Herzog on Memorial Day: ‘As long as our enemies seek to destroy us, we will not lay down our swords’

Sam Sokol is the Times of Israel's political correspondent. He was previously a reporter for the Jerusalem Post, Jewish Telegraphic Agency and Haaretz. He is the author of "Putin’s Hybrid War and the Jews"

President Isaac Herzog at a Memorial Day ceremony in the Old City of Jerusalem, May 12, 2024. (Maayan Toaf/GPO)
President Isaac Herzog at a Memorial Day ceremony in the Old City of Jerusalem, May 12, 2024. (Maayan Toaf/GPO)

The Jewish people has always dreamed of peace but as long as it remains under attack “we will not lay down our swords,” President Isaac Herzog declares at a Memorial Day ceremony at the Western Wall in Jerusalem.

“I stand here, next to the remnants of our Temple, in torn garments. This tearing – a symbol of Jewish mourning, it is a symbol of the mourning and sorrow of an entire people in this year — a year of national mourning. A symbol of a blood-drenched rend in the heart of the people. A tear in the heart of the State of Israel – shattered, bereaved, crying bitter tears, refusing to be comforted for its sons and daughters — soldiers and civilians, civilians and soldiers… A great tragedy has befallen us,” he says.

“I turn from here, in this holy moment, to our brothers and sisters held hostage, and to their families: throughout these national days, we never forget that there is no greater commandment than redeeming captives. The entire nation is with you. We must summon courage and choose life. Not to rest and not to be quiet until they all return home.”

Herzog recalls the sacrifices made by hundreds of fallen soldiers buried throughout the country since Hamas’s October 7 massacre and the ensuing war in Gaza, noting that only hours earlier, “we brought five of our beloved to their eternal rest.”

“Believe me, my sisters and brothers, I would — with all my heart — like to tell about each and every one of our fallen loved ones, from all of Israel’s wars, from all the security forces, from all over the country. About their goodness, their beauty, their bravery. But the fracture is so great, and our losses are too many, too many indeed,” he continues, describing “the long hours of heroic battles in all the towns and communities of the western Negev,” waged by both civilians and soldiers.

“Hundreds fell on October 7 and throughout the entire campaign… some by fire and some by suffocation, some by sword and some by beast. Some at the doorstep of their home, and some in armored personnel carriers, some in the warmth of their bed and some in the streets, some at a guard-post and some in the battlefield, some at a bus stop and some at a police station. Some in a car and some in an armored vehicle, some on the kibbutz pathways, some in the pasture and some at a party, some in the shopping mall and some in missiles and rockets, some in tunnels, and some in hiding. Forever, forever we remember them.”

“Citizens of Israel, at this sacred moment, I remind us and the entire world: we never wanted nor chose this terrible war. Not this one nor its predecessors,” Herzog declares.

“All we wanted was to return to Zion from which we were forcibly expelled, and to renew our freedom there — in a Jewish and democratic state. To build a life here. A future. A hope. We always dreamed of peace and good neighborliness with all the peoples and countries in the region, and no less than that forever. But as long as our enemies seek to destroy us, we will not lay down our swords.”

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