Some Bereaved Families Defy Coronavirus Restrictions to Mark Memorial Day at Cemetery

Roadblocks were set on main roads leading to military cemeteries, but the police didn’t prevent bereaved families from visiting the graves of their loved ones

Josh Breiner
Bar Peleg
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A woman visits the cemetery at Mount Herzl, April 28, 2020.
A woman visits the cemetery at Mount Herzl, April 28, 2020.Credit: Ohad Zwingberger
Josh Breiner
Bar Peleg

Several  bereaved families arrived at military cemeteries throughout Israel as the country marks Memorial Day, defying the ban on gatherings imposed by the government to stem the spread of the coronavirus.  

Roadblocks were set on main roads leading to the military cemeteries, but the police didn’t prevent people from entering the cemeteries, making do with asking the public to leave the area.

Leah Shpitz sits by her brother's grave at the military cemetery in Kiryat Shaul, April 28, 2020.
Leah Shpitz sits by her brother's grave at the military cemetery in Kiryat Shaul, April 28, 2020.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum

Sarit Segal, a bereaved daughter who came to visit the grave of her father at the Kiryat Shaul military cemetery in Tel Aviv, told Haaretz that "I don't view Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as a moral authority, adding that "like it important for him to meet with his son on Passover seder, it was important for me to be here with my father today.”

Segal's father was killed in the Sinai Campaign in 1956. “My children don’t approve of me coming here. It is a difficult day that brings up a lot of questions and thoughts, but I’ve found that the best place for me to stand during the siren [honoring the fallen] is at a safe distance from people, while uniting with my father’s memory.”

Peleg visits the military cemetery at Kiryat Shaul, April 28, 2020.
Peleg visits the military cemetery at Kiryat Shaul, April 28, 2020.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum

Leah Shpitz, who came to visit her brother’s grave at the same cemetery, said this is the 57th time she has come to Kiryat Shaul on Memorial Day. “I stood here 56 times during the siren, and nobody will prevent me from coming here for the 57th time.

“I left home at 6 A.M. to get through the roadblocks on time. It’s disappointing and very infuriating that the cemetery is so empty, but at least I see the soldiers showing respect, usually I can’t see because of the crowd,” Shpitz said.

Ronit Elyaakov, a bereaved mother who came to the military cemetery in Rishon Letzion, told Haaretz: “It was important to me to come here. The police tried to convince me, in a pleasant manner, not to enter, but I explained to them that there's no way I won't be by my son’s side during the siren.”

An aerial view of the military cemetery in Kiryat Shmuel, April 28, 2020.
An aerial view of the military cemetery in Kiryat Shmuel, April 28, 2020.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum

Elyaakov, whose son Lior was killed in a military operation in 2003, said she comes to the cemetery every day and “is used to being here alone. The government should have allowed the bereaved families to come here in a limited format. How can someone tell parents that they are forbidden to see their child?”

Elad Lev-Ran, whose brother was killed in Lebanon in 1997, said: “If I had to, I would have jumped over the fence to be here now. It was clear to me that my brother wouldn’t be alone during the two-minute siren that went off at 11 A.M.” Lev-Ran said that he arrived at the cemetery by foot and no one stopped him on the way.

My parents, who are in their 70s, are not here amid justified fears over the coronavirus. Lev-Ran added that the absence of his brother’s friends, commanders and soldiers who come here every year, is felt. “The government had to at least allow the nuclear families to come to the cemeteries. It’s incomprehensible that we can’t be here while holding minyanim for prayer and staging protests is allowed. They can call it a prayer service in the memory of my brother or a demonstration on his behalf, it doesn’t matter.”   

Seeking to prevent pictures of the roadblocks from being taken, the police set them up at a safe distance from the cemeteries. In addition, some of the cemeteries were locked after the Defense Ministry gave the order to do so.

Israel Defense Force soldiers at the at the military cemetery in Kiryat Shaul, April 28, 2020.
Israel Defense Force soldiers at the at the military cemetery in Kiryat Shaul, April 28, 2020.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum

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