JERUSALEM (JTA) — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was heckled by bereaved families during the official Memorial Day ceremony for victims of terror attacks at Mount Herzl.
Some families waved red flags and yelled at the prime minister, preventing him from beginning his speech at the Monday afternoon ceremony. Many then walked out of the ceremony.
The hecklers were protesting a series of releases of more than 80 Palestinian prisoners involved in terror attacks as part of the failed U.S.-backed Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations.
“You are freeing the murderers of our children,” one protester shouted, according to Israeli media reports.
“The decision that has been made was difficult, it goes against the value of justice – everyone feels this way,” Netanyahu said to the protesters of the prisoner releases. “The complicated reality in our region has created a situation in which, for the last four decades, the governments of Israel had to make decisions that were hard to bear – over and over again. I knew I would meet you here, but I viewed it as my responsibility as the prime minister of Israel. I salute your bravery and resistance.”
As part of his prepared remarks during a ceremony an hour earlier on Mount Herzl for fallen soldiers Netanyahu said: “The IDF and our security forces is the only thing that separates the past destruction of our people with our people today. Israel is a state that is able to defend itself from any threat.”
“Their sacrifice allowed us to live here in an independent country that is proud of all its citizens, a state that is the national home of our people,” he said.
Ceremonies took place at military cemeteries across the country on Monday, following a two-minute siren that wailed throughout the country, bringing the entire country to a standstill.
Memorial Day, or Yom Hazikaron, this year honors the 23,169 casualties of war and terrorism who have been killed since 1860.