Terror is not from heaven, it is a mortal act,” he said. “Our willpower is greater than their willpower. We will never be like the murders who do not hesitate to slaughter innocent people. we will not teach our children vengeance and hatred.”
At a ceremony in Jerusalem marking deaths in anti-Semitic incidents and terror attacks around the world, Jewish Agency Chairman Natan Sharansky said that Israelis and Jews in the Diaspora are dealing with “one front” in terms of anti-Semitism and anti-Israeli activity.
Sharansky said he toured US college campuses last week, where “enemies of Israel are made and the young generation of Jews grow distant from us,” but stressed that Israeli emissaries work to “strengthen the bond between Jews and Israel.”
Judea Pearl, father of Daniel Pearl, said that his son’s brutal murder in Pakistan 11 years ago helped “turn around the war against barbarism,” adding that the murder helped to bring about the collapse of “moral relativism” and showed there are “simple criteria for good and bad.”
Over the past year, 92 names were added to the list of fallen among the ranks of Israel’s security forces. That number includes all soldiers who died while in active service, whether they fell in the battlefield or died of accidents or disease.
Speaking at the Kiryat Shaul military cemetery in Tel Aviv, Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon said the bereaved families carry the burden of Israel’s existence on their shoulders.
“The pain and the agony, that accompany you every day, are our national lot,” he said. “The price that you paid for the continued existence of the State of Israel is hard to bear and unimaginable.”
Earlier, Ya’alon sent a letter to bereaved families saying that Israel is nation that seeks peace, but will continue to fight for its security.
“In their deaths those who fell bequeathed to us life and also the right to fight for our existence here,” he wrote. “The struggle is not over, rather it is changing in nature, heading in new directions and demands from us to each time to take up the fight anew.”
In the Jerusalem neighborhood of Mea She’arim, anti-Zionist ultra-Orthodox Jews deliberately marched during the siren to protest the creation of Israel, carrying signs that said they “mourn the 65 years of Israel’s existence.”
At Jerusalem’s Western Wall on Sunday evening, the beginning of Memorial Day, President Shimon Peres addressed a ceremony attended by bereaved families.
“We will not forget even for a moment and will always remember those to whom the survival of Israel and its glory are indebted,” Peres said at the Western Wall plaza. “Those who over the 65 years of the state’s existence, protected her with their bodies, their blood and their lives, defended her borders and the security of her citizens, her independence and her freedom.”
Israel, the president said, “is as dear to us as the bravery of her fighters, and as dear as the depth of the sorrow for each fallen soldier. Here, next to the sacred stones of the Kotel, I say on behalf of all of Israel, that you, the fallen of Israel’s wars deserve eternal glory and our ultimate gratitude.”
Speaking after Peres, IDF Chief of General Staff Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz reflected on his own encounters with bereavement, with “all the mothers and fathers I knew, the sons and daughters who are no more.”
“Between the eyes of the sons that are lit through the stones of hope and dreams of the Jewish people,” he said, indicating the Western Wall, “I find my peers, my soldiers and commanders. In their sacrifice, the sons and daughters have become forever ingrained in the character of the state. Their stories of dedication and courage remind us to whom we owe the fact that we can walk these paths. It is no coincidence that we call them the salt of the earth. They are the essence of the tears of the Land of Israel.”
Earlier Sunday, Netanyahu addressed Israel’s bereaved families, stressing that their loved ones had not fallen in vain and that the memory of the victims dwells in the hearts of the Israeli people.
“Brothers and sisters, members of the family of bereavement,” said Netanyahu, “on Memorial Day we remember our fallen loved ones, who fell during the Israeli wars and the acts of terror throughout the years.”
The prime minister’s own brother, Yoni, was killed in 1976 while leading an assault force to free Israeli hostages at the Entebbe airport.
“We remember, we weep, and we hurt,” he said. “Each family has its own grief, and the grief felt by every one of us merges with the pain of the entire nation of Israel: pain over the life that has been cut short, pain over the fact that all that is now left is memorial day.
“There is no real remedy and there is no full solace. But there is one deep and fundamental consolation: the knowledge that thanks to those who have fallen, the State of Israel was founded and the Jewish people’s stature took a turn for the better. Thanks to them, we live here, forever.”
“May their memories be blessed,” the prime minister concluded.
Memorial Day events began Sunday afternoon in Jerusalem with a ceremony at the building of Yad LeBanim , an association for bereaved families. The event was attended by the prime minister, Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein, JerusalemMayor Nir Barkat and the president of the Supreme Court, Asher Grunis, among others.
“Since our emergence as a people, we have had to fight for our liberty and our existence,” Netanyahu said at the ceremony. “Haters of Israel have exiled us, persecuted us and tried to annihilate the memory of Israel. Even today there are those who threaten to destroy us. They cannot, they will never. We are not belligerent, but if it is destined for us, we will cling to our swords and head into battle.”
Still, he asserted, Israelis’ hands were “extended in peace” to all their neighbors.
Stuart Winer and Joshua Davidovich contributed to this report.