Israel’s Wall of Remembrance Awaits More Names

Given the space that’s left in the memorial hall for fallen soldiers, we should ask the prime minister: What are you doing to stop war? Is there really no choice?

Bricks bearing the names of fallen soldiers at the memorial hall at Mount Herzl Cemetery, May 1, 2017.
Olivier Fitoussi

Shira Tzur of Haifa died January 8 in the car-ramming attack against soldiers in the heart of Jerusalem. It was a normal day. It wasn’t a day for an operation or an exercise. Shira, 20, was a second lieutenant in an elite secret unit, which she joined after taking part in a pilots' course. She was an outstanding student at the Reali School in Haifa, a beloved daughter and sister.

In the photograph she has youthful freckles, and her hair is thick and bright. Her grandfather, Dan Tzur of Zichron Yaakov, eulogized her at her funeral. He thanked God he saw her the day before she died. Shira Tzur is survived by her parents, brother and sister. She was an outstanding counselor in the Scouts. She went to Boston as a young emissary before starting her military service.

Shira Tzur of Haifa died in a Jerusalem car-ramming attack on January 8, 2017.

Shira’s name is engraved on the last row, the fifth brick above the year 2016, as seen in the photograph above. It’s the wall of bricks in the memorial hall for fallen soldiers, where each brick is a fallen soldier and each fallen soldier is a brick.

The politics, psychology and architecture for memorial buildings are always an act of engraving. The state wants to immortalize its fallen, to set aside a place for their memory, to keep them etched in this symbolic space, but also forever missing. It wants to keep the memory within the building, real and symbolic, where it will be possible to preserve and remember people who fell in the line of duty. And therefore the state also leaves more space along the wall, more bricks for the future dead.

And the question is asked this Memorial Day, in front of the name Shira Tzur, who was 20 in January when she was murdered – are Israel and its leaders doing everything they can, every effort, with honesty and determination, so that the wall will remain empty? So that there will not be another name on a brick next to Shira’s?

But the empty bricks, all experience teaches, await more names. Israeli memorial sites are always a platform for more names. They save a space for the newly dead. Benjamin Netanyahu pored over the wall in the memorial hall and shed a tear. Maybe it was a speck of dust in his eyes.

Benjamin Netanyahu at the memorial hall for Israel's fallen soldiers, Mount Herzl Cemetery, May 1, 2017.
Olivier Fitoussi

“To our great sorrow, the State of Israel was built by the sword,” he said at a memorial service during which the siren wailed at 11 A.M. Monday. “And we have no choice but to continue defending it even if it means the fall of the best of our children.”

But given the space that’s left, we should ask the prime minister, “What are you doing to stop war? Is there really no choice?”

Israeli society is not united in bereavement – because it does not accept the bereavement of the other side, the victims, the loss, the suffering and the sorrow of the other side. And it does not accept the right to protest. Even the parents of Lt. Hadar Goldin, whose body has not been returned from Gaza, were silenced recently at a Knesset committee meeting when they tried to protest and speak their mind. Even death, personal sacrifice and tragedy fail to earn someone the right to speak in Israel.

And so that someone’s death isn’t in vain, we must let the living speak. Netanyahu knows that the wall in the picture will continue to fill up. And he’s asking us to accept this as a fact, to accept the given that next year Shira Tzur will no longer be the last name in the row.