Unique remembrance

Remembrance Day for the Fallen of Israel’s Wars, which begins this evening at 8 p.m. with a minute- long siren, provides an opportunity for rethinking fundamentals.

April 20, 2015 22:33
3 minute read.
IDF soldiers

IDF soldeirs take part in a night-time drill [file]. (photo credit: REUTERS)

Remembrance Day for the Fallen of Israel’s Wars, which begins this evening at 8 p.m. with a minute- long siren, provides an opportunity for rethinking fundamentals.

Of course, the day was set aside to remember and honor those who made the ultimate sacrifice to ensure that the world’s only Jewish state continues to thrive and to comfort those whose loved ones are no longer with us.

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But Remembrance Day is also a time of introspection.

Defense of Jewish sovereignty in Israel is a two-pronged challenge. One aspect consists of the physical protection of the Jewish people from its many enemies. Jewish power must be brandished through a strong army that is well-equipped with the most advanced weaponry. Maintaining a technological edge over the nations that inhibit the region is essential to deterrence.

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Even mutually assured destruction – that element in the balance of powers that prevented a nuclear Holocaust during the long years of the Cold War – might not deter religious fanatics like the apocalyptic Shi’ite mullahs presently running Iran. But in general, it is safe to assume that as long as Israel’s enemies are cognizant of Israel’s unparalleled military advantage, they will refrain from aggression.

However, keeping a technical advantage over neighboring nations and terrorist organizations is not enough, and is ultimately tied to more fundamental aspects of Israeli society. Israel’s astounding technical innovation cannot be divorced from Israel’s unique character.

Unlike autocratic regimes like those found in the Middle East which stifle creativity and encourage conformity or which values submission to a higher authority, Israeli society is open and free and encourages improvisation and “thinking outside the box.” This can sometimes lead to a rambunctious political culture and a relatively undisciplined military bureaucracy. But it also fosters creativity.

Alongside Israel’s liberal approach to hierarchy and unorthodox thinking, however, there is also a strong commitment to tradition. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the realm of the family. Unlike countries on the road to demographic suicide such as Japan, Italy and Russia, where fertility rates have long been below replacement levels, in Israel there is a very Jewish emphasis on the centrality of family. Israel is the world’s only advanced industrial nation with a relatively high, above replacement birthrate, including among secular Israelis.

The centrality of Remembrance Day in Israeli society is in large part tied to the importance we all place on the family and the tremendous loss incurred when a family member is lost. Centrality of family also explains the tremendous emphasis Jewish culture places on the sanctity of life.

When Jews wage war they strive to do so without losing sight of the sanctity of life – not just the lives of Israeli soldiers, but also the lives of non-combatants. More than other western countries, Israelis agonize over striking the right balance between the moral obligation to defend Israeli citizens and the prohibition against disproportionate harm to those on the enemy side who are not directly connected to the fighting.

IDF soldiers’ actions are meticulously scrutinized by both military and civilian legal bodies. A plethora of local and international NGOs are permitted to operate freely inside Israel and regularly publish in-depth investigations of purported “war crimes.”

This self-scrutiny should be welcomed. It is essential not just because it is the right and moral thing to do.

Because Israel has universal conscription, soldiers are drawn from nearly every sector of society, including the most liberal. Young Israelis who face mandatory conscription must know that when their commanders send them out to fight they are adhering to the highest ethical standards. If they are unsure, they will lose their motivation.

This year we will mourn the 23,320 Israelis killed at war or in terror attacks – 116 more than in 2014, according to statistics released by the Defense Ministry.

As we remember and mourn the loved ones we have lost, we should be proud of Israel’s unique character.

There is no other country in the world that has succeeded so well in combining the best of liberalism – which encourages freedom, individuality and creativity – with strong ties to tradition – which imparts a commitment to family, self-sacrifice and a respect for the sanctity of life.

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