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Israel no longer the country 'my son died for': memorials marred by anger

April 25, 2023 at 4:58 pm

Protestors gather at Kaplan Street against Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government’s regulations restricting the powers of the judiciary in Tel Aviv, Israel on April 8, 2023 [Saeed Qaq – Anadolu Agency]

Tensions ran high as ceremonies commemorating slain Israeli soldiers and victims of attacks turned into protests on Tuesday, far from the decades-old tradition of Memorial Day unity, Reuters reports.

Despite calls from Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, and opposition leaders to put disagreements aside, the friction was palpable as bereaved families laid wreaths and lit candles at graves across the country.

Bereaved father, Asaf Halamish, was angry at politicians who had not served in the military, giving speeches at memorial ceremonies.

His son, Zohar, was an artillery officer and passionate filmmaker. When his platoon came under fire in Lebanon in 1993, the 21-year-old left his camera rolling, leaving his father with a record of the last moments of his life.

“(This Israel) is not my country, not the one I was born in, not the one I was raised in, not the one I fought for and not the one my son died for,” Halamish told Reuters.

Israel has been swept by weeks of nationwide protests, primarily in response to a plan by Netanyahu’s nationalist-religious coalition to overhaul the judiciary.

READ: Memory and Oblivion in Israel

In Beersheba, where far-right National Security Minister, Itamar Ben-Gvir spoke, a brief scuffle broke out after a man exchanged insults with a veteran Israeli journalist perceived to be left-leaning.

“Show some respect,” one man shouted at Ben-Gvir as the Minister approached the podium. “Calm down,” another man replied.

“It’s a disgrace that the left is sending here, to cemeteries, its representatives in order to stir trouble while Ben-Gvir is here to pay us respect,” said Rafi Hazan, 43.

Referring to the central location of mass anti-government protests in Tel Aviv, he said: “Anyone who is here to protest should go back to Kaplan.”

At other cemeteries, shortly before the nation stood for two minutes’ silence, angry families disrupted visiting coalition members, shouting “Shame!” and singing the national anthem in protest against government policies.

Protests are expected to continue on Wednesday, when Israelis mark 75 years since the country’s founding.

Speaking at the Mount Herzl ceremony in Jerusalem, President Isaac Herzog echoed appeals for unity.

“I ask that we cast off our arguments, remove the barriers, wrap ourselves in pain and longing, and commune with the memory of your loved ones – our loved ones,” he said.

READ: Israel marks 75th anniversary amid doubt and division