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Profound sadness, anger grips Israel on Memorial Day

TEL AVIV, Israel (AP) — Ruby Chen’s son, Itay, was killed in the Hamas attack on October 7. But unlike many other families of soldiers killed that day, Chen has no grave to visit because his son’s remains are held captive in Gaza.

The lack of a final resting place is keenly felt today, as Israel marks its Day of Remembrance for the Fallen Soldiers, when cemeteries overflow with loved ones mourning the graves of their loved ones.

“Where are we supposed to go?” » Chen said. “There is no burial place we can go to.”

A poster depicting fallen Israeli soldier Itay Chen hangs in a tunnel installation in the Gaza Strip, in Tel Aviv, Wednesday, May 8, 2024. (AP Photo/Maya Alleruzzo)

Memorial Day is always a somber time in Israel, a country that has suffered from repeated wars and conflicts throughout its 76-year history. But Chen’s torment underscores the extent to which this year has taken on a deep, raw sadness, coupled with percolating anger over the failures of Oct. 7 and the war it sparked.

The families of the victims, as well as a large part of the population, are demanding that political and military leaders account for the errors that led to the deaths of hundreds of people in the deadliest attack in the country’s history.

“Too many people were killed that day because of a colossal error of judgment,” said Chen, who believed for months that his son was still alive after his kidnapping in Gaza, before receiving confirmation earlier this year of his death. “Those who made an error in judgment must pay, from the Prime Minister on down. »

Israel marks its Day of Remembrance for fallen soldiers and victims of attacks starting Sunday at sundown with an official ceremony and smaller events the following day at military cemeteries across the country. The solemnity is then abruptly interrupted by the Independence Day fanfare, which begins Monday evening.

The grouping of the two days is intentionally intended to emphasize the connection between Israel’s costly wars and the creation and survival of the state, a contrast that this year will be difficult to reconcile at a time when Israel is actively engaged in war and where Israelis feel more insecure than ever.

With the trauma of October 7 looming, every day is expected to be radically different from previous years.

More than 600 Israeli soldiers have been killed since Hamas launched its surprise attack on October 7, when thousands of militants ransacked military bases in southern Israel and sleeping communities during a Jewish holiday.

Family members and activists carry an empty coffin during a mock funeral held ahead of Israel's Remembrance Day for Israelis whose remains are held by Hamas militants in the Gaza Strip, near the building of the Israeli Parliament in Jerusalem, Thursday, May 9, 2024. is always a somber occasion in Israel.  But in the aftermath of October 7, this situation took on a deep and raw sadness, combined with percolating anger.  (AP Photo/Ohad Zwigenberg)

Family members and activists carry an empty coffin during a mock funeral held ahead of Remembrance Day in Israel for Israelis whose remains are held by Hamas militants in the Gaza Strip, near the building of Israeli parliament in Jerusalem, Thursday, May 9, 2024. (AP Photo/Ohad Zwigenberg)

A view of the Mount Herzl military cemetery is pictured in Jerusalem, Thursday, May 9, 2024. Israel celebrates its annual Remembrance Day in remembrance of soldiers who died in the country's conflicts, from Sunday, May 12 at dusk until Monday evening, May 13 .  (AP Photo/Ohad Zwigenberg)

A view of the Mount Herzl military cemetery, photographed in Jerusalem, Thursday, May 9, 2024. (AP Photo/Ohad Zwigenberg)

About 1,200 people were killed that day, about a quarter of them soldiers, and another 250 were taken captive to Gaza, according to Israeli authorities. The attack triggered the warnow in its eighth month, which has killed more than 34,700 Palestinians, mostly women and children, according to local health authorities.

The militants outmaneuvered Israel’s vaunted defenses, breaching a border fence, blinding surveillance cameras and confronting the country’s first line of defense, many of which were outnumbered. Itay Chen, an Israeli-American, was one of them.

The militants reached around 20 different locations in southern Israel, extending to towns beyond the belt of farming communities straddling Gaza. It took hours for the region’s most powerful army to send reinforcements to the area and days to eliminate all the militants.

The attack deeply shook Israel. This shattered the broad trust the country’s Jewish population had long placed in the army, which imposes compulsory enlistment for most 18-year-old Jews.

Beyond the crisis of confidence in the army, the attack shattered Israelis’ confidence in their government and their Prime Minister. Benjamin Netanyahu, whose public support has plummeted. Thousands of people are participating in weekly protests demanding early elections so a new government can take over.

Military and defense leaders have said they are responsible for what happened in the attack, along with the country’s military intelligence chief. resigned as a result. But Netanyahu did not agree to accept responsibility, saying he would answer tough questions after the war and even blaming his security chiefs last year in a late-night post on X that he later deleted. His refusal to assume his role made many people furious.

But many Israelis have also lost patience with this protracted war, in which soldiers continue to die and thousands were injured.

Hagit Chen holds a necklace depicting his son, Israeli soldier Itay Chen, in Tel Aviv, Wednesday, May 8, 2024. Itay Chen was killed during the Hamas attack on October 7.  But unlike many other families of soldiers killed that day, the Chens have no grave to visit because their son's remains are being held captive in Gaza.  The lack of a final resting place is keenly felt today, as Israel marks its Day of Remembrance for the Fallen Soldiers, when cemeteries overflow with loved ones mourning the graves of their loved ones.  (AP Photo/Maya Alleruzzo)

Hagit Chen holds a necklace depicting her son, Israeli soldier Itay Chen, in Tel Aviv, Wednesday, May 8, 2024. (AP Photo/Maya Alleruzzo)

The war’s twin goals of defeating Hamas’s government and military capabilities and freeing the hostages have not been achieved, casting a shadow over events typically intended to salute military prowess, said Idit Shafran Gittleman, a security expert. military matters and Israeli Society at the Institute for National Security Studies, a think tank in Tel Aviv. Tens of thousands of Israelis also remain displaced from the country’s volatile south and north.

“Since October 7, Israelis have been wondering how they will cope with Memorial Day and Independence Day. And I think no one has an answer,” she said, adding that the only thing that could improve public opinion would be elections and a new government.

The anger that has surged will likely spill over into Memorial Day ceremonies, which are taking place at military cemeteries across the country. The ceremonies are generally considered sacred, solemn and apolitical, even if government ministers and legislators participate.

Some families have requested that ministers refrain from joining, fearing a repeat from last yearwhen participants in several ceremonies shouted at lawmakers who supported a controversial government plan to reform the justice system.

“This is an event that the failed leadership and the failed security apparatus have brought us to,” Eyal Eshel, whose daughter, Roni, was killed at a base stormed by militants on October 7 and who leads the charge to prevent ministers from attending. , told Israel’s Channel 12. “Respect the families’ request: do not come. » Regardless, ministers should still deploy to cemeteries across the country.

But other changes are afoot to reflect this somber mood, particularly around Independence Day. The official ceremony marking the start of the celebrations will be reduced and without an audience. The traditional Air Force flyover was canceled.

Israelis are wondering what the right way to celebrate is – and whether there is really much to celebrate.

“People have stopped believing that the country is capable of defending us,” said Tom Segev, an Israeli historian. “Fundamental confidence in the state’s ability to secure a better future here has been shaken. »

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Follow AP’s coverage of the war at https://apnews.com/hub/israel-hamas-war

News Source : apnews.com
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