We, the members of the bereaved families, do not need Memorial Day to remember our loved ones whom we lost in the prime of their lives. But on this day, on Memorial Day, the entire nation embraces us and shows us their love. Each family has its own private bereavement, but all share the torment of hell.
Shortly after I joined the IDF, after the Six Day War, my squad was preparing for a mission. During an exercise, two of soldiers assigned with me to this mission were fatally wounded: David Ben Hamo from Be’er Sheva – a gifted boy, an gentle-souled athlete, and Zohar Linik from Yahud, a remarkable, resourceful fighter from the second squad. We drove with David and Zohar in two vehicles to the hospital. I held David in my arms as he was suspended between life and death, taking his last breaths. When we arrived at Tel HaShomer hospital, they were both declared dead.
I still remember today the magnitude of shock and pain. The two squads were split to attend both funerals, but our hearts were with our two friends who were killed in front of our eyes. Decades later, when I visited David’s family in Be’er Sheva, I could see that his mother still left his room exactly as he had left it. Zohar’s brother, the writer Haggai Linik, wrote a moving account of how his brother’s death changed his whole life story.
About a year after David and Zohar’s deaths, we were caught in a crossfire during a raid on the Suez Canal. My friend First Lieutenant Chaim Ben Yona was hit and he fell into the water. I met his mother, the noble Holocaust survivor Shlomit, at his funeral. She told me that Chaim was born after she had escaped the death camps. That is probably why he was called Chaim, life. She also said that he was killed wearing the uniform of an IDF officer in the special forces unit Sayeret Matkal. But her voice said it all. Each family suffers its personal pain.
Two days ago, my wife and I hosted an emotional get-together of sons and daughters of fallen IDF soldiers and members of the armed forces. I asked two girls, twin sisters: “What do you remember from your father?” Neither could say anything, and they started crying. They stood there for several minutes in tears. And our hearts broke inside. We wept with them. Each of our families copes with the horrible grief in its own way.
The moment we receive the news our world falls to pieces, and then we spend the rest of our lives trying to rise from the ruins. Throughout the years as Prime Minister, every time I was given the news about a fallen soldier, my heart broke together with their families. For that reason, when I am required to make decisions regarding missions that involve risk to our soldiers and forces, and that happens frequently, I consider all aspects with all seriousness. I weigh things in my head, but also, and no less, in my heart.
My brothers and sisters, the pain of loss is like a ball and chain fastened to our legs as we make our journey through the desert of grief. My family and I have been on this journey for 40 years. There are travelers on this voyage more seasoned than we are, and there are those who only joined us recently. In the past year, after Operation Protective Edge, other families were unwillingly added to the family of bereavement, when their loved ones fell in the fight against murderous terrorism. In many cases, our fighters sacrificed their lives to save others. They approached the attackers, strived to make contact, and in so doing they prevented much worse tragedies. That is what I told the parents of Hadar Cohen, a fighter in the Border Police who was standing guard at the Damascus Gate. She exhibited resourcefulness and courage when she stopped a charging terrorist, and at the price of her own life, she saved the life of her friend. Days after she was killed, a newborn baby girl was named after Hadar. The Arbus family from Elon Moreh was deeply moved by the brave act, and said that few women have had the privilege of taking part in saving Israel as Hadar did, with strength and splendor. Hadar Cohen from Or Yehuda and little Hadar Arbus from Elon Moreh will forever be connected. And so will other girls who were named after Hadar. In Israel, boys and girls are named after the protectors of our nation, and the agony of the families is mixed with pride.
The anguish and pride join us all together – Jews, Druze, Muslims, Bedouins, Christians and Circassions. The bereavement crosses ethnicities and connects us. Our internal unity is the foundation of our existence. More than anything, Memorial Day signifies our nation’s mutual accountability. It is a day for great internal reconciliation which stems from our shared destiny, and we should respect these every day, all year round.
We should always consider the price paid by our loved ones, the young lives that were cut short, leaving us despondent and broken. Above all, we should remember the sacrifice of our loved ones.
General Yanush Ben Gal, one of our greatest military leaders, knew my brother Yoni well from the fight for the defense of the Golan Heights during the Yom Kippur War. I remember the shock and pain that surged through me when he told me what Yoni told him as he boarded the Hercules that carried him and his soldiers to rescue the hostages at Entebbe. Yoni told him: “Yanush, I will not return from this mission. Look after Bruria.” Nothing is more precious to us than our fallen, wounded and missing soldiers. We send our best wishes for a speedy recovery to those wounded in the line of duty.
We will continue to endeavor to bring home all of the IDF soldiers, including Hadar Goldin and Oron Shaul. Dear Zehava and Herzl Shaul, Leah and Simcha Goldin, I promise you that we will not give up. I promise you that we will do everything in our power to bring your sons, our sons, home.
This evening, when Independence Day begins, is the time for spiritual uplifting. One eye will shed a tear of sadness for the young lives cut short, and the other will shed a tear of joy for the miracle of revival – the rebirth of the flourishing State of Israel, a wonder among the nations. The heroes of our nation, our beloved fallen soldiers, enabled the miracle of our sovereignty to occur. Their spirit will continue to be bound in the bundle of our lives, and will light our journey like eternal torches.
May the memory of our loved ones who fell in our defense, forever be etched in the nation’s collective memory.