It is midday on Remembrance Day in Israel as I write this, and I feel uncomfortable, and ill at ease.
The events of the day (and the evening before), proceed as planned and ordered. The siren, twice, the ceremonies, the speeches, the inappropriate programs removed from the TV schedule, the white shirts the kids need to wear to school, all is as it should be. Should it be? Or is it more like “ordered”, “enforced” and “imposed”?
The loss of a loved one in war is something that I cannot imagine the impact of (and I sincerely hope it stays that way), and the many parents, brothers, sisters and friends, who on this day remember who they lost, must feel an emptiness and futility that no other loss is comparable to. But I am sure they feel this emptiness 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. They don’t need the siren to be reminded of the empty space at their table, in their bed and in their lives.
The siren is for the rest of us. The siren is a call to an institutional day of mourning and grief. The siren is the country telling us we need to mourn, to grief and to remember. The country is reminding us of the many wars that were fought for us and the price the country paid. For us.
A country should grief and mourn, just as it should celebrate, and indeed the fallen of Israel’s wars have made our lives here a stable reality. But when does mourning become nationalism? When is grief used as a tool for political ends? When is remembering directed from above?
Mourning is a tool for uniting a country like almost no other. Being told to mourn is both a moral and practical command. Tomorrow you will see pictures in the paper of those who defied the command of mourning and did not stop their activities during the 11:00am siren. Shame on them!
Does mourning need to be institutionalized for it to be effective as a unifying tool? Our leaders definitely think so! And some events of the past days have shown how important it is to them to keep it institutionalized and to keep it strictly under the control of the powers-that-be.
In the Knesseth last week a discussion was held with bereaved parents in the wake of the publication of the State Comptrollers Report on the 2014 Gaza war. It became clear very quickly that these bereaved parents, seeing and hearing from the Comptroller how the war was handled, that they would not behave as bereaved parents are supposed to behave. And the “representatives” of the people, sent to the meeting by Netanyahu were fast to point out that these parents were out of line. Within the mourning and grieving process acceptable in Israel, voicing criticism and protesting the loss of their dear ones is not allowed. And the session deteriorated in a very shameful spectacle whereby the ”representatives” of the people did not really represent the people, at least not the people present in the room.
A second indication as to how important it is for the establishment to keep mourning and bereavement in line with established rules may be found in the decision of the Defense establishment not to allow 225 Palestinians to enter Israel to be able to take part in an alternative ceremony during which both Israeli and Palestinian fallen would be remembered. Of course the decision was justified for “reasons of Security”. I Israel anything the authorities do, that cannot be defended or justified with rational arguments is forced through for “security reasons”. But no general would have taken this decision without the guiding hand of the politicians who are interested in preventing events where Palestinians are seen as victims of warfare and thus legitimized. In Israel only Israelis are victims, only Israelis are to be mourned, and only Israelis are to be remembered.
On Sunday evening the Memorial Ceremony, which took place notwithstanding the absence of the Palestinians, was disrupted by fascist thugs, who had come to do the dirty work of the politicians. In Israel you mourn as you are told and you do not mourn for your enemies.
A concurrent ceremony took place in Beit Jalla and was attended by both Israelis and Palestinians, commenced without disruptions.
Again, I cannot imagine what it is like to lose a love one to a war, but if it happened to me, I know I would just want to be left alone. No need for ceremonies, not for speeches, not for sirens, not for political leaders telling me how important his death was for the nation. And definitely no need for a monstrous “National Hall of Remembrance” where President Rivlin proudly pronounced that Israel knows how to mourn and remember like no other nation and where until eternity Israel’s fallen will be remembered. But, a “monument” like this is not to commemorate or honor the fallen soldier, who is lost in the enormity of the structure. What is honored here and eternalized here is the State for which this soldier gave his life and for which many more are likely to give their lives. The State is glorified and eternalized. A bereaved mother needs only her hurting heart to remember her son.
And if politics already is involved in mourning and grief, isn’t it time that the powers that be take the mourning and grieving to heart like a bereaved mother does, and use it as a tool to make sure that there will be no more grieving. That, if only we want it, we can stop the madness, allow others also to live their lives, with us, beside us, next to us, and we really can have a Memorial Day for all that fell, no matter if they once were our enemies.