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Standing up to the monopoly on mourning in Israel

For those of us who confront the realities of what goes on here every day, especially those of us who cannot escape it, or who make it part of our profession, every day is a form of Memorial Day and Independence Day. That is what we are trying to change.

Israelis standing at attention on the side of the road during the Memorial Day siren. (ChameleonsEye / Shutterstock.com)

Israelis standing at attention on the side of the road during the Memorial Day siren. (ChameleonsEye / Shutterstock.com)

I went to one of my regular 6:45 p.m. yoga classes Tuesday night, knowing that at 8 p.m., just 15 minutes before the class ended, a siren for fallen soldiers and terror victims would sound. It was Israel’s Memorial Day. I wondered what I would do. I didn’t want to stop and stand in silence, but I also didn’t want to be the asshole that didn’t stand.

We had gotten to a shoulder stand position, usually the last pose before shavasana (the restorative “corpse” pose). The teacher wasn’t sure whether to stop the class or not, so she sort of deferred to us. Those who wanted to got out of their pose and stood. I stayed in the shoulder stand, remaining as erect and still as possible in the position, which is also known as the candle pose, which is fitting considering people light candles for the fallen on Memorial Day.

Being upside down for the Memorial Day siren made perfect sense to me, a metaphor for the tragic backwardness of this place. It enabled me to at once challenge the state’s rites while still respecting those who are gone and those who continue to suffer. After many years, I inadvertently found the way that suited me best.

The 'candle pose' (Shutterstock.com)

The ‘candle pose’ (Shutterstock.com)

For me and many other leftists in Israel — those who question what the state is and does, criticize it and engage in actions that challenge it out of a commitment to equality and human rights — Memorial Day and Independence Day are problematic and frustrating. Seeing the flags everywhere and silently following the herd in the state’s rituals doesn’t feel right. There is no self-reflection or humility or questioning — the qualities most needed in 2016 Israel. (Just this morning, Naftali Bennett repeated a statement that has become a government mantra: the IDF pays a heavy price for being the most moral army in the world and no one, no one has the right to preach to this nation on morality and values.)

But not wanting to participate in these rituals because you don’t subscribe to the mainstream narrative makes you an outsider, somehow unethical and, of course, unpatriotic; or worse — a traitor. In that sense, for a leftist, these holidays are a tiny taste of what many Palestinians probably feel like every day living in a place whose symbols, values and collective culture don’t correspond to their personal or national experience.

Standing to commemorate only the people in one group who have been killed doesn’t address the reality here and it cannot be reconciled with basic respect for all human life, regardless of ethno-national association. It also entrenches the simplistic, belligerent notion that we are divided into heroes and villains. And as for celebrating Israeli independence, while I do not deny Israel’s right to exist or wish to undo its founding, I do question the way it exists: how does a country genuinely celebrate independence when it has a quasi-permanent military regime that controls another people who have no rights? How can a country with no internationally recognized borders and a disputed capital city claim to be independent? How can a country reliant on foreign aid, weapons and a mandatory draft claim to be independent? I mean independence, in the very literal sense, of freedom.

Memorial Day and Independence Day are saturated with the glorification of the dead and a total disregard for the many deaths Israel is responsible for. How can I silently stand to commemorate Jewish victims without thinking about the Palestinian siblings shot and killed by Israeli security guards when they posed no threat to anyone just two weeks ago?  How can you celebrate independence when millions of people living under your government’s authority have no basic rights? And why do people want to celebrate the existence of a country in which there is no will and no plan to avoid the further deaths of its citizens and of Palestinians? “We will forever live by the sword” is the only rhetoric we hear.

That is precisely why it is so important to find ways to challenge the official narrative, specifically on these days, to not accept as a given its monopoly on mourning, heroism, nationalism, and identity. It is what Deputy Chief of Staff Yair Golan tried to do on Holocaust Day, but he ultimately retracted and retreated. This is what the annual Israeli-Palestinian Memorial Day Ceremony hosted by the Parents’ Circle and Combatants for Peace every year tries to do. How sad, though, that it has become the Israeli “peace movement’s” largest event.

For those of us who confront the realities of what goes on here every day, especially those who cannot escape it, and those who make it part of our profession, every day is a form of Memorial Day and Independence Day. That is what we are trying to change.

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    1. Tony Riley

      Says the woman whose yoga class is paid for by writing articles that are critical of Israel, even though she knows that any Palestinian who criticises his or her rulers will face torture and imprisonment.

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