By Staying Away, Olmert Honored the Ceremony

A white-haired man in a blue-striped shirt sat in the crowd of people who attended the memorial ceremony held yesterday to mark the first anniversary of the Second Lebanon War, and fought the rays of the setting sun. He shifted his position, blinked and lifted his arm over his eyes - whether to protect them or order the sun to stop blinding him, it wasn't clear.

All the same, the sun's rays wouldn't let up, even going so far as to dart along the black silk skullcap on his head, the state symbol printed upon it in white.

It was Dan Halutz, the chief of staff of the most unnecessary and most failed war in Israel's history. He was sitting in the third row, on the side. In civilian clothes, he was identifiable to some only because he was accompanied by a bodyguard. Here's Dan Halutz, they said, more accepting than hostile. At least he had the courage to come, they added.

That was in stark contrast to Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, who chickened out and didn't show up. Every gravestone, every tear recalled his absence; the man whose refusal to resign in the wake of the war placed him at the top rung of Israeli cynicism was now acting like a coward. There were some who got angry at him, maybe even some who boycotted the ceremony because of his refusal to attend about a quarter of the 300 seats allocated for the bereaved families stood empty.

Amir Peretz dared to come, but ironically, it was his replacement, Ehud Barak who took the Israel Defense Forces out of Lebanon the first time around was asked to give the war some kind of significance. He did so wisely and courteously, placing the Second Lebanon War in the context of all the wars fought here, starting from 1948.

The ceremony was preceded by a dispute over how to refer to the 41 civilians killed in the war. The chief military cantor said the soldiers 'died the deaths of heroes,' while the civilians were 'murdered by murderers.'

When the master of ceremonies called up Rachel Hazan, the mother of one of those civilians, Rafi Shimon Hazan, who was killed by the first of two rockets to hit the Haifa train depot, he said only that Rafi Hazan had been killed in a rocket attack, as though trying to blur the distinction.

As everyone else did what they were supposed to do at state memorial ceremonies and left their bursting pain at home, only the mother of civilian Rafi Shimon Hazan collapsed and cried out: 'It can't be!