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Israel media review

Mourning the losses, and the distance: 6 things to know for April 28

The media notes the particular sting of this year’s Memorial Day, due to the pandemic preventing the nation from coming together physically to comfort the grieving

Jacob Magid is The Times of Israel's US correspondent based in New York

A woman in scrubs at a grave of a loved one at Mount Herzl in Jerusalem on Memorial Day on April 28, 2020. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
A woman in scrubs at a grave of a loved one at Mount Herzl in Jerusalem on Memorial Day on April 28, 2020. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

1. Long-distance mourning: The front pages of the country’s major dailies try to put the coronavirus-marred Memorial Day into perspective, highlighting the difficulties of remembering far from the gravesides of the fallen and far from their surviving relatives.

  • “Close at heart. Keeping a distance,” reads the Maariv daily’s headline, which hovers above a picture of a woman placing a flower on the grave of a loved one. Military cemeteries are closed on Memorial Day itself this year in order to prevent crowding.
  • “To be a free people” is the famous phrase that Yedioth chooses to highlight in its headline, explaining in the underline that the notion of freedom on Memorial and Independence Day this year has particular meaning due to the lockdown the government decided to enforce due to the virus.
  • Israel Hayom juxtaposes the virus with Memorial Day by displaying an above-the-fold picture of a military cemetery (with small Israeli flags carefully placed at every grave) next to a photo of PPE-wearing doctors waving Israeli flags.
  • In Haaretz, the front page’s emphasis appears to be more on Independence Day, on which papers do not put out a daily edition. A large cartoon of an empty Rabin Square with a lone inflatable Israeli flag hammer lying on the ground.

2. An even more difficult burden: Many reports highlight how this year’s Memorial Day will be particularly difficult for those bereaved families who take comfort in the in-person mourning traditions built into the 24 hour period.

  • “This year we’ll be alone at home without dad’s friends who usually come and visit us,” 12-year-old Ori Keidar, whose father Dolev was killed in the 2014 Gaza War.
  • Channel 12 organizes a Zoom conversation between the Lev-Ran family who cannot be together this year to memorialize their son, brother and nephew Gal who was killed in Lebanon in 1997. During the conversation, Elad the uncle asks Varda the mother why she stopped visiting Gal’s grave every Friday as she had done for over two decades. Varda shares that she made the decision after four-year-old granddaughter noted, “Grandma, is it true that sometimes you love Gal more than you love us?”
  • As if the day weren’t difficult enough for Miriam Peretz, who lost two sons during their army service, Haaretz shock-jock Rogel Alpher decides now would be an appropriate time to pen a column accusing her of “sanctifying death” in an interview she gave last night to Channel 12 in which she expressed pride in the sacrifice her sons made for the country.. The piece is roundly criticized and Peretz herself responds in an impassioned Twitter video titled “and you must choose life.” “They fell in order for you and me to continue living. But what kind of life? A life of happiness,” she says, without addressing Alpher directly.
  • On social media, many users blast the “absurdity” in the government’s decision to allow stores like IKEA to open but military cemeteries to remain closed to families who made the ultimate sacrifice for the country.
  • Israel Hayom interviews several doctors who lament how they won’t be able to properly mourn their loved ones this year because they’ll be too busy caring for patients. One of them, Dr. Tal Or, who heads the urgent care ward at Poria hospital, says he supports the decision to close the cemetery, which he has visited on this day for the past 50 years to honor his late father.
  • “I imagine it is harder for bereaved parents than it is for bereaved children, and while I recognize the pain, I understand that the risk of a significant outbreak at the cemeteries is considerable,” he says.

3. Simply an impossible request: While most bereaved families abided by the guidelines ordering them to stay away from the graves of their loved ones on this Memorial Day, some simply could not, and with police announcing that they would not be forcibly removing mourners who chose to violate the directive, a number of them made it into the cemeteries without a hitch.

  • “My heart did not allow me to stay at home,” a mask-wearing bereaved mother tells the Kan public broadcaster while sitting next to the grave of her son.
  • Getant Metkai, whose brother Shatu was killed in a car accident on his way to a posting in the West Bank two years ago, tells Maariv that he “simply could not stay at home. I’ve been here since seven in the morning and plan to stay here all day,” he said, adding that he had entered through the back exit.
  • Leah Shpeetz, whose brother fell in battle in 1963, did not tell anyone that she was heading to the cemetery to visit his grave, so when she arrived she was shocked to find her daughter who she had not seen in  over a month and a half since the start of the outbreak, Maariv reports.
  • “I promised my father that I would visit him every year and light a candle at his grave. How could I not honor that vow,” says another mourner to Channel 12.

4.  Overcoming the distance: While the public is forced to grieve from afar, one tradition that remains untouched is the media’s telling of the stories of the fallen in an effort to shrink the distance between mourners.

