My Soft Spot for Memorial Day
I always maintain a soft spot for Memorial Day not because I admire military casualties but since this day helped me twice to reach the headlines. The first time occurred in 2017. I was having a weekend day trip with friends in Ein Kerem – a tourist trap attracting local bohemians and foreigners who desperately seek a restaurant that is open on Saturday, but until 1948 a Palestinian village that went through ethnic cleansing. We finished our lunch early and decided to make a stop on our way home in Mt. Herzl cemetery. One of us was about to renew the tombstone of his dead and was searching for ideas. However, the Pantheon tombstones were identical and banal, so the visit was ended quickly. On the way out, we took some photos. In one of them I was standing next to the tombs of soldiers who were killed in the Yom Kippur War, smiling.
When the picture was published in social media, a few days before Memorial Day, I was condemned from all over. I cannot count the number of vicious statements about me: they said that I danced on graves (the last time I danced was at a school party); that I intentionally destroyed epitaphs (they are intact to this day); that I interfered with funerals (on Saturday?); that I was paid by anti-Israeli lobbyists to disturb the holiday spirit (I wish someone was paying). A headstart campaign was launched in order to collect money to sue me in court. Two private accusations were submitted. Both were dismissed on spot, since it is legal to laugh in a graveyard and even not to respect the memory of dead soldiers. But why did I smile? Simply, because I found it idiotic to die in a war over a territory like Sinai, when it was obvious to everyone that sooner or later it would be returned to Egyptian custody. In practice, it took less than a decade until Sinai was back in Egypt’s possession.
A year ago I was attacked again. This time the incident happened in a shopping mall in Ashdod — a port city located 40 kilometers south of Tel Aviv (and a Palestinian village until 1948, when the residents were forced by the Israeli army to pack their stuff and move to Gaza). A Jewish terrorist attacked me by smashing a metal chair on my forehead during a live broadcast of a TV talk show just a short moment after I confessed that I don’t stand still during the Memorial Day siren because, in my opinion, the death of many IDF soldiers granted further wars, rather than peace and safety. I was injured in my right temple and ended up with a couple of stitches. The suspected attacker, a high school student, was arrested few hours after the incident, but never stood on trial. His sole punishment has been a four-day arrest, after which he was released to a one week of house detention.
Indeed, the existence of an anti-Zionist Israeli citizen who dares to proclaim that the wars of Israel over the years were mainly an exchange of valuable blood for redundant territories is not something that Jewish extremists can handle. I saw the hatred on the faces of my audience in Ashdod. The words No Pasarán were written on their faces. The terrorist acted in solitude, but he had the crowd support which allowed him to sneak away while others cursed, spit, and even smashed my car window in what looked quite like an organized pogrom. Later on, his mom stated that she is proud of her son, since nobody can stand what I say about the IDF. Her words garnered accolade from left and right. Many (if not most) Israelis cannot stand the idea that dead Jewish soldiers are not saints.
What the truth about them? Official statistics count 24,213 victims, but only half of them – more or less – are war casualties, or were killed during military activity. I am afraid to say that their death was in most cases redundant. Nobody would convince me that that the 121 victims of the Second Lebanon War in 2006 who were killed in a failed attempt to reconquer southern Lebanon died for a valuable reason, but let’s leave them out of the discussion and concentrate on the vast majority of victims over past decades. Thousands of people died very ordinary death from reasons such as cancer, corona, heart attack, or road accidents. The only explanation of their inclusion in official military statistics is that they happened to die while they were conscripted. If their heart failure happened one day before they were drafted, or one day after their release from service – they would not be counted. With all due respect, I do not see a reason to pay special tribute to a person who died of cancer only because he was a soldier.