JERUSALEM (JTA) — “For over sixty-eight years we have been fighting the same war, the war for our independence,” Israeli President Reuven Rivlin said Tuesday in a ceremony at the Western Wall marking Israel’s Memorial Day.
Israel recognized its 23,477 fallen soldiers, as well as civilian victims of terror, with the start of Memorial Day, or Yom Hazikaron, on Tuesday evening, beginning with a minute-long siren.
“We realize the bitter and horrible truth – that there is a terrible price – which you have paid – to be a nation determined to protect its citizens and its independence. We will stand strong against anyone who dares to put our resolve to the test in any way,” Rivlin said, addressing the families of fallen soldiers during the ceremony.
The official number of soldiers, police and other security officials who have died since 1860 while defending Israel or prestate Israel was released Tuesday by the Defense Ministry. The number has risen by 157 since last Yom Hazikaron.
The number of civilians who have been killed in “hostile acts” since the end of the War of Independence is 2,576, Haaretz reported, citing the National Insurance Institute. Some 31 civilians died as a result of terrorist attacks in the last year.
A second Memorial Day siren, two minutes long, will sound at 11 a.m. Wednesday and marks the beginning of official memorial ceremonies throughout Israel. After the siren, the official national Memorial Day ceremony will be held on Mount Herzl, with ceremonies held simultaneously in military cemeteries throughout the country.
Mount Herzl is also the site of a ceremony in honor of civilians killed in terrorist attacks and an evening torch-lighting rite during which the country transitions from Memorial Day to Yom Haatzmaut, or Israel’s Independence Day.
The figure of 23,477 fallen soldiers is calculated from when Jews first began to settle outside of Jerusalem. The dead include members of the Israel Defense Forces, the Shin Bet security service, the Mossad, the Israel Police, the Israel Prisons Service and the World War II Jewish Brigade, and soldiers who died from their disabilities suffered during combat, including 59 such soldiers this year.
More than 1.5 million Israelis are expected to visit Israel’s 52 military and other cemeteries throughout Yom Hazikaron.