Today is Yom Hazikaron. Well, clearly not the one we mark here in Israel, but the 11/11 one known as Remembrance Day in the countries of the Commonwealth and beyond, in memory of their soldiers who died in the line of duty.
It is only a few days ago I planted my own two feet on the beaches of Normandy whilst on a personal pilgrimage of sorts in honor and respect of those who landed on mainland Europe on D-Day in June 1944. Gazing across the vastness of the stretch of sand code-named Omaha Beach I was utterly overwhelmed. More than 150,000 men and women helped free a continent in what was called Operation Overlord; they were the soldiers who helped end a war.
For these men are lately drawn from the ways of peace. They fight not for the lust of conquest. They fight to end conquest. They fight to liberate… They yearn but for the end of battle, for their return to the haven of home.
— President Franklin D. Roosevelt, June 6, 1944
I cannot help thinking how simple the world seemed back then. A great force of evil threatening all forms of freedom had successfully conquered most of Europe, whilst prioritizing and using all means at their disposal to persecute and implement genocide against specific groups of people. And the free world knew what had to be done. There was no choice.
We shall not flag or fail. We shall go on to the end. We shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be. We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender.
— Sir Winston Churchill, June 1940
Israel too fights not for the lust of conquest. Israel too yearns for the end of battle and for the return of our boys and girls to the haven of home. This has been our dream since our day of independence. With a hand extending an olive branch, time and time again, we have asked for peace and offered compromises, solutions and cooperation to our Arab neighbors. Yet, we are frequently perceived as a country of aggression in the eyes of most of the world.
So why do we fight? Israel too shall never surrender. Israel too will defend its country. And defend we do. If we could defend ourselves without fighting we would. It is however not possible when facing a force of evil threatening our right to exist; a force that would conquer our entire land if they could; a force that repeatedly threatens to kill all Jews in another Holocaust. Still many wonder why we fight; why we fear a foe racing to develop the means to wipe Israel off the face of the earth. Mr. Per Ahlmark, former Deputy Prime Minister of Sweden, once warned, “Always take the anti-Semites seriously! Do believe that they believe in what they are saying! It might not be just rhetoric — or rather: rhetoric could, when circumstances permit it, explode and become guidelines for actions.”
Always take the anti-Semites seriously! Do believe that they believe in what they are saying! It might not be just rhetoric — or rather: rhetoric could, when circumstances permit it, explode and become guidelines for actions.
I am not equating the fight for the liberation of Europe during World War II with the fight Israel is fighting with its enemies today. However, we must not hesitate to clearly acknowledge the evil force currently faced by Israel, and the rest of the world for that matter. This is the force of Islamic fundamentalism; be it in the shape of Hamas, ISIS, Hezbollah or others. This force is a fanatic and determined danger to democracy. Professor Yehuda Bauer has called this force ”the greatest threat at the start of the 21st century”. It resembles Nazism as it longs for global rule and the destruction of our value system; the civilization of ”the Jews and infidels” as they call it. This fundamentalist Muslim ideology, Bauer says, ”uses the unmistakable language of genocide, of annihilation”.
Israel too yearns for the end of battle… In the meanwhile, we do not have a choice, same as the Allied countries of WWII did not have a choice. The motivating rationale for the fight means everything. Hamas’ rationale is the destruction of Israel and not the freedom of Palestine. Our rationale is defense so that we may live. If they truly wanted a free Palestine they would work with us and make the peace we desperately long for.
In an address before a joint session of Congress in April 1945, President Harry S. Truman captured the collective sense of a nation; “Our debt to the heroic men and valiant women in the service of our country can never be repaid. They have earned our undying gratitude. America will never forget their sacrifices.” And neither should anyone who adheres to freedom and democracy in any corner of the world. For every day, of every year, we should be in eternal, thankful awe of the people who liberated Europe. Today in particular, on your Remembrance Day, we remember. And in the month of Iyar, on our Yom Hazikaron, we shall remember ours – for all the same reasons.