Mourning differently

On Remembrance Day, Israel honors the thousands of soldiers and victims of terrorism who fell as part of the collective effort to realize the dream of Jewish statehood.

A woman mourns on Mount Herzl on Yom HaZikaron (photo credit: REUTERS)
A woman mourns on Mount Herzl on Yom HaZikaron
(photo credit: REUTERS)
From its very inception, the State of Israel’s military was founded on the principle of a people’s army. Viewed during the first decades of the state as a melting pot or catalyst for the creation of the ideal Israeli citizen, the IDF remains an institution that brings together nearly every imaginable group within Israeli society.
Religious Israelis serve with secular; right-wing soldiers fight in the same units as left-wing soldiers; city-dwellers march with kibbutzniks and moshavniks; Arab Christians and Beduin join forces with Circassians and Druse.
Different soldiers have different ideas about statehood. There are religious Zionists who are convinced that the State of Israel and its institutions – the IDF included – is imbued with holiness and are vehicles of God’s ultimate redemption of the Jewish people. There are secular Zionists who view their patriotism not unlike that of any other people rooted to a specific land with a shared history.
Those on the Right view the settling of Judea and Samaria and the conflict with the Palestinians differently from those on the Left.
Yet, despite the diversity in the IDF – indeed, in all Israeli society – there is also a basis for cooperation, a common denominator that enables people who think differently and come from different backgrounds to serve together.
Once a year, representatives from all these different groups also mourn together. This Tuesday night at 8 p.m., when a siren heard across the country marks the beginning of Remembrance Day, through Wednesday night, when the nation makes the abrupt but fitting transition from mourning those lost to celebrating all we have gained – in large part thanks to those who made the ultimate sacrifice – families in Tel Aviv and in Ariel, families in Nazareth and in Daliat el Carmel, families in Yeroham and in Kiryat Arba, will all remember their pain.
There are Israelis who seek to use Remembrance Day to go even further.
Not only should this be a day of coming together for diverse groups within Israeli society who are on the same side of the conflict, they see it also as an opportunity to recognize the common denominator of suffering on both sides of the conflict.
For 13 years, Combatants for Peace, an organization that brings together IDF soldiers and Palestinians who have previously carried out terrorist acts against Israelis, and The Parents Circle-Families Forum have organized joint Israeli-Palestinian Remembrance Day ceremonies.
One of the main speakers at the joint ceremony this year is Man Booker International Prize Laureate David Grossman, who lost his son Uri in the Second Lebanon War in 2006. Grossman will receive the Israel Prize for Hebrew literature on Independence Day.
Not everyone is happy with the idea that there are Israelis like Grossman who seek to use the shared pain of loss on both the Israeli and Palestinians sides as an opportunity for healing.
For people like Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman or Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat, equating or comparing Israeli mourning with Palestinian mourning is an attempt to conflate victim and criminal.
Liberman said: “I will not allow the desecration of Remembrance Day.
This ceremony is not a memorial event but a display of bad taste and insensitivity that harms our dear bereaved families.”
Both Liberman and Barkat have taken steps to try to prevent this type of joint memorial ceremonies from taking place.
Liberman blocked the entrance of 110 Palestinians to Israel. And the Jerusalem Municipality attempts to bar organizers from using a Jerusalem venue, the Barbur Gallery.
However, people should be allowed to mourn the way they wish. We should not pass judgment on what are clearly the heartfelt emotions of mourning families and their sincere attempts to heal a rift by recognizing the pain of both sides.
Israel is a diverse society with diverse opinions about every possible subject under the sun, including how to mourn. We should take pride in that, not try to repress it.