Reviving our Israeli pride

The IDF paraded every year on Israel Independence Day until 1968, and briefly re-introduced a parade in 1973, the 25th anniversary of the state, after which they stopped for lack of funding.

May 7, 2019 14:48
Reviving our Israeli pride

A MILITARY parade for Independence Day held in Israel during the early 1970s.. (photo credit: GPO)

Few things evoke greater national pride on a mass scale than military parades.

The military comes out strongest at national events in different countries because these are the days when patriotism is at its height.

When communist rule was at its most widespread, there were military parades in all the Soviet Bloc countries as well as China, Vietnam and North Korea. Military parades are still conducted in several of those nations.

In Israel, the defense forces annually paraded on Israel Independence Day up until 1968, and briefly re-introduced a parade in 1973, the 25th anniversary year of the state, after which they stopped for lack of funding. The 1973 Yom Kippur War took a heavy toll not only in human life, but also on the national coffers.

Israel’s economic recovery took a relatively long time.

Even so, it was ill advised to stop the parades. Holocaust survivors contributed greatly to the first major waves of immigration. After them came North African Jews, some of whom had also been targeted during the Holocaust and – along with others who had suffered persecution and deprivations after the establishment of the State of Israel – had fled to the Jewish homeland, only to suffer even greater deprivation and discrimination

Both the European Holocaust survivors and the North African immigrants needed to be assured of Israel’s strength. They needed to know that the Jewish people could defend itself not only in a desperate but futile show of heroism and resistance, as happened in the Warsaw Ghetto and in other ghettos that had been liquidated, but in a demonstration of self-confidence that they believed would lead to triumph.

It’s not certain that the country’s leaders understood this. Israel was so despondent after the Yom Kippur War, that an appeal to the public to join hands with the government in helping the people’s army to parade in 1974 would, I think, have yielded positive results.

As a journalist, I covered the war on both the northern and the southern fronts, traveling to Bir Gifgafa in the Sinai on the fourth day of the war, and to the Suez Canal a few days later. In the North, I got as far as Quneitra.

Many journalists traveled to the battle zones in pairs or in small groups, occasionally giving rides to soldiers going in the same direction or returning home for a brief respite.

Whenever we gave a ride to a soldier going home, his family invited us in for a meal, or at least a few refreshments. They were so grateful to us for having done nothing out of the ordinary. But they were also so proud that their son or brother, or particularly their grandson, was part of a unit that was fighting back.

That pride would have been magnified many times over if those soldiers had also been able to march in an Israel Independence Day parade.

The first of the parades held during the initial 25 years of the state was actually held in wartime on Allenby Street on Tel Aviv in July 1948, two months after the proclamation of independence.

The population was considerably smaller, and given the ratio of enemy forces, was facing a far greater threat and risk of defeat than it would today, despite all the technological advances that are in possession of Israel’s neighbors. The parade did wonders for national morale.

It was only in 1950 that parades were officially designated for Independence Day.

Economically, 1968 was a bad year for Israel, so there was no parade, and a decision was made to hold parades only on special occasions, such as the state marking its first quarter of a century.

SOLDIERS STILL play a major role in Independence Day ceremonies, especially at the opening ceremony on Mount Herzl, then the following morning at the President’s Residence and later at the Defense Ministry, but these are mini-parades and don’t include tanks and jeeps or planes, other than a fly-over above the President’s Residence, and the participating soldiers are small in number.

The enthusiasm on the part of the audience during the parade at Mount Herzl is indicative of the significance of such an event. Israel is one of those countries with a people’s army, and the people want to celebrate their army.

This is evident at the various exhibitions of military equipment in different parts of the country on Independence Day. Crowds flock to these exhibitions and take their children there as well.

An exhibition is not as exciting as a parade, but it does include a lot of equipment that was invented and produced in Israel, proving that in the event of war or its prevention, Israel is fairly self-reliant and does not have to depend on the goodwill of other countries.

Israel’s leaders have consistently said that Israel’s hi-tech abilities were honed out of defense needs. The technology developed for defense could also be revamped for civilian purposes. So much of Israel’s defense technology has now been incorporated into civilian devices and appliances.

The annual Israel Defense Prizes awarded mostly for inventions that remain classified for years, proves that this is an ongoing challenge that also evolves into a source of pride and contributes greatly to Israel’s reputation as the Start-Up Nation.

Inasmuch as the public can admire Israeli defense creativity, it simply cannot arouse the same sense of excitement as a parade.
People love to parade themselves and to watch other people parading.

The proof of this is in the number of organizations and institutions – both Jewish and non-Jewish – that participate in the annual colorful Sukkot parade in Jerusalem, coupled with the huge spectator turnout.

Just imagine how many more spectators there would be if there were a military and security parade that included units from all branches of the IDF, as well as branches of the police in their different colored uniforms, plus floats bearing tanks, planes, boats and police vehicles.

There could also be a special group of Lone Soldiers bearing the flags of the countries from which they came to serve in Israel. It is truly amazing how many young men and women who do not necessarily want to make aliyah but want to make a meaningful contribution to Israel, come to volunteer in the IDF.

Some are not even Jewish, although they may have a Jewish father or grandparent. Lone soldiers do not receive sufficient appreciation, except if they happen to be killed or die under other circumstances. Israelis are then wonderful about turning out in large numbers for funeral services, but more could have been done for these soldiers when they were alive. There are organizations and individuals that do make provisions for lone soldiers, but not enough is being done for their emotional and psychological well-being.

If they were to march as a group in an annual Independence Day parade where they would receive the cheers of the spectators, it would  give them a sense of accomplishment, coupled with the knowledge that their personal sacrifices in coming to Israel and giving up the comforts of home, delaying university studies and risking their lives, has been recognized.

It’s obviously too late to start organizing a parade for this year, but perhaps for next year.

Although the Israeli public ranks high on the world-wide happiness scale among citizens of countries, that happiness has been marred by too much violence, too much corruption, too much bureaucracy and too much work for too little pay.

All that would fade temporarily into the background if there were a huge Independence Day parade in which the public could take pride. For many, that would be true happiness, especially for Holocaust survivors for whom the sight of a grandson or granddaughter in the uniform of the Israel Defense Forces sends the message that regardless of the extent to which the Jewish people are decimated, as a people, as a nation, they remain indestructible.

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