Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke at the central memorial ceremony for fallen soldiers at the Mount Herzl military cemetery Wednesday, recognizing the sacrifice of those who gave their lives for the State of Israel and urging Israelis to appreciate the meaning of that loss.
“Our enemies must know they will not break us,” the prime minister said, quoting a widow who spoke Tuesday in the Knesset’s memorial ceremony.
Netanyahu, who was heavily criticized for his statements about Arab voters during last month’s elections, stressed the importance of unity on Memorial Day. “We are one family: Jews and our non-Jewish brothers — Druze, Muslims, Bedouins, Christians, Circassians,” he said.
The prime minister also spoke out against war. “Anyone who has experienced the anguish of bereavement is not eager to go to battle,” he said, mirroring comments the previous day made by President Reuven Rivlin.
“Our sons did not go to battle thirsty for blood,” Rivlin said at the Western Wall in Jerusalem Tuesday night. “Not this past summer, not those before, not in those that, God forbid, are still to come. We are forced to fight.”
“We express our gratitude for everything we have earned,” the prime minister said Wednesday, “for the wonder of our sovereignty, the gift of freedom, the miracle of our renewal.”
The official state ceremony commemorating victims of terror attacks began at 1 p.m. at the Victims of Acts of Terror Memorial on Mount Herzl. Rivlin, Netanyahu and IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Gadi Eisenkot were in attendance.
There the prime minister lamented what he called the celebration of terrorist acts.
“Many of our neighbors glorify murderers and carry them on their shoulders,” Netanyahu said at the ceremony. “The more they murder, the more they glorify them.”
But, Netanyahu said, “The memory of those killed in terror attacks will be with us forever.”
Earlier Wednesday, a two-minute siren sounded at 11 a.m. throughout the country, bringing the nation to a momentary halt as Israelis stopped where they were and stood silent in remembrance of the dead.
The traditional memorial siren brings highways to a standstill and businesses to a momentary pause in a country where nearly everyone knows one of the 23,320 soldiers who fell in Israel’s wars and terror attacks.
Across Israel, families and friends of fallen soldiers flocked to military cemeteries Wednesday to commemorate Memorial Day — Yom Hazikaron in Hebrew — for the 67th time.
More than 3,000 members of the youth group Hanoar Haoved Vehalomed will hand out some 100,000 wreaths to the families of fallen soldiers at the entrances to military cemeteries nationwide.
The central memorial ceremony for fallen soldiers began at the Mount Herzl military cemetery in Jerusalem at 10:30 a.m., attended by President Reuven Rivlin, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Eisenkot, as well as other senior IDF officers and politicians.
The IDF’s main ceremony began in the Kiryat Shaul military cemetery in northern Tel Aviv, also at 10:30 a.m.
The army provided The Times of Israel on Wednesday with a breakdown of the deaths of the 100 soldiers who died since last Memorial Day. The majority, 67, fell during Operation Protective Edge in Gaza during the summer. Two others were killed in a Hezbollah ambush near the northern border and one more in a terror attack in Tel Aviv.
Seven were killed in car accidents — either on base or on leave — and two more in what the army termed “other accidents,” perhaps referring to training accidents. One more soldier was killed in an “operational accident.”
Finally, 14 soldiers died in circumstances classified as “suspicion of suicide,” and six more from disease and sickness.
An additional 16 people were killed in the service of other security services or were civilians slain in terror attacks, the army said.
Some roads were closed Wednesday to allow for foot traffic in the areas surrounding military cemeteries. Jerusalem’s Herzl Boulevard was closed from 9:30 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. and Shmuel Bait Road was closed from 8:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m.
Yad Sarah offers free rides for disabled family members of the fallen to the military cemeteries at Jerusalem’s Har Herzl, Tel Aviv’s Kiryat Shaul, Haifa and Beersheba. To order a ride on a special handicapped-accessible vehicle, family members can call *6444 from any cellular service.
Trains nationwide provide free transportation to military cemeteries, and bereaved families can ride at half cost to other locations.
In Jerusalem, President Reuven Rivlin opened Israel’s national Memorial Day ceremony Tuesday night at the Western Wall with a plea for Israelis to fight for the country’s character, not just its survival.
Speaking moments after the traditional minute-long siren brought the country to a standstill, the president urged Israelis to consider the meaning of the sacrifice of the nation’s 23,320 fallen, calling on all Israelis to honor their memory by fighting for the “essence and idea for which the State of Israel was established.”
Rivlin said, “The deaths of those who died defending our home force us to deepen our commitment to building that home as a more just home, a more compassionate home, a home where not only those who have fallen, but all those within it are equal.”
Mitch Ginsburg contributed to this report.