Every year since he was eight, Yuval Rahamim has stood by the grave of his father Abraham, who was killed in the Six Day War.
“From a young age, you devoted yourself to building the state,” Rahamim said Tuesday night, as he read from a letter he wrote to his father this year. “You never doubted that the nation needed you to protect it. You never felt any hatred or fear.”
The event was live-streamed to cities around the world, including the US, Europe and a small showing in Gaza.
“Dear Father, you fell on the second day of the war,” said Rahamim. “Fifty-two years have gone by, and on both sides people continue to die on its account.”
When he was small, he would go to the cemetery on this day, without understanding what was happening and why.
“Later I came in uniform with so much pride; I knew you were watching,” he said.
As time went on, he became less and less comfortable with the annual speeches. Rahamim said he felt as if he was “filling the role of an extra in a play that I had not chosen.”
With each passing year, he said, politicians sounded to him more cynical and less ashamed to turn his searching pain into an election rally for the next war.
Every year, politicians were more cynical and with less shame, turning the searing pain into election rallies for the next war.
Eventually, he stopped attending the formal national ceremonies, choosing instead to come to this one to share the moment with people who believe that there is an alternative to war, Rahamim explained.
The day after the signing of the 1993 Oslo Accords, Rahamim planted a small olive sapling by his father’s grave, so he would know that the war had ended.
But his hope was premature, he said, explaining that he planned to head later in the night to his father’s grave and to sit in a cemetery that will be filled with flickering memorial candles.
Teenager Mohammed Darwish, from the Aida refugee camp in Bethlehem, recalled the October 2015 death of his friend Abed al-Rahman Shadi Abdallah, who was killed at age 12 by a stray IDF bullet as he watched a Palestinian riot.
The two of them loved to play soccer together, Darwish recalled.
“I remember you asking me, to watch the clashes,” Darwish said, explaining that his fear kept him from going. “I did not know that would be your last request,” he said.
He remembered watching Abdallah as he walked to the riot.
“My eyes followed you until I could hardly see you,” Darwish said. “I moved forward just a little to call you back, but the sound of the bullets and the yelling were louder than my voice.”
He recalled how he went to the scene of his friend’s death. “I saw you lying on the floor soaked in blood... A few moments picked you up and carried you away forever. I know that today, this bloody conflict full of hate and hostility does not spare or show mercy on anyone – not even innocent children.”
On this night, Darwish explained, “I am talking about you and your death in front of thousands of people who believe in life and humanity – and I know your death was not in vain.”
Hagay Hacohen contributed to this reported.