As the wail of sirens to mark a minute of silence faded away Sunday evening, President Reuven Rivlin opened the official Memorial Day ceremony for the fallen, speaking of the price the country pays for its freedom and the debt still owed to those missing in action.
“Our liberty is sacred, both sacred and hard. We know that there is a price to be paid for our existence here, for our liberty. There is a price, and we, in awe and terror, are willing to pay that price,” Rivlin said standing before the Western Wall in the Old City of Jerusalem.
“Our commitment to the future is also our commitment to remembrance; the memory of the boys and girls, our heroes, our loved ones,” Rivlin said at the official ceremony commemorating those killed in war and terror acts in the years leading to and since the establishment of the State of Israel.
“The true staying power of a nation grows from the living memory of our roots, of our history, and our tradition,” he said, adding that the nation needed to make greater efforts to return the bodies of soldiers killed and missing in action.
“Nor do we forget, the soldiers who did not return from the battle fields. The task of bringing home the missing and the fallen soldiers whose place of burial is unknown has not been completed. Our commitment to those boys remains firm. And, together, this evening, we send our prayers for a full recovery to all the injured as they struggle day by day.”
The Hamas terror group claims to be holding the bodies of two IDF soldiers Hadar Golding and Oren Shaul, killed during the 2014 war in the Gaza Strip. Returning the soldiers’ remains, and the cost it may entail in negotiations with Hamas, is a painful issue of debate in Israeli society.
Several other soldiers remain missing including Yehuda Katz, Zachary Baumel and Zvi Feldman who went missing in Lebanon in 1982 and navigator Ron Arad, shot down in 1986.
Rivlin also spoke of the emotion he feels when, in his role of president, he visits families mourning fallen soldiers.
“Like an accursed decree of fate I always arrive too late,” he said. “I always miss meeting them.”
Since 1860, when the first Jewish neighborhood was established outside Jerusalem’s Old City walls, 23,544 men and women have died defending Israel and the pre-state Jewish community, according to official figures.
In the past year, 97 additional Israelis were added to the list of the fallen, with 37 of them having been disabled IDF veterans who succumbed to their injuries.
IDF Chief of Staff Gadi spoke of the strength he drew from the families of those who died.
“You, who struggle daily with loss and emptiness, the mental strength you demonstrate is an object of appreciation and gives us great strength.”
“Although the lives of the fallen were cut off in hostility, thanks to them, we can say wholeheartedly tomorrow that the music of the people of Israel will not stop, the people of Israel are alive,” Eisenkot added, referring to the Israeli Independence Day celebrations that begin on Monday evening at the close of the memorial day.
At 11 a.m. Monday, a second two-minute siren will ring, marking the start of the day’s official ceremonies throughout the country, expected to be attended by 1.5 million Israelis. The official ceremony honoring those who died in acts of terror will begin at 1 p.m.
The commemoration day, established in 1951 by then-prime minister and defense minister David Ben-Gurion, was set for the 4th of Iyar, the day before Independence Day, which begins immediately after Memorial Day on Monday night.
Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.