Several months ago we celebrated Israeli Independence Day, a commemoration of the Declaration of Independence on May 14th, 1948. Two days prior to that we took a Mechina (a university preparatory program that I was attending) trip to Har HaTayassim, a memorial site located just outside of Jerusalem.
In the days predating the Declaration of, and subsequent War for, Independence, a tragic story happened over the Judean Hills. Unfortunately, even though our tour was guided, there were far too many attendees and thus I found it difficult to absorb all the information that was given. We walked along a dirt trail from stop to stop, accompanied by families of the fallen airmen, active-duty IAF personnel including pilots and other interested groups of individuals. We did chance upon these interesting ruins, of which I know absolutely nothing.
After passing a lovely lookout over the gentle, and nicely wooded, Judean foothills we reached a clearing and gather under a large tree. An elderly man, who turned out to be an old Palmach fighter, spoke of his experience in the years before and during the War for Independence.
From there we departed and continued to the site of the memorial (pictured above), nestled in a small lot between houses. There we heard the story from family members of one of the fallen airmen, one of the women running the Mechina among them.
The next day we went to Latrun in the afternoon – to Yad L’Shiryon, a memorial and museum of the Armoured Corps. In the grounds outside the museum’s gates was a multi-faceted military exhibition with weapons, vehicles, technological gadgetry and more on display, complete with uniformed soldiers to give explanations and wow children. Entering the museum, I walked up and down the rows of armoured vehicles seeing specimens such as the Renault R-35, Marmon-Harrington Mk IVF, M48A3 Patton and, of course, the Israel Merkava tanks. Looping around the perimetre, I approached the impressive Tegart fort which crowns the hilltop and climbed the stairs to the top.
Leaving the fort, I encountered the memorial wall with the names of all the fallen Armoured Corps soldiers. I spent a few minutes there out of respect and then turned to leave. Passing a tour group it suddenly dawned on me that the names of the soldiers who were killed in the mortar attack on our field camp during Operation Protective Edge in 2014 were probably on that wall (for the war story see HERE). I scoured the most recent names and my eyes fell upon their names listed one after the next; Meidan, Niran and Adi. A grim feeling set in which lasted the rest of the day, bringing personal meaning to the bitter purpose of Yom HaZikaron which was to start at sundown. We slowly made our way to the outdoor theatre where the large memorial ceremony was to take place and found seats next to the booths where live translations were to be given in a multitude of languages.
The evening began with a military honour guard mounting the stage in preparation for the Yom HaZikaron siren. Next, the mother of Ezra Schwartz (a American teenage volunteer who was killed by a terrorist) went up and lit the memorial torch.
Following that, politician and chairman of the Jewish Agency Natan Sharansky gave a short speech about being a gulag prisoner in Siberia and finding hope in the story of Yoni Netanyahu, brother of the Israeli Prime Minister who was killed in a commando raid in Entebbe, Uganda. The current number of fallen IDF soldiers was then announced – 23,447. Wreathes were then laid by various dignitaries and guests and then the Yizkor prayer was said.
The ceremony highlighted six individual stories of fallen soldiers (plus Ezra Schwartz) with speeches given by family members and then a song played by the band on stage. There was one particularly interesting story of a Sgt Yohan Zarbiv where the photo of him was the last one taken, his camera being mostly destroyed in an explosion several hours later while on duty in Lebanon. Another sad testimony was that of two brothers who both fell in battle, one in 1998 and one in 2010 – the emotionable song “Katonti” by Yonaton Razel was then played. The evening ended with a summary of the legacies of those who fell and the crowd then dispersed in relative silence, affected emotionally by the displays of bitter loss and mourning. Our group gathered around and returned to our bus for the ride back to the university, the end of a thought-provoking evening.