Remembrance Day at the Western Wall, May 4, 2014..
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
With a minute-long siren that rang out on Sunday at 8 p.m. Israel began to pay tribute to the 23,169 casualties of war and terrorism who have fallen since 1860.
On Sunday evening, a central event marking Remembrance Day for the Fallen of Israel’s Wars and Victims of Terrorism was held at the Western Wall in Jerusalem.
President Shimon Peres remembered Israel's fallen soldiers at the ceremony, saying that Israel had been founded, not with the UN's declaration of Israel as a state, but through the "blood of its sons, the sweat of its pioneers and the vision of its prophets."
The president said that Israel's happiness was always tinged with sadness because of the soldiers that have fallen protecting the state.
Peres sent his condolences to the bereaved families, saying that "without the courage of your children, husbands, brothers and sisters we would not have a state."
"We still live by our swords, but we yearn for peace with all of our hearts," the president said. "The battle is not over, we still have not reached our goal," he added.
IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Benny Gantz also spoke at the ceremony, sharing memories of friends killed in battle, "who built Israel's security, brick by brick. I remember them, and direct my gaze to those who continue their path. Our forces, who I meet in the fields, at drills, at the tense moments before operations, and the satisfying moments that follow them. They are a living example that the mission in which your loved ones fell is in the most secure hands."
Calling for national solidarity to be based around support for the IDF, Gantz said, "When our forces came back from dangerous classified missions, the whole of the Israeli nation knew that these are our forces who came back. They were sent on their mission by their commanders, but also by the whole nation, [people] of all shades, who raised them with love and sent them to protect the country. As a soldier who marched on enemy soil, I remember the concern and love, and the whole country supporting us, and waiting for us to return safely," the chief of staff said, adding that this national solidarity was the most powerful form of support a soldier could hope for.
Now too, as citizens go about their daily lives, "Our forces are heading out to their next mission and coming back from yesterday's mission," Gantz said. "They do this with bravery, daring, and quiet," Gantz stated.
Turning his attention to the regional security situation, the chief of staff said, "We know the relative security quiet is deceptive, and that a spark can lead to a fire. Here, this evening, we vow to stand against any conflagration, and carry out any mission on behalf of Israel's security. This is the supreme directive that we demand from ourselves. I can't promise that all of our forces will all return safely, but they will be well trained and equipped with best resources. But that's not sufficient; the support of the nation is also needed.
"Your appreciation is the most precious weapon they can carry," Gantz said. "We'll do all that we can to be loyal to the path of the fallen, on behalf of future generations."
The Defense Ministry said 57 newly fallen had been added to the casualty count since Remembrance Day 2013, and that an additional 50 disabled IDF veterans have died due to their disabilities.
The number of bereaved family members stands at 17,038, of which 2,141 are orphans and 4,966 are IDF widows.