Mourning Fallen Israeli Soldiers Is No Longer Sacred. That's a Good Thing

Gideon Levy
Gideon Levy
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People light candles at an anti-government demonstration following the death of Barel Hadaria Shmueli, in Tel Aviv, last week.
Gideon Levy
Gideon Levy

If the sharpshooter who was killed through a slit in the Gaza border fence were Druze, public and media discussion would have ended the day after his funeral. If he were a settler from Efrat, Israel would have retaliated against Gaza. If he were a member of the Border Police from the Jezreel Valley, north Tel Aviv or Kokhav Yair – unlikely to be the case – Israel would mourn differently, not the way it mourned for Barel Hadaria Shmueli.

But Shmueli was a Border Policeman from the town of Be’er Ya’akov in central Israel, and in Israel, mourning is also a matter of geography; its dimensions are determined by class, ethnic and political affiliation. Shmueli wasn’t the son of all of us, even if all Israelis were sorry about his death, and he wasn’t an Israeli hero, as his mother lamented in a needless and laid-bare interview on the Channel 12 Friday news program. The Palestinian protesters his age facing him are the real heroes, and not all Israelis have the same hunger for vengeance and rage as the bereaved mother has.

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We must thank Barel’s parents for setting new boundaries for public bereavement. These new boundaries might herald a change in society’s attitude toward its fallen soldiers, one that results in a healthier, more normal perspective. His family entwined their private bereavement with harsh political messages, and so did thousands of people supporting them in their difficult hour.

The nine days of worry over his condition, the night of the funeral and the days of mourning that followed became an outright and sometimes repugnant political display. Now we can say it: Their behavior cut free the chains of propriety with regard to mourning. From now on, we can respond to them. From now on, not every soldier who is killed is a son of all of us. We can also say that he shouldn’t have been where he was, and certainly not doing what he was doing, just as they can say that all the protesters in Gaza must be killed to prevent the death of one Israeli sharpshooter.

If mourning is political, the discussion is open to everyone. Barel’s parents have released us from the ad-nauseum false and affected statements of grief. It’s their right to express their anger and their worldview as much as they want, but in so doing, they have spurned other groups. We can agree with them and support them, but we can also oppose and criticize them, with less consideration for bereavement. The sanctification has ended, and that’s a good thing.

Border Policeman Barel Shmueli was sent to the Gaza fence to shoot demonstrators with live bullets. That was his task, and it’s a contemptible one. If an investigative committee must be convened, it should be only on one matter: How is it that in that place, at the ghetto fence of Gaza, sharpshooters have killed more than 200 protesters, almost all of them unarmed and not endangering soldiers’ lives. That’s what really needs to be investigated, before anything else.

Barel fell in the line of duty, and discussion should focus on that duty. Most of the people around him believe that soldiers should use more unbridled violence against the protests at the fence, that soldiers’ hands are tied and therefore they are unable to kill many more Palestinians fighting for their freedom and dignity.

The bereaved mother even believes that it’s all because MK Mansour Abbas is in the coalition. These despicable claims cannot be justified just because they are raised in a time of bereavement.

The Israeli army and the Border Police are the subcontractors for the criminal and horrifying imprisonment of two and a half million people for the past 15 years. We must and should oppose this policy and its subcontractors, even when they are in uniform.

Facing off against them are the hooligans of Gaza, who have no present and no future. It’s no great heroism to snipe at them, and it’s not legitimate to continue imprisoning them. That has to be said always, and more so when there is another unnecessary Israeli victim.

The Border Police sharpshooter, like the 13-year-old Gazan shot to death in front of him, are victims of Israeli policy. His mother, Nitza, said that her son was a cardboard shooting target. Facing him are thousands of cardboard targets that her son’s sharpshooter comrades snipe at endlessly and mercilessly.

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