Motty Fogel: Grief shouldn’t be used for peace or war

Translation from Hebrew: Dimi Reider

Motty Fogel, an Israeli journalist who lost his brother, sister-in-law,  nephews and niece in the terror attack on the settlement of Itamar, spoke yesterday at the joint Palestinian and Israeli memorial ceremony organized by Combatants for Peace. He shared his speech with +972.

When they offered me to speak at this ceremony, I  almost immediately said yes. But when I began thinking about what I’ll want to say, I couldn’t come up with anything but battered ideological cliches. I tried to think what was it that made it so difficult, and at some point I understood I’m deeply opposed to all memorial ceremonies, including all kinds of alternative ones. It’s not just my inherent recoiling from ceremonies in general, but a near-principled opposition to Memorial Day.

I should explain what I mean by that.

Memorial Day is the day in which all the dead gather into one, faceless group, and all the bereaved families become one big family, referred to as “the family of the bereaved.” But my grief is a private grief. Even before the question of applying grief to a political cause, I can’t understand how my private grief can be part of a general mourning. I don’t understand how someone who didn’t suffer a loss can take part in or understand the grief of another human being. I myself couldn’t do it until two months ago, and I still can’t imagine how my parents or the parents of any other victim feel.

The most accurate moment of Memorial Day is the siren – the cancellation of speech and cessation of all activities. But there’s something about Memorial Day that calls out for the political. The ideological discourse is the most comfortable escape from what we cannot speak of.  But this escape is wrong, and it doesn’t matter through which politics or ideology it is done. Using the memory of the dead to justify war and the deaths of others is no more wrong than using their memory to promote peace. It is a cynical use and far too easy an escape from the unspeakable sorrow over the deaths of human beings.

We cannot share or understand the sorrow of the dead or the sorrow over the dead, neither as a society nor as individuals. But we can and must respect their lives and the way they chose to leave them.

I cannot use my brother’s death as leverage for peace. My brother Udi and his wife Ruthie chose to live and raise and their children in Itamar, because they believed in their right, and maybe their duty, to live anywhere in the Land of Israel. Udi and Ruthie, and three of their children – Yoav, Elad and Hadas – were murdered as residents of Itamar. During the shiva there were times I was angry with my brother and with the choices that he made, but this was his life as he chose to live them.

So what am I doing here?

Memorial Day should be a day of innocence.I’m not denying the politics of life and death, but Memorial Day is this one day a year, a time bubble of sorts, when we mourn fallen soldiers, even if they willingly and happily took part in wars we believe could and should have never taken place. We morn them not as witless victims led to their deaths, but as human beings with free will and the power of choice.

We honor the memories of those who died to live here, not as a political statement, but as something that comes out of this simple and profoundly difficult fact.

In Israel, Memorial Days begins a circle that closes on Independence Day. I suppose this kind of closure makes some of the people here uncomfortable; it certainly makes me uncomfortable. Some of those gathered here may wish to achieve a closure to the circle of memory and bereavement in a different way, perhaps a better way. But you cannot close down the pain. We’ll leave that for other days. Today, we won’t be able to go home and feel good about ourselves. Here and now we must contend ourselves with weeping over those who died.