Kibbutz Be’eri declines Independence Day torch-lighting role, rejecting ‘heroism’ theme

Gaza-adjacent community that suffered heavy losses on October 7 says ceremony gives no space for ‘tragedy’ of citizens ‘abandoned’ to terrorists

Photographs of Israeli hostages being held in the Gaza Strip are seen on a house in Kibbutz Be'eri, Israel, December 20, 2023. (AP/Ohad Zwigenberg)
Photographs of Israeli hostages being held in the Gaza Strip are seen on a house in Kibbutz Be'eri, Israel, December 20, 2023. (AP/Ohad Zwigenberg)

Kibbutz Be’eri, which was the site of some of the worst Hamas atrocities on October 7, has turned down the honor of lighting a torch at the central Independence Day ceremony, saying the event’s focus on “heroism” doesn’t reflect the tragedy of the assault.

In a statement issued Saturday, the kibbutz said that its local security team had been invited to light one of the 12 torches traditionally lit during the ceremony that kicks off Independence Day events.

On October 7 the community’s small civilian security team was left for hours without army assistance to battle alone against overwhelming numbers of terrorists who rampaged among homes, slaughtering those they found. More than 100 people were killed at the kibbutz — over 10 percent of the population — and others were kidnapped and taken to Gaza; dozens of homes were burned down.

In its statement, the kibbutz said that surviving members of the security team were told a few weeks ago that they had been selected to represent the community at the torch-lighting event and light a beacon.

The team, it said, “felt privileged to mark in a state ceremony the memory of its members who fell in battle and the memory of the community members who were murdered and kidnapped from their homes.”

But, in a barb at organizers, it continued, “It recently became clear that this year the torch ceremony will be about heroism only, without referring to the tragedy and neglect of the [Gaza border communities] that for long hours were left to their fate by the state.”

File – Homes, severely damaged during Hamas’s October 7 onslaught on southern Israel, line a street in the Olives Neighborhood of Kibbutz Be’eri on January 1, 2024. (Canaan Lidor/Times of Israel)

“The tragedy is not behind us — as a state or as a community — we lost 100 kibbutz members and 11 of our members are still in the hands of Hamas, out of a total of 133 hostages” held in Gaza, the kibbutz noted.

In its own statement, the security team said the torch-lighting ceremony would not give “an adequate reference to the severe tragedy that befell us residents.”

Rather, the team said, the ceremony only notes the “heroism” of security forces who arrived later in the day.

“We believe this format is not respectful or proper and therefore in a joint decision, we decided not to participate in the ceremony,” the team said, welcoming the kibbutz management’s support for its position.

“We believe that the events of October 7 are first and foremost a tragedy of communities abandoned to their fate, and we will not agree to take part in events that do not give that a proper place,” the statement said.

It was the second time this year that the honor of lighting a torch at the ceremony has been turned down.

Last month, entertainer and wounded soldier Idan Amedi declined an offer to light a ceremonial torch, saying that others deserve to be honored for heroism on and after October 7.

Israeli singer-songwriter, actor and reserve soldier Idan Amedi who was seriously injured while fighting in the Gaza Strip speaks at a press conference upon his discharge from Sheba Medical Center, Ramat Gan, January 25, 2024. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Amedi, a singer and actor on the hit show “Fauda,” was badly burned in an explosion on January 8 while serving as a commander in the Combat Engineering Corps reserves in Gaza. Six soldiers were killed in the incident, which was apparently accidentally caused by troops.

Amedi said he was approached about lighting a torch for the ceremony under the banner of “Israeli heroism,” but chose to turn down the opportunity.

“There’s no greater honor but unfortunately I cannot accept the honor this year,” he wrote on Instagram. “So many heroes were discovered on that same black Shabbat. Some were my troops in the past or in the current war.”

“This year I’ll stay home and commune with their memory, like many others in the nation of Israel,” he wrote. “I hope perhaps in the future I will be granted the merit to raise a torch thanks to the words I write and not due to war heroism.”

An official committee chooses 12 individuals to honor by lighting torches at the annual Mount Herzl ceremony marking the transition from Memorial Day to Independence Day, which will take place on May 13 this year.

The event usually includes speeches, choreographed marches by soldiers, musical performances, and fireworks with an audience of thousands at Mount Herzl in Jerusalem.

This year’s ceremony, marking Israel’s 76th Independence Day, will be a scaled-back event, pre-recorded rather than broadcast live, without fireworks, and with no audience. The torch-lighting will be filmed earlier at communities and army bases in the Gaza border area that suffered the greatest losses on October 7.

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