JERUSALEM (JTA) — With a minute-long siren and moment of silence in memory of its war dead, Israel began its observance of Memorial Day, or Yom Hazikaron.
The annual observance of Remembrance Day for Israel’s Fallen Soldiers and Victims of Terrorism is in memory of the nearly 23,000 men and women who have fallen in battle for the State of Israel and the some 2,500 other Israelis who have been victims of terrorist attacks.
"To this holy place, a remnant of our Temple, our fighting sons, the first paratroopers came, and touched the stones of the Western Wall, in the midst of the Six Day War," Israeli President said Sunday night, addressing bereaved families gathered at the Western Wall for the national memorial ceremony.
"We didn’t seek war. It was imposed upon us. But when we were attacked, we didn’t have the possibility to lose, even one war. And when we won, we returned to seek peace," Peres continued. "We were sober then and we remained prepared today. And in any situation we will not give up the chance of full peace, real peace. And if one opportunity fails, we will look for a new one."
Some 183 members of Israel’s security forces, including police, Israel Defense Forces, Border Police, Israel Security Agency and other organizations – have been killed since last Memorial Day.
At a memorial ceremony earlier Sunday on Ammunition Hill in Jerusalem to open events marking the day, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, whose brother Yonatan was killed 35 years ago leading the operation to free the hostages at Entebbe, addressed bereaved families.
"As a member of a bereaved family, I am well acquainted with the pain, the sense of loss and helplessness. These are joined by the grief over missed opportunities. We shall never know what would have happened had our loved ones stayed alive, had they set up families and realized their dreams," Netanyahu said.
Netanyahu, his wife and two sons visited the grave of Yonatan Netanyahu on Saturday night.
A second, two-minute siren will sound across Israel on Monday morning. The conclusion of Memorial Day on Monday night marks the beginning of Israel Independence Day, or Yom Haatzmaut.