Today – Yom HaZikaron – is a day of solemn remembrance for Israel. It is a time to commemorate the soldiers, police and others, the thousands of men and women, who died during active duty. According to Israel’s defence ministry the number of fallen stands at 23,741, a figure that includes all those who died in the pre-state struggles and all those since. Each was an individual, each a loss of human potential and each loss carved grief in the hearts of those left behind. Canadian Friends of Peace Now joins with Israelis in remembering the fallen and in reflecting on the significance of their deaths.
This evening in Israel the solemnity gets switched off and the populace turns to celebrate Yom HaAtzma’ut, the country’s 71st Independence Day. We join in rejoicing over the country’s ability to survive and thrive and its manifold achievements. From its beginnings as a beleaguered community, Israel has become a powerful force. It has offered Jews sanctuary from persecution in other lands. Israelis have shone in the realms of science, the arts, and every other human endeavour.
However, our pride in Israel is tempered by deep concern over what has not been achieved – a modus vivendi with the Palestinians. The occupation of millions of West Bank Palestinians continues and is in danger of becoming permanent because of the annexationist forces in the newly elected Knesset. Palestinians share the blame for this state of affairs, for missing opportunities when a peace deal might have been within grasp. But this does not let Israel off the hook. Its expansionist policies through a burgeoning settlement enterprise create an enormous roadblock to peace. The Israeli leadership also seems to have no satisfactory answer to Gaza, albeit a very difficult challenge because of Hamas intransigence. Relations with Israel’s Arab citizens are also suffering because of intolerant, ultra-nationalist policies and attitudes. Unremitting conflict is on the horizon, as well as erosion of Israel’s democracy. Never has Israel seemed so powerful in the current moment and so imperilled as to its future.
In his Memorial Day address, IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kochavi spoke of how each of Israel’s fallen soldiers is a “cornerstone in the wall of Israel’s security.” But he added, “keeping their memory is not enough. The greatest expression of the sanctity of life is doing everything we can to minimize the number of casualties in routine and in wartime.”
We would go further. We say we must do everything we can to prevent more bloodshed for both Israelis and Palestinians. We must actively seek peace, even when enormous barriers stand in the way. We must criticize bad policies, call out blind spots, rock the boat, and, when necessary, spoil the party. That is the way to love Israel well.