JERUSALEM (AP) — Israel came to a standstill on Monday as sirens wailed across the country on its annual Memorial Day for fallen soldiers and victims of terrorism.
It is one of the most somber dates on the Israeli calendar. Israel has fought half a dozen wars with Arab countries since its establishment in 1948 and has battled two Palestinian uprisings. After decades of conflict, most Israelis have lost loved ones or know someone who has.
Nationwide, Israelis stopped what they were doing at 11:00 a.m. and stood silently for two minutes to honor and remember the dead. Traffic stopped and people got out of their vehicles on highways and roads to stand with heads bowed.
Bereaved families gathered at cemeteries across the country. Cafes and places of entertainment shut for the day. Radio and TV stopped their regular shows and instead broadcast war documentaries and stories about soldiers killed in action.
Israel says 23,169 have been killed since 1860, when Jews began moving back to the area. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said at a ceremony for the war dead that it is impossible to completely ease the pain of losing a loved one. Netanyahu's brother, an army commando, was killed during the rescue mission to free passengers of a hijacked plane in Uganda in 1976.
"There is no total healing to the loss. There is an emptiness that is never filled," he said. The sad atmosphere ends sharply at sundown when in jarring contrast, Israelis take to the streets for Independence Day celebrations with dancing, fireworks and parties.