Right to remember

Israel would like nothing more than to live in peace. In the mean time, we mourn our losses and remain ever vigilant.

IDF soldiers marching in Second Lebanon War 311 (R) (photo credit: Ho New / Reuters)
IDF soldiers marching in Second Lebanon War 311 (R)
(photo credit: Ho New / Reuters)
The period that begins with last week’s Holocaust Remembrance Day and continues through tonight’s Remembrance Day for the Fallen of Israel’s Wars is dominated by the themes of sacrifice, death and loss.
By the time we get around to the joyous celebration of Jewish sovereignty on Independence Day on Thursday, we will have traversed a turbulent emotional gauntlet of tears and mourning. The sadness that permeates this week leading up to Independence Day is tempered by an accompanying conviction that our collective suffering and sacrifices were not pointless.
We are partially consoled by the knowledge that painful sacrifice in the countless wars and battles fought in the past 64 years against those seeking a violent end to the Zionist project has helped ensure political self-determination for Jews for the first time in nearly two millennia. Through memorial services for the fallen, we mourn the deceased while acknowledging their contribution.
Unfortunately, since the rise of new historians and radical social scientists beginning in the 1980s, it has become fashionable to criticize the way we memorialize our deceased.
Just this week, Prof. Avner Ben-Amos of Tel Aviv University told Haaretz why he thinks the way we memorialize fallen soldiers “flattens history.”
“Since 1967, Israel’s wars have basically been meant to protect territories we captured,” claimed Ben-Amos. “That is, these are wars that actually have no justification, including the 1973 Yom Kippur War, which today we know could have been prevented. You could say these deaths were superfluous, but in the ceremonies the soldiers are depicted as passive victims.”
Meanwhile, in the same Haaretz article, culture scholar Dalia Gavriely-Nuri lamented the fact that “even if the music [used in memorial ceremonies] is updated, the songs still preserve a military value system and present the IDF as our biggest cultural given.”
For Ben-Amos, Gavriely-Nuri and other like-minded critics of our society, Israel’s purported “militarism” is to be blamed for the ongoing bloody conflict, not Arab aggression and hatred. These radical social scientists would have us believe that if only we stop honoring our deceased as heroes or as innocent victims and begin acknowledging our own complicity in the incessant warfare that has plagued the Jewish state from its very inception, we will take a significant step toward ending the conflict.
Put in social science terminology, our “construction of collective memory” – via memorial services and the accompanying songs and symbols that “preserve a military value system” – perpetuates the war with our neighbors.
But Ben-Amos, Gavriely-Nuri and other self-styled “radical social scientists” and “new historians” have mixed up cause and effect. Of course we preserve a military value system and encourage our youths to serve in the IDF. But we do this not because Israeli society is inherently jingoistic, rather because we have no other choice.
As long as our many enemies continue to try to destroy us, Israel is forced to maintain a policy of universal conscription. But the stream of mainstream Zionism articulated by David Ben-Gurion, Berl Katznelson and Yitzhak Tabenkin is not a militaristic movement. Tel Aviv University’s Anita Shapira and other historians have shown that the pre-state Labor Zionist movement only reluctantly took arms in the face of Palestinian violence and for years upheld a policy of “restraint.”
Of course the Yom Kippur War – and every other war Israel ever fought – could have been prevented. If only the Palestinians had accepted the 1947 partition plan; if only Gamel Abdel Nasser had not amassed troops on our southern border in 1967 and called for Israel’s destruction; if only Syria and Egypt under Anwar Sadat had not launched a surprise attack on Israel in 1973; if only the PLO had not used Lebanon as a base to fire Katyusha rockets and launch terror attacks in the 1970s and early 1980s.
But there was very little – if anything – that Israel could have done to prevent the many wars it has waged in the past 64 years – besides disappearing.
Israel would like nothing more than to live in peace with its neighbors. In the mean time, we mourn our losses and remain ever vigilant.
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