Millions of Israelis stood still in solemn silence Monday morning as sirens wailed throughout the country for two full minutes to mark Memorial Day and to commemorate the 23,169 fallen soldiers and 2,495 terror victims who have fallen throughout the history of the State of Israel and the Zionist movement.
The sirens sounded at 11 a.m., bringing the country’s bustling city centers and highways to a complete freeze. After the sirens, ceremonies commenced throughout the country, with some 1.5 million Israelis taking part in the memorial events.
The official state memorial ceremony was held at Mount Herzl in Jerusalem and was attended by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, President Shimon Peres, and IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz, as well as other representatives of the IDF and the government.
Netanyahu praised Israel’s defense forces, saying they were the only keeping the Jewish people from massacres that plagued the Jewish people in the past.
“The IDF and the security forces are the only thing that differentiates the slaughter of our people in the past from our current situation,” he said. “Israel is a strong country, a secure country that can defend itself against any threat and any harm.”
However, he noted the heavy price that came with the state being able to defend itself.
“On this day, with a heavy heart and with our heads held high, with a sense of deep pain and pride, we all salute the fallen soldiers of Israel, our brothers and sisters, the heroes,” Netanyahu said at the ceremony. “We hurt over the sorrow of the widows and the grief of the orphans and the grief of the siblings. No pain in the world compares to the pain of parents who are informed of the falling of their children.”
“I saw it up close when my parents were thrown into the dark pit of grief after the fall of my older brother,” the prime minister said, referring to his brother, Yoni, who was killed during a rescue operation to release hostages during Operation Entebbe in 1976.
“It is a deep pit with slippery walls. It was difficult to emerge from it and in a sense [my parents] never left it,” he continued. “But it is possible to deal with the pain; you can continue, you can reintegrate again with the flow of life, you can create and build and contribute and strengthen others. But you must not forget, always remember and be comforted by the fact that the fallen gave their lives to build our state and to safeguard it.”
According to the Families and Memorialization Branch of the Defense Ministry, preparedness at the 44 military cemeteries nationwide was increased due to the extreme heat.
At 1 p.m. Monday, a separate commemoration for Israel’s terror victims began at Mount Herzl.
Memorial Day will end abruptly Monday evening with the start of celebrations marking Independence Day.
Israel came to a standstill Sunday evening at 8 p.m. for a minute-long memorial siren. The siren was followed by the lighting of a memorial flame to the fallen at the Western Wall, the site of the official state commemoration ceremony.
Speaking at a ceremony in the southern town of Kiryat Gat, Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman accused the Palestinians and their “sponsor,” Iran, of rebuffing Israel’s peace overtures
“Each generation of the Israeli government has made every possible effort” to make peace with its neighbors, Liberman insisted. “But when there is no readiness from the other side the matter becomes almost impossible.
“Our obligation, as a government, is first and foremost to take care of the security of the citizens of Israel,” he continued. “That obligation is absolute and there will be no compromise on the matter, even with the threats from the Palestinian side… To every threat and provocation from the Palestinians, or their sponsors — that is to say, Iran — we will know how to give a proper and painful response. Our hand is outstretched in peace, but we will cut off any hand that threatens us.”
Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.