JERUSALEM, Israel – Israel came to a standstill for two minutes on Thursday to remember the 6 million Jews who perished at the hands of the Nazis. Pedestrians stopped on the sidewalks and cars and buses halted on the streets to mourn the dead.
It's all a part of Israel's annual observance of Holocaust Memorial Day. For 24 hours, restaurants and entertainment venues will shut their doors and TV stations dedicate their programming almost exclusively to Holocaust documentaries and survivor stories.
Israeli leaders marked the solemn day with a special ceremony at Yad Vashem Wednesday night. During the ceremony, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu urged world leaders not to revive the nuclear deal they signed with Iran in 2015
“History has taught us that deals like this, with extremist regimes like this, are worth nothing,” Netanyahu said. “An agreement with Iran that will pave the way for nuclear weapons — weapons that threaten us with destruction — we will not be obligated to such an agreement in any way. We have only one obligation: to prevent anyone who seeks to destroy us from carrying out his plot.”
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The US and Iran began indirect talks in Vienna this week to discuss how to restart the deal after former President Donald Trump pulled out in 2018. The agreement, spearheaded by former President Barack Obama, puts restrictions on Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for sanctions relief.
President Joe Biden wants to bring the US back to the deal to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons. However, he said Iran must stop first violating restrictions on nuclear development outlined in the accord.
Israel considers Iran its arch-enemy and fears that new negotiations with Iran will pave the way for the Islamic Republic to obtain a nuclear arsenal.
Netanyahu also used the ceremony to blast the International Criminal Court for investigating alleged war crimes committed by Israel and Palestinian terror groups. The premier called the investigation “absurd” and claimed it is rooted in anti-Semitism.
“During the Holocaust,” he said, “We had no rights, no country, no protector. Today we have a country, we have protection and we have the natural and complete right, as the sovereign country of the Jewish people, to defend ourselves from our enemies.”
The ICC’s investigation primarily centers on alleged war crimes committed by Israelis and Palestinians during the 2014 Gaza war.
Palestinians and human rights groups claim Israel used excessive force. According to UN tallies, more than 2,000 Palestinians were killed – more than half were civilians. The court also believes Palestinian terrorists could have committed war crimes by indiscriminately firing rockets and Israeli civilians.
Holocaust Memorial Day is one of those most solemn days on Israel’s calendar.
President Reuven Rivlin sent a special message to the nation’s dwindling community of Holocaust survivors.
“My dear Holocaust survivors, Israeli citizens, the burden of memory that we carry in our hearts is a sacred duty,” he said during the ceremony. “Whether we want it or not, the memory of the Holocaust shapes our identity as a people. The Holocaust places before us - its victims, the Jewish people and the State of Israel - an infinite task of remembrance.”
Today, Israel is home to less than 180,000 aging Holocaust survivors. Reports say 900 died of COVID last year.
During the ceremony, six survivors lit six symbolic torches to remember the six million Jews who died.
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