Center field: Remember the fallen – and why we had to fight in Gaza

Soldiers died so that I and my family may live.

April 21, 2015 21:35
idf drills

IDF holds surprise drill near Gaza. (photo credit: IDF)


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I approach this Yom Hazikaron, Israel’s Remembrance Day, feeling inadequate and guilty. Our oldest son turned 18 on the eve of Remembrance Day. Our joy in him presents a particularly devastating contrast, especially this year, as the parents, grandparents and siblings of those killed this summer mourn 67 young heroes his age from the Gaza War, among the 116 soldiers and civilians killed this year. “They all look like kids from my high school,” our 14-year-old said this summer when seeing photographs honoring those killed. I try to identify with each of the new mourners intensely even as I know that I have (thankfully) no way of accessing such anguish, and, alas, no way of helping them cope with their infinite, unfathomable, loss.

The guilt is compounded because Palestinian terrorists have targeted us all. The terrorism victims who died literally paid the price for me, my friends, my loved ones, or a different stranger in the wrong place at the wrong time. The soldiers died so that I and my family may live.

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On Sunday, Yediot Aharanot published some writings by a fallen soldier, detailing his goals as he became a sergeant. Daniel Pomerantz was one of the Golani soldiers killed in Shujaiyeh this summer. A real kid, not some superhero, he wanted to work on staying fit, getting stronger, cursing less. He would consider himself successful if “my soldiers will enjoy themselves as much as is possible in an army, if they will respect me, and if they will become good, disciplined soldiers, and the best fighters they can be.” And, he wrote, “I am willing to give my soldiers everything and anything,” using the Hebrew word “hakol.”

Pomerantz, along with the other 23,319 fallen soldiers and victims of terrorism we mourn today, certainly gave it all. The brutality of our situation, the cruelty of a world that consumes such beautiful people, is heartbreaking yet inspiring.

Fallen heroes like Daniel give us the gift of life. This year it is clearer than most. They died so rockets would stop falling on my cousin’s kibbutz, Nirim.

They died so no rockets would reach us in Jerusalem. They died so that Hamas’s Mass-Murder-By-Tunnel plan would only remain an elaborate plot The New York Times and other media outlets can continue to ignore, rather than a bloody reality memorialized today. And they died not only to stop the Hamas killers from Gaza, but to prevent murder from West Bank terrorists and east Jerusalem terrorists, from Hezbollah fanatics and Islamic State jihadists, from Iranians and Syrians, from enraged individuals and standing armies.

Mourning is not enough. Thanking these heroes – or now their loved ones – is a moral necessity. We also must remember why they fought because much of the world has forgotten.

In too many headlines, in too many hearts, the Gaza war of just months ago is not about Hamas attack tunnels and Kassam rockets targeting civilians. It is only about an exaggerated Palestinian death toll, blurring together terrorists who fought, random citizens who died of disease or old age, with the unfortunate number of innocent bystanders who perished in that awful, preventable war – which never would have happened without repeated attacks from Hamas and its proxies.

Astonishingly, the New York Times, which often finds room to print detailed reports about some idiot Israeli parliamentary backbencher’s foolish anti-democratic proposals that will never be enacted, has yet to find room to expose the elaborate plan Israel uncovered to swarm Israeli villages in a massive, murderous attack, perhaps last Rosh Hashanah. The murder-by-tunnel plan is so unfamiliar in the US that in October, Vanity Fair ran a big scoop about the plot.

Although it felt compelled to run a cautious, speculative, headline, “Did Israel Avert a Hamas Massacre?,” the hard-hitting piece provided the scary “story behind the Gaza tunnel plot, from Israeli intelligence officials.”

True, inconvenient facts won’t stop the Blame Israel Firsters from finding us guilty. But today, on Yom Hazikaron, overwhelmed with grief and gratitude, I thank Daniel Pomerantz and his family; I thank the inspiring lone-soldier who first tasted Israel through a Birthright Israel trip, Max Steinberg, and his family; I thank all who sacrificed, all who served, all who will serve – including my son now that he has reached that age.

I know, so many of us know, that every moment we experience living in this land is because someone is staying up late, suffering privations, sacrificing their leisure and safety to protect us. I know, so many of us know, that every breath of freedom we take in this extraordinary place called Israel, is due to someone who is no longer around, who sacrificed it all, for us.

And I know, so many of us know, that it is not only the people of Israel who are defended by IDF soldiers and protected by those who died: the entire civilized world benefits by having one stable, moral, powerful, democratic stabilizing force fighting terrorism, chaos, Islamism and totalitarian dictatorship in the Middle East. May all these heroes be blessed. May their parents and grandparents, siblings and friends find some comfort from the good they did. And may we all find a true peace very soon.

And let us celebrate those beautiful lost souls by remembering the words of Daniel Pomerantz, who left his parents a “just in case” note, read at his funeral: “It’s important that you know that I am glad I was born to this family.

I am happy I enlisted in the Golani Brigade. If you are reading this, it means I have finished my career, but at least I fought honorably and I am happy. You can be sure I am happy.”


The author, a professor of history at McGill University, is teaching this semester at the Rothberg School at Hebrew University. His eleventh book, The Age of Clinton: America in the 1990s, will be published this fall by Thomas Dunne Books/St. Martin’s Press.


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