This year, the state ceremony in honor of Memorial Day will be attended for the first time by 67 families that have lost loved ones in Operation Protective Edge in Gaza over the summer, that have spent the past few months in the wasteland of mourning, where nothing but pain grows.
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For those whose loved ones are buried in civilian cemeteries, the army will send a cantor who, in chanting the El Maleh Rahamim funeral prayer, will represent army, state and religion. The military cemeteries will be filled with soldiers standing at attention who, like many of the fallen, are young and innocent and apparently overly eager to give their lives for the sake of their country.
Every possible effort will be made to obscure the blame for this day. All possible means will be utilized to blur the crying waste of these absurd violent deaths; they will be presented as part of some grand national plan that is more important even than the dead themselves. To lessen the insipidity that has infected every corner of our lives since last summer, suffocating cliches about heroism will be spouted and the entire nation will speak with great emotion through the mouths of the president, the prime minister and the defense minister, promising the grief-stricken families that their dead children were the children of all of us, that the families will never be abandoned and will not be left alone in their grief.
But they will, in fact, be left alone in their grief. They have been alone for a long time already.
Isolation is one of the unique characteristics of bereavement. But what is surprising, breathtakingly cruel is the fact that the families of the deceased soldiers were shamefully and collectively abandoned by a majority of this merciful and compassionate nation — which is wiping away tears of feigned solidarity as if it hadn’t, just one month earlier, reelected those responsible for the disgrace of last summer’s war in Gaza without a second thought, voicing its confidence in the very leadership that brought this disaster down upon their heads.
By the time the Memorial Day siren sounds tonight, passing like a death keen through the length and breadth of the land, the truth will have been known long since: Israel was not dragged against its will into the conflict with Hamas this summer.
During Operation Brother’s Keeper, which preceded the Gaza war, Israel sought escalation, doing everything in its power to ensure an outbreak of fighting by acting in the West Bank with a brutality that went beyond the effort to locate the three Israeli teens who had been kidnapped while trying to hitch a ride. But that didn’t bring an end to terrorism. The army’s bombings were pointless, failing to reduce the rocket fire; repeated operations in Gaza do not and never did have the power to create deterrence, but have succeeded magnificently in bringing about a reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas — an alliance that is undesirable for Israel, and whose dismantlement was one of the declared, and unachieved, goals of last summer’s war. Like a snake biting its own tail, every round of fighting has created a problem that the next round has failed to fix.
Israel’s citizens, who once again voted for someone who promised zero diplomatic vision and a cast-iron rejection of any agreement, still believe that with all the pain, it was the reality created by the Palestinians that took the lives of Israel’s fallen. True, even they know that not much time will pass until the next round of violence, but nevertheless, from one election to the next, they cling to the idea that there’s no choice because there’s no partner, as if this had the power to save them.
If any hope exists on this day then, it is the hope that perhaps a single soldier stationed at one of the many memorial ceremonies somewhere in the country will be unable to overcome his curiosity, and will peek at the stricken faces of these families. And when his eyes momentarily meet the grief-laden eyes of a mother, he will lower his own in embarrassment, and for an instant, a single picture will flash into his head: that of his own mother kneeling at his grave. And for one brief moment, the recognition of this possibility of nothingness will freeze his blood.