President Herzog speaks at the memorial ceremony for terror victims
President Herzog speaks at the memorial ceremony for terror victimsMa'ayan Toaf (GPO)

Israeli President Isaac Herzog spoke Monday afternoon at the national ceremony commemorating those who were murdered in terror attacks and other incidents of enemy hostility.

At the ceremony, which took place on Mount Herzl in Jerusalem, Herzog said, "We come together today with our hearts overwhelmed, scarred and shocked. We come together at a moment when we are still far from internalizing, from understanding, from expressing in words, the burden of pain that we have been carrying since October 7."

"The air of Mount Herzl in the month of May is unlike the air anywhere else in the world. It's thick, heavy, burdened, composed of a precise mixture of the scent of evergreen trees, tears, ash, and flowers. It's an impossible blend of death and life, of pain and love, of longing and immense sorrow, juxtaposed with the pride in the national edifice we've shaped. You, the sons and daughters of the families who sacrificed their loved ones – in the relentless acts of terror that have haunted us since the dawn of our state – carry this air in your hearts throughout the year, every day, every minute. And each year, on this sacred day, we too gather and stand with you here, to breathe the air of Mount Herzl together. Our shoulders stoop under the weight of profound sorrow; and yet, at the same time, we stand tall with the privilege of being part of such a people; a people with such sons and daughters.

"This year, in the most heinous terrorist attack since our establishment in our land, entire families were cruelly taken from us. Hundreds of children, young boys and girls, the elderly, mothers and fathers, teenagers, beautiful and kind, full of life, belief, ideas, lifestyles, and diverse worldviews. And as I said last night at the Western Wall, in the spirit of the (High Holidays) prayer 'Unetane Tokef,' which we recited days before that terrible tragedy of Simchat Torah, we raise the memory of our beloved fallen who were murdered and slaughtered: some at the doorstep of their homes, some in their schools, some in the warmth of their beds, and some on the streets of the city, some at the bus stop and some at the police station, some in cars and some in armored vehicles, some on the pathways of the kibbutz, and some at a party, some in the shopping center, and some in the fields, some by fire and suffocation, some in the murderous missiles and rockets, some in tunnels, and some in hiding.

"With us here are today representatives of families who have lost their loved ones in various acts of terror and hostiliy. On October 7, at the NOVA celebration, we lost hundreds of young men and women in one terrible event, symbolizing the chasm between the love of life, and hatred and monstrosity. So many faces in cruelty and pain, taken from us, our sons and daughters, our brothers and sisters, all beloved."

Herzog stressed, "The attack of 7 October was an assault on our rights and sovereignty in our homeland, in our one and only state - Israel. As in every generation, adversaries rise up to annihilate us – and in this sacred moment, we come together, generations of grieving families, generations of survivors - from all facets of Israeli society - who have all lost their loved ones in murderous terrorist attacks, in the ongoing struggle, which tears at the heart, for our sovereign existence here - in the cherished land of our ancestors.":

"In one breath, on this Memorial Day, we mourn the victims of October 7th and the conflict that ensued - in the South, in the North, in Judea and Samaria, in Jerusalem, and throughout the land; as well as all the victims of hostile acts, from the beginning of Jewish return to the land until our days. We intertwine sorrow with sorrow, tears with tears.

"Last month, I hosted at the President's Residence in Jerusalem, survivors of the terrible attack in Kiryat Shmona fifty years ago, in which terrorists from Lebanon infiltrated the town and murdered eleven Israelis in their homes. I was moved to meet Iris Shtirit. Iris was only nine years old when the terrorists entered her home. Her father, Yosef, was at work, and she hid in a closet for hours with two of her siblings - witnessing how the perpetrators murdered her mother and three of her siblings. Her words deeply touched my heart as she spoke about her immense trauma as a nine-year-old child; about time - which sometimes exacerbates pain; about her last memories of her mother and sister - from whom she parted as they were dragged away before her eyes; and about her younger brother - who escaped from the closet where they were hiding and was shot dead.

"Iris spoke, and I thought about what the children were forced to witness and endure during the massacre of 7 October – the horrifying stories from Nir Oz, Be’eri, and Kfar Aza; from Netiv Ha’Asara, Sderot, Ofakim, and Netivot; and from the other communities in the western Negev. I thought in sorrow, and said to myself, 'Dear God, as then, so now.'

"But Iris continued with intensity: 'I was just a nine-year-old girl then, but I understood that if I didn't take on the role of the responsible adult, I would lose my father, God forbid. I fought for him and for us... We rose from the depths of mourning and chose life. We chose hope and the path that would show our bloodthirsty enemies, that they would not break us, that they would not defeat us.' And Iris added: 'For the Eternal People does not fear - even if the road is long, difficult, and painful. We will overcome, as we have done until today. We are the Eternal People.' Iris's poignant words resonate deeply. It is the Israeli spirit that passes from generation to generation, and it is this spirit that will triumph over anyone or anything, this time too. We know all too well the bitterness of blood, and fire, and smoke. But I am sure that together, and only together, we will rebuild anew."

Herzog added, "Beloved families. No one can stand in your shoes. No one can truly understand the magnitude of the void that has opened in your lives. I pray, every day, that we will be worthy as individuals and as a society, of your immense sacrifice. Our role, the role of the entire people of Israel, is to support you. This of course also applies to the deep moral obligation towards the survivors of acts of hostility and terror, and to all those affected by them physically and mentally, in need of support, assistance, accompaniment, resources, knowledge, and care from all of us in order to try to recover and return to life."

"This recovery, necessary for all of us - as a nation and as a country - is not only about looking to the future and our building, but also about fixing the present. And our present will not be whole, and our wound will not heal, until all the hostages return - our beloved brothers and sisters, who are in distress and captivity. It is beholden upon us to bring them all back home: citizens and soldiers, those still living, and those we are committed to bringing to rest in Israel. Their return is a necessary step in the processes of repair and growth for all of us - for all citizens of Israel - who carry the hostages in their hearts, wherever we go.

"May the souls of the victims of our enemies’ attacks be bound in the bond of life forever. And in their memory, and for their sake, we will add life here - in this good land."