What is the purpose of Memorial Day? Is it only to show those who were left behind that the country values the sacrifice made by their loved ones? Currently, this is how Israel observes its memorial day, but there should be another layer of meaning.
Each year, both on Holocaust Remembrance Day and on Soldiers and Acts of Terror Victims Remembrance day, Israel shuts down, and this extends to the private sphere. Newspapers, television, and radio programming show an endless loop of footage and film commemorating the dead. To an extent, on that day, the dead overrule the living. Each year our leaders promise us “never again”, “no more dead”, and each year dozens of names are added to the list.
This all-consuming tribute isn’t commemorating the dead, it’s insulting the living, preparing them for their turn to commit sacrifice on behalf of the state. And we need to put an end to it.
There’s a great psychological toll put on each and every Israeli during this period. It calls for emotions of grief and sadness but also anger. How can someone honestly expect Israelis not to have strong feeling of abandonment by the International community after watching hours on end footage of allied forces airplanes flying over concentration camps and railings and not bombing any of those? How can someone not feel overly angry at how Jews and Israelis were left to their own fate time and time again over the last century and a half? Or so we are taught to think.
On these days, more than others, we need to hold our leaders accountable by asking what have they done this past year to prevent more deaths in the future. Did they exhaust all possibilities, or are they just sitting still, hoping nothing bad will happen on their watch? Or are they doing the opposite? Fear mongering, vocally isolating us and preparing for war? Is this just a prelude?
How can Netanyahu say he is doing all in his power to protect Israelis when every diplomatic action he takes brings us closer to being boycotted by all of our allies? When as soon as the last shot was fired in operation Protective Edge, all parties began preparing for the next round? When the biggest cultural and political power in the Middle East is edging closer and closer to normalizing relations with the west, and he is still running around, threatening to burn down the house? What did our opposition leaders have done to create an alternative? Ever since the Geneva Plan in 2002 and the disengagement operation of 2005, there has been no real alternative to the continued status quo with the Palestinians. Four operations later and we’re still where we left off, but with an extra 200 names of Israelis added to the long list of victims, not to mention tens of thousands of Palestinians. Are we any safer?
We should hold ceremonies and honor the dead for their sacrifices. But we need also to celebrate life. Having a siren go on for a minute or two is enough, and there is no need to emphasise it with a full day attack of the senses of grief, sadness and vengeance. It’s common to hear politicians say that what we have now is what the dead would have wanted. Without questioning our politicians’ ability to communicate with the dead, can we really accept that the dead would’ve wanted their sacrifice to be set aside, to be another name on the wall, another statistic? Or would they prefer their family and friends never have to endure and go through the hard times they did? I don’t know what is the truth. I know that it’s true for me. And that’s why death shouldn’t be a burden, it should be a celebration of life. It should be respectful, private and toned down. It shouldn’t be six year olds taken on a school trip to an army cemetery. That’s just child abuse.
We made it. We are here. Now let’s make the best of it.