Israel’s Memorial Day for those who have fallen in Israel’s wars and to acts of terrorism takes place a week after Holocaust Remembrance Day. If there is one day of the year that truly unites us all, it is Memorial Day, Yom Hazikaron in Hebrew. No matter who you are, what you are, and what you believe, the memory of our fallen comrades has shaped us as one people over the decades. No biblical holiday or fast has united the people of Israel as much as this annual reminder on the eve of Independence Day. Each of us who served in the Israeli army has lost friends, and that is why this day speaks to us more than any other day of the year. I lost four comrades in the First Lebanon War in the 80s, which I have written about many times.
Sirens will wail across the country for one minute on Monday evening next week, marking the official beginning of Memorial Day. Since 1860, more than 24,000 soldiers have lost their lives fighting for Israel. The civilian terror death toll is over 4,200. The number of dead and victims of terror is counted from 1860, since this is considered the beginning of modern Zionism, with the construction of the first Jewish neighborhood outside the Old City of Jerusalem. The exact number will be announced the day before.
The deaths of the fallen soldiers guarantees safety and life for the nation. Young people who defended their homeland, Jews as well as Muslims, Druze and Christians sacrificed their lives so that the nation could live on. Blood had to be sacrificed so that their family members could continue to live in this disputed strip of land. Yom Hazikaron is a day when we all remember those who gave their lives. Israel’s modern existence is like a biblical altar. To live in this land, blood must be shed. This is part of the covenant between God and His people Israel. Nothing comes for free.
And that’s what has us so concerned. Because of the present political dispute, it is feared that there will be demonstrations and even riots in the country during the Memorial Day ceremonies.
In a poll by Ma’ariv, a majority of 52 percent agree that given the heated debate over judicial reform, politicians from both sides should not attend Memorial Day ceremonies at the nation’s military cemeteries. Thirty-two percent have no objection and 16 percent have no opinion. Of course, there is greater agreement among supporters of the opposition, who at 75 percent do not want to see any politicians during the solemn upcoming ceremonies.
The poll initiated by Panels Politics prior to the Memorial Day events shows the deep rift that has opened between Israeli society and its political representatives. This is why the survey was carried out, as in recent weeks there have been numerous calls from bereaved families in the media for politicians to keep away from the memorial ceremonies. Even among right-wing voters, opinions are divided, with 41 percent agreeing and not wanting to see politicians and 40 percent disagreeing. So far, Israel’s Defense Minister Yoav Galant has said several times that the national commemorations should be held just as they are every year. The chairman of the veterans’ organization Yad Labanim, Eli Ben Shem, met with the defense minister about this. He stressed the grim situation to the minister, expressing concern over what will happen if politicians show up at the ceremonies to deliver their speeches. According to Ben Shem, more than 8,500 relatives of fallen soldiers have contacted the organization and asked that no politicians be in attendance.
What is particularly upsetting for many of the bereaved this year is the fact that ministers and members of Knesset who did not serve in the army, primarily religious and Orthodox Jews, also want to speak at the commemorations. Among them the religious Minister for National Security Itamar Ben-Gvir. Bereaved relatives have already informed Ben Shem that they will not allow Ben-Gvir to enter the cemetery in Beersheva during the ceremony. Ben Shem warned of possible violence between the bereaved family members and the government officials. This holy day of remembrance may at some point become a Yom Kippur for Israeli society. For their part, the protest organizations have informed Ben Shem that they will not come organized to protest at the cemeteries.
Under no circumstances should this commemoration be desecrated. The axis of our existence in this land revolves around the memory of the fallen and their sacrifice. Their blood gives freedom to the people of Zion to live in the land. The biblical idea of sacrifice and the sacrifice of the Messiah is reflected in this day of remembrance. Nearly one soldier has had to sacrifice his or her life for every day of the modern State of Israel’s existence. So blood is shed daily to fulfill God’s biblical promise. In this sense one must see, understand and embrace Yom Hazikaron. God forbid we fight and argue at the altar of the memorial ceremonies next Monday night.
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