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Civilian bereavement should have its own memorial day Photo: Doron Golan
Civilian bereavement should have its own memorial day Photo: Doron Golan
 
 

Identify with enemy's pain

Joint memorial day for Palestinian, Israeli civilians may avert future war

A.B Yehoshua
Published: 04.25.07, 16:22 / Israel Opinion

Amid the official military ceremonies held at Israel's cemeteries and the speeches delivered by politicians and military leaders in memory of Israel's fallen soldiers, it seems that the numerous civilians killed during the past six years have been forgotten. Yet these figures have far exceed those of fallen soldiers in Israel's wars during the same period.

 

Why shouldn't we as a people - a collective group beyond the family circle - not just formally mention but also give significance to

the grandmother killed with her granddaughter at the entrance of a bustling shopping mall; recognize the young boy who was suddenly killed while drinking his morning coffee on a street café, his blood mixing with the blood of the terrorist who sat at an adjacent table? Why can't we honor the memory of that tourist who was suddenly shrouded in darkness while sitting on a bus looking out of the window at the passing scenery? Why can't we lend significance to the death of a foreign worker, Chinese or Thai or Romanian, whose origins couldn't be traced, until the thread linking him to his family was found so that his corpse could be shipped to a far off land?

 

Why can't we collectively honor the Arab-Israeli doctor from Sachnin or from Dir el-Assad killed on their way to the hospital? But not only Israeli civilian bereavement should be remembered and commemorated, but also the civilian bereavement of the enemy across the border, fence or checkpoint: The Palestinian children who were killed in Gaza in a "strike that wasn't and could not have been targeted," or the infant from Kabatiya born in an ambulance while waiting at an IDF checkpoint not far from Jenin and who died at birth due to delayed medical care, and the student from Bir Zait who innocently crossed the street in Ramallah and was killed by IDF fire, marked as "wanted " in advance.

 

And all the civilians who lost their lives over the last summer in the Second Lebanon War, just outside the bomb shelter, in a workshop, on the terrace of their home, civilians on both sides of the border.

 

Recent war casualties mostly civilians

The civilian population makes up the majority of fallen victims in Israel's recent wars, and if God forbid another war breaks out, these people will comprise the fallen of future wars as well: Civilians who did not embark on a national mission and who cannot be awarded medals of honor for bravery and valor, and for whom no gun salute will be fired in their memory. What would be the national spiritual way to give civilian death meaning as well as perpetuate the victims' memory?

 

For several years, particularly at the end of the War of Independence when the distinction between civilians and soldiers was still somewhat vague, Israeli society learned how to deal with military bereavement. Army casualties were remembered in memorial pamphlets, songs and in infinite stories. Military units sanctified the memory of soldiers who fell in battle at long-term memorial sites. And if there is some degree of consolation in memory, the families of fallen soldiers take solace in the collective memory.

 

But how will spiritual and emotional significance - beyond national insurance payments - be given to a mother who lost part of her family while having lunch at a restaurant? True, officially, civilian victims are included in Memorial Day for the fallen of Israel's wars, yet inevitably the deaths of fallen soldiers blot out the deaths of civilians.

 

Perhaps it would be fitting for us and the Palestinians to honor the deaths of all non-combatant civilians who fell at the hand of war on both sides of the border in a dedicated joint memorial day? To tell their simple life stories.

 

It appears to me that the ability to also identify with the pain of our enemy's civilian bereavement, regardless of who caused it, would further contribute to the effort of preventing the next war.

 

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