Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon drew a distinction Tuesday between the grief experienced by Israelis, who he said were a life- and peace-seeking people, and by enemies who “yearn” for death and self-destruction. His comments came amid a raging public debate over bereavement and as a five-month-old round of violence that has left some 200 people dead on both sides of the conflict refuses to die down.
“Our grief is that of a society that wishes to live, a society that educates our boys to life, to be humans, to behave as human beings, to strive for peace. This is our society,” Ya’alon told a conference with members of Yad Labanim, an organization of bereaved Israeli families. “And opposing us is a society that yearns for death, as we can see around us in the happiness of a boy in becoming a martyr — a society that does not respect anything.
“Our society chooses life and does not seek out wars, but strives for peace and sees war as [a] necessary [evil],” he continued. “On the other side of us is an element that desires death and causes devastation, not only against us but against itself.”
The defense minister’s comments echoed remarks by Israel Police Commissioner Roni Alsheich on Monday. He seemed to be take aim at radio presenter Razi Barkai, who sparked outrage earlier this month when he compared the grief of families of Palestinian attackers and their Israeli victims.
“There is a difference between our grief and their grief,” Alsheich said at an event for bereaved families in Eilat.
“It’s impossible not to tell the difference between the grief we see in your faces and the grief we’ve seen expressed by some of our neighbors in recent years,” he said.
“Our enemies chose to sanctify death; the message they preach is that life is meaningless and that pressing a button or pulling out a knife, you will be transported to a better world. This is the antithesis of Israeli values,” Alsheich continued, without naming Barkai.
Barkai’s comments came amid a debate over whether Israeli should hold the bodies of Palestinians who were killed while carrying out attacks against Israelis.
Twenty-eight Israelis and three foreign nationals have been killed in a wave of Palestinian terrorism and violence since October, during which nearly 170 Palestinians have also been killed, some two-thirds of them while attacking Israelis, and the rest during clashes with troops, according to the Israeli army.
Israel has held on to the bodies of some attackers until families agree to not hold funerals that can be turned into nationalist rallies, a controversial measure opposed by Arab-Israeli lawmakers and others.
“Imagine Israeli families, who are shamefully waiting, waiting for the bodies of their loved ones to be returned,” Barkai said during a February 8 interview with Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan, who advocates the withholding of Palestinian attackers’ bodies. “Imagine it from the families’ perspective.”
Outraged by Barkai’s remarks, the parents of Hadar Goldin and Oron Shaul — soldiers killed in action during the 2014 war, and whose remains are believed held by Hamas — called the comparison inappropriate.
Simcha Goldin, Hadar Goldin’s father, confronted Barkai on an Army Radio program the next day.
“We’re in a struggle to convince the world that there are huge differences between us and our enemies,” he said in an emotional exchange with Barkai. “What you said to the public security minister cannot be understood otherwise.”
Barkai, who lost his own brother during his military service decades ago, tried to clarify that he was referring to the “feelings of the families” in the context of whether retaining Palestinian bodies would aggravate or calm the situation.
“The only comparison was between the feelings of the bereaved mother,” Barkai told Goldin. “From the point of view of the feelings of a bereaved Palestinian mother and a bereaved Jewish mother, I don’t think there’s a difference.”