Symbolic attendance

Thousands of relatives, friends, acquaintances and even people who did not know the soldiers or the families, but felt compelled to pay their respects, attended the funerals.

January 10, 2017 22:12
3 minute read.
Funeral of Shir Hajaj

Funeral of Shir Hajaj. (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)


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The four young soldiers whose lives were cut short in Sunday’s terrorist attack were laid to rest Monday.

Lt. Shir Hajaj, 22, of Ma’aleh Adumim, was buried in Jerusalem’s Mount Herzl Military Cemetery.

Lt. Yael Yekutiel, 20, of Givatayim was lowered into a grave in Kiryat Shaul Cemetery near Tel Aviv.

Lt. Shira Tzur was buried in her hometown of Haifa.

Sec.-Lt. Erez Orbach was buried at the Gush Etzion Regional Cemetery.

Thousands of relatives, friends, acquaintances and even people who did not know the soldiers or the families, but felt compelled to pay their respects, attended the funerals.

Mayors and MKs attended as well. But, inexplicably, not a single minister found the time in their busy schedules to make it to the funerals.

The failure of ministers to take part in the funerals angered some of the families. Herzl Hajaj, Shir’s father, criticized the government.

“I don’t expect anything,” he said according to Walla.

“It seems that we weren’t famous enough and not attractive enough, if they didn’t think it fitting to come. None of them called either. There were representatives from the army and some members of Knesset. Nothing special – she was just a girl who was run over. Who does that interest?” he asked cynically.

Eli Ben-Shem, chairman of Yad Lebanim organization that offers support for bereaved families, said that Hajaj was not the only family member to express disappointment.

In an interview with Army Radio, Ben-Shem threatened to mobilize mourning parents to demonstrate against the government.

“Since the Yad Lebanim organization was established, we bereaved parents have not taken to the streets to protest,” he said. “This time we won’t hesitate to take to the streets,” he warned, vowing to keep the issue on the public’s agenda. “In another week they will forget about it, but we have promised that we will not agree to this any more.”

He said that in some cases, when family or friends have contacted the offices of ministers to request their attendance, they have been rebuked by workers in the office for bothering them, though he declined to provide names.

The idea that not a single minister thought it important enough to attend the funeral of one of the four officer cadets killed Sunday is an embarrassment to our political leadership.

These ministers are the men and women who decide when to go to war. They are the ones who send IDF soldiers out to battle where they must risk their lives to defend the nation. Ultimately, they are personally responsible when there are casualties on the battlefield.

Conversely, soldiers must rely on the decision-making of the political leadership. They must be able to trust that government ministers understand what is at stake and truly value the lives of IDF officers and soldiers. When the decision is made to endanger the lives of soldiers for the sake of defending the nation, it is made by men and women who are fully cognizant of the gravity of the situation and what is at stake. Ministers who cannot find the time to attend the funeral of soldiers killed in a terrorist attack give the impression that they lack sensitivity and fail to appreciate the tremendous loss, the lives cut short, the dreams left unfulfilled, the potential never realized.

By failing to attend the funerals, ministers also belittle the importance of their office. Their title provides them with a unique opportunity to make a symbolic statement: a soldier’s life is important, so important that the most senior public servants feel a personal obligation to find the time to honor this life. The very presence of a minister is a testament to the soldier’s importance. It elevates the funeral ceremony by providing official state recognition and respect.

After it emerged that none of the funerals was attended by ministers, the Prime Minister’s Office announced that it would issue special directives obligating ministers to attend.

If this is what it takes to make sure there is ministerial representation, so be it. Ideally, however, we would like to see ministers attending soldiers’ funerals not because they are compelled to, but because they feel the need to as political leaders.

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