Bereaved father of fallen Protective Edge soldier. .
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Standing at attention, a young soldier in full uniform, wearing a camouflage beret, silently wiped tears from his eyes moments before Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu took the stage at a Tuesday memorial honoring the 67 IDF soldiers killed during 2014’s Operation Protective Edge.
Then, for some in attendance at the two-year anniversary on Mount Herzl marking their deaths, sorrow quickly transformed into rage.
“Photograph the man who makes a joke out of democracy!” a bereaved father yelled to the press corps, while standing next to his chair, moments after Netanyahu took the podium.
“As a bereaved father, I am not ready for you to speak. I am not ready for you to hurt democracy. I did not sacrifice the most precious thing in my life for free. The time has come for someone to tell you that!” Hundreds of mourners, including President Reuven Rivlin, Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman, Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein and IDFChief of Staff Lt.-Gen Gadi Eisenkot, sat in stunned silence as Netanyahu directly addressed the anguished man.
“As a bereaved brother, I understand your pain,” he said.
“I know the loss and grief. As prime minister, I did everything not to expose our troops to unnecessary risk before we exhausted all the possibilities – both on the political and military levels.”
Everything the government did was for the sake of Israel’s security, he added, noting that his “door is always open” for bereaved families.
“Our people understand the price you paid,” Netanyahu continued. “Our soldiers stood on the front lines to repel the missiles, the terrorist tunnels and other threats. They knew that they were protecting our home, and today, the communities that border the Gaza Strip thrive, with children playing in the yards, thanks to the soldiers.”
Netanyahu then calmly contended that significant successes were achieved during the war.
“One thousand terrorist operatives were killed during the operation, and Hamas’s attack plan was thwarted,” he said.
“Regional powers recognize Hamas as a common enemy; Hamas invested enormous efforts, but they inevitably failed to damage the citizens of Israel. Hamas received the biggest blow in its history.
“Our enemies sought to isolate us politically, and now, two years later, Israel is flourishing... Operation Protective Edge proved what we all know – that the IDF is among the most moral armies in the world.”
The prime minister added that the IDF is “stronger than ever,” and preparing every day for more attacks from Hamas in the Gaza Strip.
“Israel nurtures military capabilities both on offense and defense – in the air, the sea and on land,” he said.
Still, he conceded, there is no cure for the pain of losing a loved one in war.
“I can tell you that I do not know if your wounds will ever heal completely, or possibly ever,” said Netanyahu, adding that he is actively attempting to have the bodies of St.-Sgt. Oron Shaul and Lt. Hadar Goldin returned to their families.
Other bereaved parents in attendance joined the protest, holding up photos of their sons who died in the Gaza offensive.
“He said the same thing this year that he said last year. And next year, he’ll say it again,” Smadar Matt, whose son, St-Sgt. Lee Matt was killed in the conflict with Hamas, told Channel 2.
Meanwhile, Rivlin said that two years after the war, two kinds of time have indelibly marked the families and soldiers – “before and after.”
“We take pride in their courage; in how much we are missing them,” the president said. “Regular words are not enough to describe a longing that has no beginning and end – a longing that is tearing minds apart.”