JERUSALEM (JTA) — Israelis “are not a people of war,” President Reuven Rivlin asserted at a candle-lighting ceremony at the Western Wall in Jerusalem to mark the start of the country’s Memorial Day.
Rivlin spoke Tuesday night after a one-minute siren sounded throughout Israel, bringing the nation to a halt on a commemoration known in Hebrew as Yom Hazikaron.
“Our sons did not go to battle thirsty for blood. Not this past summer, not those before, not in our sorrow in those that, God forbid, are still to come,” he said. “We are forced to fight. Our children are sentenced to continue to hold a weapon in order to guard our borders, to defend our homes, on the factory that we have built here. The defense of our existence is the way of our lives.
Rivlin added, “There is no camp – no camp – in which there is no death. I’ve seen the sons of kibbutzim and settlements, moshavim and villages, Jews and non-Jews, urban people, lone soldiers and immigrants. I came to them too late. I got to know them when they were no longer here.”
Earlier, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu held a ceremony at the headquarters in Jerusalem of Yad Lebanim, the association for families of fallen soldiers. He spoke about his family’s continuing grief for his brother, Yonatan, who died in 1976 during the rescue of kidnapped Israelis in Entebbe, Uganda. The prime minister had visited his brother’s grave earlier in the week in order to avoid disturbing bereaved families on the actual day.
A second siren, two minutes long, will sound at 11 a.m. Wednesday and marks the beginning of official memorial ceremonies throughout Israel.
Some 23,320 fallen soldiers and civilian victims of terror are being recognized this year, including the 116 soldiers and civilians who were killed or died in the last year, among them the 67 soldiers and five civilians killed in Israel’s operation in Gaza last summer. The figure of 23,320 fallen soldiers is calculated from 1860, when Jews first began to settle outside of Jerusalem.