Placing an Israeli flag on a soldier's grave
Placing an Israeli flag on a soldier's graveYonatan Sindel/Flash90

The IDF held its annual flag-laying ceremony in honor of Israel's Memorial Day on Sunday, placing Israeli flags on every military grave at the Mount Herzl Military Cemetery in Jerusalem. 

IDF Chief of General Staff, Lt. Gen. Gadi Eizenkot, saluted the fallen soldiers in memory of all who fell during Israel's wars. 

The ceremony, now in its fourteenth year, seeks to respect and honor fallen soldiers who gave their lives to protect the State of Israel. 

"We come here today, as we do every year, to lay the Israeli flag on the graves of the fallen," Eizenkot stated. "This is our way to express our longing and appreciation for these soldiers, who paid with their lives for the defense of the country they loved."

"When I look at the rows of graves here, now, I know that for some, the path to find these graves will be the most difficult one during the next several days," he continued. "A mother and father go to their child's grave, orphans to their fathers, widow to lay the flowers on the graves of their beloveds, siblings grieve for siblings and friends for friends - who cannot forget the faces of their friends even after so many years."

"Dear families, one cannot fully understand the pain you feel, the pain that does not wane with the passage of time," he said. "So all we can offer is our support." 

Eizenkot emphasized to the bereaved families, ''we will accompany you, and share with you the longing for boys and girls who never came home."

"To commanders and soldiers, we return here to remember the fallen. Remember their love and devotion to the state, their determination to protect Israeli citizens and residents. The heroism which they acted to ensure victory," he continued. "We remember and promise that we will continue to follow the path outlined by us, that we will continue to stand like a wall fortified against any threat."

Memorial Day will begin with a minute-long siren at 8 p.m. on Tuesday, as Israel mourns 23,320 Israelis killed at war or in terror attacks - 116 more than in 2014, according to statistics released by the Ministry of Defense. 

In total, 16,760 families are "bereaved families" in Israel, with 9,753 grieving parents, 4,958 widows, and 2,098 orphans. 

Of those, 67 soldiers fell during Operation Protective Edge in Gaza, adding 131 bereaved parents to the list. Eleven women lost their husbands, 24 children lost parents, two were born orphans, and 187 lost siblings. 

A full 1.5 million people are expected to visit 52 military cemeteries Tuesday and Wednesday.