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Netanyahu Heckled at IDF Ceremony by Bereaved Father: I Won't Let You Harm Democracy

Prime minister's speech at ceremony in honor of IDF's dead in Gaza war repeatedly interrupted by bereaved parents. 'As a bereaved brother, I understand you pain,' PM says. 'We don't believe you,' father responds.

A composite photo showing Netanyahu addressing a ceremony honoring IDF dead at Gaza war, and bereaved father Yoram Tal shouting at him.
Olivieh Fitoussi

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke at a memorial ceremony for the fallen soldiers of the 2014 Gaza conflict on Tuesday, saying that Israeli society withstood the test of Operation Protective Edge, as the war was termed in Israel.

"I cannot promise that Protective Edge is the last confrontation with the terrorist groups, but I can say that if Hamas is planning another confrontation, it will be knocked out once again, and with a force that it cannot imagine," Netanyahu said. 

His speech, delivered at the military cemetery in Mount Herzl, was interrupted by bereaved fathers. "As a bereaved father, I will not let you harm democracy. I didn't pay such a heavy price for this," said Yoram Tal, the father of Omri Tal, who was killed in the war. "You won't take over the media, someone should tell this to you," he added.

Netanyahu responded to the man, saying that as a bereaved brother he understands his pain, referring to his brother Yoni, who was killed during the Entebbe Operation in 1976. "As prime minister I did everything so as not to expose our soldiers to unnecessary danger before all other options were exhausted," he said, to which a woman in the audience shouted out: "You don't know anything," and Tal responded: "We don't believe you." 

Netanyahu continued, but another father interrupted him, shouting: "What are you babbling about." Following the ceremony bereaved mothers lifted signs and complained that the ceremony doesn't honor their sons and that their names haven't been mentioned.  

The ceremony was conducted against the backdrop of a demand by 32 bereaved families of the fallen in Operation Protective Edge to establish a state commission of inquiry headed by a judge, to examine the conduct before, during and after the operation. The families wrote a letter to Netanyahu and Lieberman explaining that a committee external to the government should be established to investigate the events.

On Monday Netanyahu addressed the criticism against him for his conduct during the operation, asserting that there had discussions in the cabinet about the threat of Hamas' tunnels. In a conversation with military correspondents the prime minister said that "the claim that there was no discussion of the tunnels is the opposite of the truth."

Netanyahu mentioned the claims raised after the operation by several public figures, including Education Minister Naftali Bennett (Habayit Hayehudi) and Avigdor Lieberman (Yisrael Beitenu), to the effect that the cabinet did not deal precisely with how to deal with the tunnel threat and failed to formulate strategic targets for the operation. Netanyahu said that there had been eight discussions dealing with the subject and with guidelines for underground activity during the seven months preceding the operation.

President Reuven Rivlin also spoke at the ceremony, saying that any future negotiations aimed at solving the humanitarian crisis in the Gaza Strip must include the return of the bodies of two Israeli soldiers killed in the 2014 conflict. 

"Hadar and Oron were sent by the State of Israel, and the State of Israel has the task, the responsibility and the obligation to bring them home," said Rivlin, referring to Hadar Goldin and Oron Shaul, whose bodies are believed to be held by Hamas.

President Reuven Rivlin speaking at a memorial service for soldiers killed during Operation Protective Edge, July 26, 2016.
Olivieh Fitoussi

According to Rivlin, "this task is part of the our moral obligation to our soldiers. We must ensure that this human obligation to bring our sons home will also be raised as part of any negotiations to solve the humanitarian distress in the Gaza Strip."

Earlier this month, a Turkish cargo ship bearing 10,000 tons of humanitarian equipment and food destined for the Gaza Strip docked in Ashdod, the first shipment of aid in accordance with the recent reconciliation agreement signed between Israel and Turkey. Israel and Turkey last week agreed to normalize relations after six years of diplomatic standoff between the two states. In terms of the agreement, Turkey is able to send aid to Gaza via Israel. The deal was criticized by the families of Goldin and Shaul. 

The issue of the missing soldier's bodies was not part of the final agreement between Turkey and Israel, though Turkey issued a separate "letter of goodwill" in which it promised to work with Hamas for the release of the missing Israelis