The period that begins with last week’s Holocaust Remembrance Day and continues
through tonight’s Remembrance Day for the Fallen of Israel’s Wars is dominated
by the themes of sacrifice, death and loss.
By the time we get around to
the joyous celebration of Jewish sovereignty on Independence Day on Thursday, we
will have traversed a turbulent emotional gauntlet of tears and mourning. The
sadness that permeates this week leading up to Independence Day is tempered by
an accompanying conviction that our collective suffering and sacrifices were not
We are partially consoled by the knowledge that painful
sacrifice in the countless wars and battles fought in the past 64 years against
those seeking a violent end to the Zionist project has helped ensure political
self-determination for Jews for the first time in nearly two
millennia. Through memorial services for the fallen, we mourn the
deceased while acknowledging their contribution.
Unfortunately, since the
rise of new historians and radical social scientists beginning in the 1980s, it
has become fashionable to criticize the way we memorialize our
Just this week, Prof. Avner Ben-Amos of Tel Aviv University
why he thinks the way we memorialize fallen soldiers “flattens
“Since 1967, Israel’s wars have basically been meant to protect
territories we captured,” claimed Ben-Amos. “That is, these are wars that
actually have no justification, including the 1973 Yom Kippur War, which today
we know could have been prevented. You could say these deaths were superfluous,
but in the ceremonies the soldiers are depicted as passive
Meanwhile, in the same Haaretz
article, culture scholar Dalia
Gavriely-Nuri lamented the fact that “even if the music [used in memorial
ceremonies] is updated, the songs still preserve a military value system and
present the IDF as our biggest cultural given.”
Gavriely-Nuri and other like-minded critics of our society, Israel’s purported
“militarism” is to be blamed for the ongoing bloody conflict, not Arab
aggression and hatred. These radical social scientists would have us believe
that if only we stop honoring our deceased as heroes or as innocent victims and
begin acknowledging our own complicity in the incessant warfare that has plagued
the Jewish state from its very inception, we will take a significant step toward
ending the conflict.
Put in social science terminology, our “construction
of collective memory” – via memorial services and the accompanying songs and
symbols that “preserve a military value system” – perpetuates the war with our
But Ben-Amos, Gavriely-Nuri and other self-styled “radical
social scientists” and “new historians” have mixed up cause and effect. Of
course we preserve a military value system and encourage our youths to serve in
the IDF. But we do this not because Israeli society is inherently jingoistic,
rather because we have no other choice.
As long as our many enemies
continue to try to destroy us, Israel is forced to maintain a policy of
universal conscription. But the stream of mainstream Zionism articulated
by David Ben-Gurion, Berl Katznelson and Yitzhak Tabenkin is not a militaristic
movement. Tel Aviv University’s Anita Shapira and other historians have shown
that the pre-state Labor Zionist movement only reluctantly took arms in the face
of Palestinian violence and for years upheld a policy of “restraint.”
course the Yom Kippur War – and every other war Israel ever fought – could have
been prevented. If only the Palestinians had accepted the 1947 partition plan;
if only Gamel Abdel Nasser had not amassed troops on our southern border in 1967
and called for Israel’s destruction; if only Syria and Egypt under Anwar Sadat
had not launched a surprise attack on Israel in 1973; if only the PLO had not
used Lebanon as a base to fire Katyusha rockets and launch terror attacks in the
1970s and early 1980s.
But there was very little – if anything – that
Israel could have done to prevent the many wars it has waged in the past 64
years – besides disappearing.
Israel would like nothing more than to live
in peace with its neighbors. In the mean time, we mourn our losses and remain ever vigilant.
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