By ILIANA CURIEL, YNET—
The opening ceremony of the Memorial Day events took place in Jerusalem Sunday. Present at the ceremony were Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein and Supreme Court President Judge Asher Grunis.
“We have always been forced to fight for our freedom and for our existence,” the prime minister said. “The haters of Israel have exiled us, persecuted us and sought to annihilate Israel. Nowadays, we also witness those who want to annihilate us. They couldn’t do it; they never will.
“We are not interested in war, but will set out to one if we are forced to do so.”
Netanyahu stressed that “Israel’s fallen came from all walks of life. We cherish their tremendous contribution.”
Edelstein also spoke at the ceremony: “We did not choose the war. We are weary after years of exile and oppression, expulsions, destruction, pogroms and death camps. All we wanted was to find rest.
“As long as a child in Sderot is threatened and the in the Eshkol region a farmer cannot tend to his land, we intend to stand up for their protection, willing to pay the price of freedom. We will fight for our honor, for our freedom and our independence.”
Earlier Sunday, at the weekly cabinet meeting, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said “We’re here thanks to Israeli fighters who enlisted to the struggle for our existence, thanks to those who survived Israel’s campaigns and those who fell.”
The prime minster added that “today’s threats to Israel are greater than in the past, but the IDF and the security branches are stronger than ever. We’ll keep striving for peace with our neighbors and securing fearlessly Israel’s future.”
Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon released a statement saying: “The same as every year, as evening descends, the State of Israel mourns its fallen.
“The world stands still. With immense pain and unrelenting yearning pass before our eyes the images of family, friends, subordinates and comrades at arms, who paid the highest price.
“Memories which accompany us and will continue to do so for the rest of our lives, and with them a sense of infinite distress and troubling questions of what might have been, and where would they have been today.”
Addressing the bereaved families, Ya’alon wrote: “There is no remedy for the sorrow which follows you every day. Coping isn’t easy, and the wounds refuse to heal.
“But in your bravery you are a symbol for the perseverance of Israeli society, which repeatedly stands up to the challenges facing it.”
Ahead of the eve of Remembrance Day for fallen Israeli soldiers and victims of terrorism, bereaved families gathered in military cemeteries across the country on Sunday.
Mazal Dayan and Shoshana Tzadok visited the grave of Yehuda and Ahava, their respective husbands, in Kiryat Shaul.
Mazal, whose husband fell two months after their marriage, said: “The pain never goes away, it’s always very hard.”
Ahava served as a tank driver. According to Tzadok, “It’s still important to me to come here every year with the family, to cherish his memory.
“We’ll always remember him. He was a friend and a good husband. His memory will not depart.”
‘He wasn’t supposed to be in the vehicle’
Jacqueline Cohen arrived with her daughter Nadia and her granddaughter to visit the grave of her brother Avner, who fell in the War of Independence .
“He enlisted eight months after we emigrated from Iran, he was only 18 and a half when he died,” Jacqueline recalled.
“Avner was substituting for someone who was sick, and wasn’t even supposed to be in the vehicle when it drove over a mine. He was at home on leave when his commander came and said they need him.”
She remembered “how hard it was for us that he had to go back to the army. We didn’t even have soap to give him, we were so poor.”
Her daughter Nadia added: “As optimistic as we can possibly be, we hope our children will not have to go through what our family went through, as well as what families on the other side had to undergo.”
The number of Israelis who fell while in the line of duty stands at 23,085 on the eve of Remembrance Day.
The passing year has seen 92 names added to the lsit, including 37 IDF soldiers, 12 members of the security forces and 43 disabled IDF veterans. The number of fallen soldiers whose place of burial remains unknown stands at 555.
Remembrance Day events will be launched on Sunday at 4 pm with a state ceremony at Jerusalem’s Yad Lebanim Center. A one-minute siren will sound at 8 pm and will be followed by ceremonies across Israel.
Boaz Fyler also contributed to this report