Fifty-six years ago, the Israeli Knesset established Yom Hazikaron as the Remembrance Day for fallen soldiers. It is poignantly observed the day before Yom Ha’atzmaut — Israeli Independence Day — to make clear how intertwined personal sacrifice is with the existence of the state. Over time, Yom Hazikaron was extended to include commemoration of Israelis killed in terrorist attacks. It is a solemn day, marked by a nationally observed moment of silence and sirens. Although entirely secular in nature, Yom Hazikaron has taken on religious-like observance with programming, rituals and memorial prayers.
For more than a decade, a growing but still small group of Israelis and Palestinians have held a joint Yom Hazikaron ceremony designed to commemorate the “universal tragedy” of lives lost on both sides of the struggle. Similar joint ceremonies have been held in the Diaspora. Opposition to the effort has been intense. In Israel, the prime minister’s denial of entry permits to Palestinians who wanted to attend this year’s event was overruled by the state’s high court. And opposition to similar joint commemoration programming in the Diaspora has been vocal and emotional — particularly this year, as Yom Hazikaron came on the heels of the most concentrated rocket attack on Israel from Gaza in five years, killing four Israelis.
The opposition has a good point. No matter how worthy the effort to acknowledge the pain of others, Yom Hazikaron is not the right day to make that statement. Empathy and reconciliation are like peace — who can be against them? But there are two very clear problems with joint Yom Hazikaron events.
First, Israelis and Jews around the world should be able to mourn their dead without having to make a broader statement about common humanity and aspirations for a more enlightened future. There is nothing wrong with showing undivided respect for the sacrifices of those who died in defense of the Jewish state or were killed simply because they were Israelis on the one day set aside for it. While there have certainly been innocent Palestinians killed in the conflict, and their loss is no less tragic, there are other days and times to mourn those losses that won’t distract from or dilute the solemn, inner-focused commemoration of Yom Hazikaron.
Second, many Palestinians killed over the years have been terrorists who targeted Jews for destruction. Those killers deserve no commemoration, no mourning and no tribute. And purported efforts to honor all who lost their lives and to focus on hope and nonviolence as part of joint programming reflects a remarkable insensitivity to the memory of the more than 26,000 Israeli souls mourned on Yom Hazikaron.
There is a time and place for everything. The memory of those who died in defense of the Jewish state or killed in acts of terror because they were Israeli deserve the singular honor of Yom Hazikaron.