Opinion

It’s Frightening to Think That Any Death Was in Vain

Yaki Sagi
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A joint Israeli-Palestian memorial ceremony, Tel Aviv, April 17, 2018
A joint Israeli-Palestian memorial ceremony, Tel Aviv, April 17, 2018Credit: Ofer Vaknin
Yaki Sagi

What is threatening to many members of the Israeli public about the Israeli-Palestinian Memorial Day Ceremony, even in its virtual format this year, is not only the cooperation with the “enemy.” While on an overt level the ceremony arouses harsh opposition because of the standing shoulder to shoulder alongside bereaved Palestinian parents and siblings: In the public subconscious the ceremony is frightening because it challenges the necessity of death.

By its very nature, the ceremony undermines the official effort to provide a series of justifications for death, in order to alleviate the pain somewhat, so that death will be acceptable. And of course that helps to prepare the ground for a continuation of the occupation and the fighting.

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Israel’s single-use coalition will serve Trump and protect BibiCredit: Haaretz

The joint ceremony reminds us that this may be unnecessary, meaningless death. On the overt level the ceremony arouses anger among the public, on the covert level it causes a sense of anxiety and suffocation, due to the question regarding the necessity of the sacrifice. That is also the reason why many people are frantically insisting that it be stopped. It’s the reason why for them its existence is truly intolerable. That indicates that those who claim that the ceremony includes an element of defiance are right. Its existence challenges the formative beliefs in Israeli society, such as wars of “no choice” that have always been thrust upon us, our hand offered in peace, and the necessity of ruling over others for security purposes.

The very possibility of a joint Israeli-Palestinian ceremony raises tough questions: Is it possible that the security totem is based on a perception of Jewish supremacy in the region and a desire to use force in order to implement it? Over which places did we fight and in the name of what ideology? Is the story that we tell really correct and do we stand behind it wholeheartedly?

The ceremony undermines certainty: If it is shared, then of necessity it opens a possibility that death is superfluous. If the ceremony is shared, perhaps life could be shared, too. It could therefore be said that the ceremony in effect functions as an anti-ceremony. Whereas memorial ceremonies try to clothe loss in the garb of broad-based national significance, the joint ceremony insists on revealing the disaster in all its nakedness, without the garb of the official narrative. In doing so it betrays the symbolic occasion and forces us once again to face the naked reality of death, and the gnawing doubt that it may have been in vain.

“Ancient graves thus generate processes that create fresh graves,” wrote historian and culture researcher Prof. Idith Zertal, in her book “Death and the Nation.” And as a follow-up to her criticism of the use Israel has made of images of death since its establishment, the joint ceremony refrains from providing some of the feelings of catharsis so generously supplied by memorial services. On the contrary; it offers its participants unrest, an uncomfortable stay and finally serious thoughts about responsibility as well.

“Old death is both the motive and the seal of approval for new death in the service of the nation, and death with death shall hold communion,” wrote Zertal. Among the numerous official memorial ceremonies, the Israeli-Palestinian ceremony seems like a slip of the tongue that infiltrates a passionate chauvinistic speech: In fact, things could have been different.

Yaki Sagi is a clinical psychologist.

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