  • Israel Hayom tells the stories of four Israelis named Yosef Levy, who were born to four different families, lived during four different eras, fought in four different battles, but met the same fate on the battlefield.
  • Channel 13 interviews Blue and White leaders and former IDF chiefs of staff Benny Gantz and Gabi Ashkenazi, who reflect on how they mark the day. “During the siren, I try and remember everyone I know who was killed, but I no longer can do so. There’s too many of them to remember in one minute and in the hustle and bustle of Memorial Day,” Gantz laments.
  • Haaretz’s Amos Harel delves into the “open wound” that was the IDF’s 15-year presence in southern Lebanon during which hundreds of soldiers lost their lives in “a war without a name” and in “battles deemed to have been without a purpose.”
  • “Even 20 years after leaving Lebanon, those who were there are finding it difficult to achieve solace,” he laments, before going on to quote one officer from the war who said its “tragedy” had been “the concern of the government that the public would not consent to the withdrawal because it would have been perceived as abandoning the residents of the Galilee. Eventually they gave in to public pressure, but the decision should have been made years earlier.”
  • Harel’s colleague Noa Shpigel tells the story of three kibbutzim that had been hit by a number of deadly terror attacks over the years and how those instances proved to only further galvanize the residents in their ideology. “The attacks become a story that the group tells itself to give meaning to loss, because when there is no meaning it is very difficult to absorb such distress,” explains Tel Hai College sociology professor Moli Lahad to Shpigel. The latter argues that those communities began to fall apart over the years when ideology become a less integral part of their lives, making the more recent attacks against them harder to endure.

5. Remember them too: While plenty of spotlight on Memorial Day is given to soldiers who have fallen in battle, a number of media reports seek to remind Israelis that there are others who also deserve to be remembered on Yom Hazikaron.

  • “Remember that among the heroic tales of the fallen on this day, there are also the fallen that are not talked about, and they too are buried after their lives were cut short,” Haaretz’s Anshel Pfeffer writes, referring to soldiers who died in gun accidents or suicides for example. “They were an integral part of the cost of holding a compulsory army. They too are part of the silver platter [to which we are indebted].”
  • Manur Zaks, whose boyfriend Netanel Kehallani was killed in a 2018 attack outside the Mevo Dotan settlement, tells Army Radio that the public must not forget the partners of the fallen, even if they are not married. “We carry the pain from the day they fall until the end of our days. We need [you] to give us a place [in the national mourning] for  our pain. It will not end even after many years, even if we marry someone else and have children.”
  • Pfeffer’s colleague Nir Hasson reveals the fascinating story of a psychiatric hospital in Arab that housed the last Jews to be evacuated from the West Bank after the 1948 War of Independence. For months, the dozens of patients were largely neglected by the young Israeli government and remained under the care of the hospital’s Arab doctors. As it ran out of food, the hospital’s staff begged Israeli authorities to retrieve the patients. It took the deaths of three of them for the transfer to be made. Hasson cites reports from 1949 of a mix of elated patients and some sad ones too, who cried over having to leave their beloved doctors.
  • “A patient of mine who had PTSD would often sat to me ‘I am a fallen soldier whose burial place is not yet known.’ I remember him and many others today,” tweets Adi Seger in a poignant message.
  • In a Memorial Day message written in a Times of Israel blog, Tzur Goldin urges the government not to neglect his brother, whose body has remained in Hamas captivity since the 2014 Gaza War. “On this day… I think of how important it is that the principle of no soldier being left behind be a principle we must not leave behind, for the good of the rest of the world and for all future generations of Israel’s soldiers,” he writes.

6. Political or human response? As they have for the past 14 years, a group of Israeli and Palestinian families came together for a joint Memorial Day ceremony, which has not played well in the eyes of many right-wing activists and lawmakers.

  • “It’s the eve of the Memorial Day for fallen IDF soldiers and victims of terror attacks, but someone in the public broadcasting corporation appears to have completely lost his judgment. The decision [to broadcast the commercial] is morally corrupt and distorted,” tweets Yamina MK Ayelet Shaked in a reprimand of Kan for airing a commercial of the event and in support of Communications Minister David Amsalem who claimed that the event “equated terrorists with IDF soldiers.”
  • But Hagai Yoel, who spoke during the ceremony about losing his brother in Operation Defense Shield, did not buy Shaked’s argument  “Something inside me revolted over the thought that [politicians] believed that they can decide for me how I choose to remember Eyal.”
  • Also speaking at the joint memorial was Yakoub Rabi, whose wife Aisha was killed in 2018 when a rock allegedly hurled by an Israeli teen struck her in the head while she was driving with her husband and 9-year-old daughter in the northern West Bank. Describing the suspected terror attack’s impact on his family, Rabi said that after he buried his wife, his daughter who had witnessed the attack “took her colorful clothes out of the closet and to this day no one knows where she hid them.”
  • The EU’s Israel Mission tweets out its praise of the event, leading Yair Netanyahu to explode on Twitter. “Shame on you for financing a disgrace in the holiest day of the Israeli calendar! We have one day in a year to remember our fallen soldiers! And you destroy it with a ‘memorial’ to Palestinian terrorists! EU is an enemy of Israel, and an enemy to all European Christian countries!”

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