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On Memorial Day, Israeli leaders promise brighter future

(JNS) - Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed on Monday that the Israel Defense Forces would "keep going until the end" to defeat Hamas, as the Jewish state marked its first Memorial Day since the Oct. 7 massacre.

"Pain is everywhere, but so is light. A fighter whose two legs were amputated told me: 'It is important for us to know that we are going to defeat them,' not to give up...keep going until the end, until victory," said Netanyahu at the ceremony on Mount Herzl.

"This is a faithful and refined representation of the spirit of our fallen heroes-faith in the rightness of the struggle and adherence to victory. As Sarit Zussman, the mother of the fallen soldier in Gaza, said, our story will have a happy ending," he added.

War Cabinet Minister Benny Gantz addressed bereaved families in Rosh Ha'ayin, promising that the destroyed or abandoned towns in northern Israel and the northwestern Negev would return to life.

"We will return to Be'eri and Metula strong. We will return to quieter and better days. We will return to see our hostages, for whose safety we all pray, and we are committed to working to return them even at very painful prices," he said.

Since the outbreak of the war on Oct. 7, daily rocket fire from Hezbollah has cleared out the northern towns such as Metula-leaving tens of thousands of Israelis living in hotels or temporary homes until it is safe to return.

"As great as the disaster was, so is the greatness of Israeli determination, that our enemies did not know," added Gantz.

Memorial Day began on Sunday evening at 8 p.m., with ceremonies taking place at sites across the country, including at the Western Wall in Jerusalem. The Monday commemorations at Israel's 53 military cemeteries and memorial sites throughout the country began at 11 a.m.

Some chose to use the day for political purposes. Even before Memorial Day, some families of fallen soldiers called on government ministers and Knesset members to avoid giving speeches at the various ceremonies. At the Ashdod military ceremony, attended by Israeli National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir, protesters shouted at him, calling him a criminal and asking why he had come.

Israeli Transportation Minister Miri Regev was also targeted by chants, at the Holon military cemetery. She referred to this in her speech, saying, "On days like this, we need to put aside our differences of opinion. There is a lot of pain and disappointment, but we need to put these things aside, certainly in the cemetery."

Since last Memorial Day (April 25, 2023), 1,594 Israeli soldiers and civilians have died. This figure includes 760 Israel Defense Forces soldiers (61 of whom succumbed to their wounds from previous years) and 834 civilians, of whom 822 were killed on or after the Oct. 7 terrorist attacks by Hamas in southern Israel, according to numbers released by the Israeli Defense Ministry on Thursday.

Five soldiers were killed in the Gaza Strip over the weekend.

A total of 30,139 security personnel and civilians have been killed defending the Land of Israel and in terrorist attacks since 1860, the year in which the first Jews left the walls of Jerusalem to build new Jewish neighborhoods.

Due to the war, this year's Memorial Day was marked with fresh stories of heroism, both from the day of Hamas's invasion and from the resulting war. 

"At the beginning of the current war, which began with the terrible massacre, we [witnessed] countless acts of sacrifice, stories of heroism and displays of mutual commitment that will be remembered for generations in the Israel Defense Forces," said Netanyahu. "The emergency units, the Israel Police, the Israel Security Agency, the fire, rescue and medical forces, and ordinary citizens-all came out...to protect our home."

A ceremony was also hosted at the ISA headquarters in Tel Aviv. ISA Chief Ronen Bar told the crowd, "This is a difficult day for every family, it is a difficult day for every citizen, it is a difficult day for every ISA employee, it is also a difficult day for me personally. This year, unfortunately, [we've seen] many pictures of civilians who were slaughtered and of fighters who were killed. Our fighters, of the IDF, of the police, of the rescue forces and of the standby units. Together we fought, together we fell, together we will rise."

He went on to say, "The ISA's war is not over yet-we will not rest until we return all 128 abductees home, [as well as] the four who were there [in Gaza] before [Oct. 7]. Those who are among the living and those that are not among the living. Everyone. Because this is the real difference between us and them-we will sacrifice our lives for the sake of the citizens, they will sacrifice the lives of the citizens for their own."

The war in Gaza entered its 220th day on Monday.

Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant promised Israelis during his speech that the fight will not let up until victory is achieved. "This is a war of no choice, a war that will shape our lives for decades to come," he said.

 

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