Opinion |

When Israeli Families' Bereavement Is Politicized

Iris Leal
Iris Leal
Flower crowns at Officer Noam Raz's funeral, Jerusalem, on Sunday.
Flower crowns at Officer Noam Raz's funeral, Jerusalem, on Sunday.Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg
Iris Leal
Iris Leal

At the funeral of Noam Raz of blessed memory, an officer in the Yamam police counterterrorism unit who was killed in the Jenin area, his son spoke to and about his father. He told the audience what a wonderful man and father he was, and then he hurled accusations at those who, in his understanding, led to the painful loss.

That is how someone who has lost something dear to him feels: It shouldn’t have happened. Anyone who has had the misfortune of experiencing loss is familiar with that: the anger that accompanies the shock and that dictates, like a telegram inside your head, the two sentences that express the difficulty to comprehend and to accept: “I don’t believe that it happened,” and “Why did it happen?” Both join the unavoidable conclusion dictated by grief: “It shouldn’t have happened,” and the desire to have someone pay for it.

Noam Raz’s son is no exception. He felt that it was wrong that his father is no longer with us, and he had to protest this cruelty. A day earlier he said: “Bennett, my father’s blood is on your hands,” at least that’s what they reported on TV’s Channel 14, where death is an essential product in the lively political and commercial market in which they operate.

In her exemplary book “The Year of Magical Thinking,” Joan Didion described all the stages of mourning, from the cognitive blow up to the feeling that her beloved husband could have been saved. But she begins with the dumbfounded assertion familiar to anyone who has experienced loss: “Life changes fast. Life changes in the instant. You sit down to dinner and life as you know it ends.”

The photos of the funerals record intimate high points of love and death. The protest against the cruel decree of fate and the realizations flicker in your foggy awareness – but the emotional raw ingredients that develop into anger and hatred, and that seek an address, must not be turned into a political document.

Prime ministers are responsible for decisions to start a war or embark on a limited operation, and whether the death of a son or a husband during another bloody round in Gaza was necessary is appropriate. But when Raz’s son said on his father’s grave, “the leftists who want to sell the country,” I couldn’t breathe, and I felt that something in the rules had changed and that a certain boundary had been breached.

For a long time many people have felt that like the legal system, bereavement, that “holy of holies,” has been harnessed to a battle against the legitimacy of the government and its leader. It began with the mother of Border Police officer Barel Hadaria Shmueli, and continued at the recent Memorial Day ceremony on Mount Herzl, which turned into a political demonstration, and with the announcement by the family members of those killed in the terror attack in Elad that they didn’t want members of the government to come to console them.

To be certain that I’m not biased, I spoke to my friend Yael Shevach, the widow of Raziel Shevach, who was killed in a terror attack. Yael is a settler in the Havat Gilad outpost, but aside from a basic ideological dispute, we share a profound and mutual understanding that sorrow is like a herbicide, and sometimes it also kills what is located many kilometers away from it, and for that reason bereavement is like a nuclear weapon when it is in the wrong hands.

The merchants of death have recently been enlisting bereavement not to guarantee a better future, but to remove a prime minister and replace him with someone else. This is almost a point of no return, in which the families themselves are facing a critical decision: whether they are part of the political game and whether they are using their immunity in order to influence it, an immunity that under these circumstances could be taken away from them.

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