A long line of cars parked by the entrance to Yad Lashiryon, the Israeli Armored Corps memorial site and museum at Latrun, on the once-besieged road to Jerusalem, attests to the great popularity of the tradition of visiting military camps on Independence Day.
Families walk leisurely on the gravel road to the Armored Corps festivity. The soldier directing traffic at the entrance perhaps didn’t think, when he joined the Israel Defense Forces, that this is what he would be doing in his military service.
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One visitor, Ezra, explains why he chose to bring his family to an exhibition dedicated to the Armored and Engineering Corps, instead of having a barbecue in the park, like many other Israelis. “Everyone has his way to connect with the people of Israel and with Independence Day,” he says. “One person celebrates with a barbecue, another prays, a third goes to the Bible quiz and then there’s us, who come here, to see where it all began, to pay respect to those commemorated here, who gave their lives for this nation. The important thing is find the point of connection.”
Contemporary Israeli songs — music by Omer Adam, Eurovision winner Netta Barzilay and others — accompany the guests as they enter the site. Later, La Macarena and other oldies would be played, but for now it’s all pop stars like Eden Ben Zaken, Static and Ben El and Stephane Legar blasting through the tank barrels.
Amid little known Hebrew acronyms, only familiar to IDF aficionados, a soldier struggles to explain the functions of the Puma armored vehicle, whose name is also a Hebrew acronym for “engineering obstacle breaker.” She doesn’t get the goal of the day’s activities. “I didn’t decide on it, I have no idea why they’re doing it,” she says, then goes on to daringly assume: "Perhaps it’s something that’s supposed to connect the people to the IDF.”
Throughout the compound, thousands of parents explain to their children with beaming faces about the advantages of the military machines. “Crazy,” said a boy of about 10 to himself after taking a photo of the “Tatra Driller,” a machine intended to drill into bedrock structure to “verify, locate and destroy,” according to the explanation at the site.
In a nearby tent children are coloring in drawings of a Puma and soldiers give them balloons as gifts. Anyone who wants something else can try out the “diverse activities” thought up by the IDF, like passing in a “booby-trapped route,” “Identifying a powerful explosive charge with binoculars” or a robotic assignment.
“I came to show the boy tanks,” says a woman pointing at her son in a stroller. “Especially since he’s crazy about tractors.”
Her friend says she’s visiting the exhibition “because 71 years ago we captured the country and we did it with these things. Don’t worry, we’ll have a barbecue afterward.”
An "interception vehicle" operator starts up the machine, lifts children up on it and lets them play with the joystick that operates the weapon on the vehicle’s roof.
“They’re instructing the children as though they were on a course,” says one of the fathers critically. “They should let them play a moment and go on to the next child. It’s impossible like this.”
At another stand, a few soldiers took the children a step further and had them dancing to music. “That’s not part of our job here,” a female soldier tells Haaretz. “We’re just dancing and having fun, after having been here for a week already.”
At yet another stand, an instructor shows how to shoot a sniper’s rifle lying down, and the children are thrilled. The parents, even happier, fall down flat to get a good shot of the kid holding the M16. One parent makes sure girls also take hold of the rifle. Another brings one of his children quickly to photograph him as well.
“We’re bringing them to absorb heritage and values,” says Merav. “And the IDF is one of the state’s most important values.” Asked if it wouldn’t be better to educate the children to peace rather than war, she replies: “What can we do, we'll always need an army.” Another woman who jumps into the conversation: “Excuse me for butting in, but when we’re surrounded by enemies we must have an army.”
“In my prayers I ask the almighty to make peace but we must have an army because for real peace we must be strong,” Merav clarifies.
But after all the talking is done, nothing really happens here if it isn't photographed. A mother attempts to hype up some of the childern with chants of "Thank you, soldiers" and "Thank you, IDF," but few join in. They're all busy taking selfies.