JERUSALEM, Israel -- As potential new threats gather along Israel's borders, the Jewish state marked Yom Hazikaron - its Memorial Day -- with a somber ceremony Monday.
Israelis stood at attention for two minutes, honoring those who gave their lives to defend the country.
Sirens wailed, traffic ground to a halt, and drivers paused to remember friends, family members, and comrades in arms who paid the highest price to redeem the nation.
At the opening ceremony at the Western Wall Sunday, President Shimon Peres said despite its wars, Israel has always sought peace.
"We didn't seek war. It was imposed upon us," Peres said.
"But when we were attacked, we didn't have the possibility to lose even one war," he added. "And when we won, we returned to seek peace."
Nearly 23,000 men and women have been killed defending the land of Israel since 1860, the year the first Jewish settlers began to build neighborhoods outside Jerusalem's walled city.
More than 2,400 terror victims will also be remembered on this day, 13 of whom lost their lives in 2010.
At sundown, Israelis will make the amazing transition from sorrow to joy as they begin their 63rd Independence Day celebrations.
Despite eight wars in six decades, Israel's population grew more than nine-fold to more than 7.5 million - 75 percent of whom are Jewish.