Deep sadness and anger grip Israel on Memorial Day

TEL AVIV, Israel (AP) — Itai, Robbie Chen’s son, has been killed in a shooting Hamas attack on October 7. But unlike dozens of families of soldiers killed that day, Chen has no grave to visit because his son’s remains are there. Detained in Gaza.

The absence of a final resting place is being felt acutely now, as Israel marks Remembrance Day for Fallen Soldiers, when cemeteries are filled with relatives weeping over the graves of their loved ones.

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

Poster depicting dead Israeli soldier Itai Chen hanging in a tunnel facility in the Gaza Strip, in Tel Aviv, Wednesday, May 8, 2024. (AP Photo/Maya Alleruzzo)

Remembrance Day is always a somber occasion in Israel, a country that has suffered repeated wars and conflicts throughout its 76-year history. But Chen’s torment highlights how this year the country has taken on a deep, raw sadness combined with widespread anger over the failures of October 7 and the war it sparked.

The families of the dead, along with large sectors of the public, are demanding that political and military leaders be held accountable for the grave mistakes that led to the deaths of hundreds in the deadliest attack in the country’s history.

“A lot of people were killed that day because of a massive miscalculation,” said Chen, who for months believed his son was still alive after being kidnapped in Gaza, before receiving confirmation earlier this year that he was dead. “The people who made the misjudgment must pay, from the prime minister down.”

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Israel marks Remembrance Day for fallen soldiers and victims of attacks that begins at sunset on Sunday with formal ceremonies and smaller events the next day at military cemeteries across the country. Then the celebration is suddenly interrupted by the noise of Independence Day, which begins on Monday evening.

Bringing the two days together is intentionally meant to highlight the connection between Israel’s costly wars and the state’s creation and survival, a contradiction that will be difficult to reconcile this year at a time when Israel is actively engaged in war and Israelis. You feel more insecure than ever.

With the shock of October 7 looming, each day is expected to be dramatically different from previous years.

More than 600 Israeli soldiers have been killed since Hamas launched its surprise attack on October 7, when thousands of gunmen overran military bases in southern Israel and quiet towns 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 being held by Hamas militants in the Gaza Strip, near the Israeli parliament building in Jerusalem, Thursday, May 9, 2024. Remembrance Day is always a somber occasion in Israel.  But in the wake of the events of October 7, the crisis has taken on a deep and harsh character of sadness coupled with rampant anger.  (AP Photo/Ohad Zwegenberg)

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

A view of Mount Herzl Military Cemetery in Jerusalem, Thursday, May 9, 2024. Israel marks the annual Remembrance Day to commemorate soldiers who died in the country's conflicts, starting at sunset Sunday, May 12, until the evening of Monday, May 13.  (AP Photo/Ohad Zweigenberg).

A view of Mount Herzl Military Cemetery in Jerusalem, Thursday, May 9, 2024. (AP Photo/Ohad Zwigenberg)

Nearly 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. Triggered the attack the warNow in its eighth month, it has claimed the lives of more than 34,700 Palestinians, most of them women and children, according to local health officials.

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The gunmen stormed Israel’s vaunted defenses, breached the border fence, blinded surveillance cameras, and clashed with the country’s first line of defense soldiers, many of whom were outnumbered. Itai Chen, an Israeli-American, was one of them.

The militants reached nearly 20 different locations in southern Israel, extending to cities outside the belt of agricultural communities that runs through the Gaza Strip. It took hours for the region’s strongest army to send reinforcements to the area and days to clear all the militants.

The attack shook Israel to the core. It shattered the widespread trust that the country’s Jewish population had long placed in the army, which imposed conscription for most 18-year-old Jews.

Aside from the crisis of confidence in the army, the attack shattered the Israelis’ confidence in their government and their prime minister Benjamin NetanyahuWhich popular support for him declined. Thousands of people participate in weekly protests to demand early elections so that a new leadership can take power.

Military and defense leaders said they bear responsibility for what happened during the attack, as did the country’s military intelligence chief He resigned as a result. But Netanyahu did it I stopped accepting responsibilitySaying he would answer tough questions after the war, he even blamed security chiefs last year in a late-night X post that he later deleted. His refusal to acknowledge his role angered many.

But many Israelis are also impatient with the protracted war, where soldiers are still dying and where… Thousands were injured.

Hagit Chen holds a necklace depicting her son, slain Israeli soldier Itai Chen, in Tel Aviv, Wednesday, May 8, 2024. Itai Chen was killed in a Hamas attack on October 7.  But unlike dozens of other families of soldiers killed that day, Chen's family has no grave to visit because their son's remains are being held in Gaza.  The absence of a final resting place is being felt acutely now, as Israel marks Remembrance Day for Fallen Soldiers, when cemeteries are filled with relatives weeping over the graves of their loved ones.  (AP Photo/Maya Aleruso)

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

Aidit Shafran Gettleman, an expert in military and security affairs, said that the two goals of the war, namely defeating Hamas’ rule and military capabilities and freeing the hostages, were not achieved, casting a shadow over events that are usually intended to salute the military’s prowess. Israeli Society at the Institute for National Security Studies, a think tank in Tel Aviv. Tens of thousands of Israelis are also still displaced from the country’s troubled south and north.

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“Since October 7, Israelis have asked themselves how they will endure Remembrance Day and Independence Day. “I don’t think anyone has an answer,” she said, adding that the only thing that might improve public sentiment is elections and a new government.

The simmering anger is likely to escalate into Remembrance Day ceremonies, held at military cemeteries across the country. These ceremonies are usually viewed as sacred, solemn and apolitical, although government ministers and legislators attend.

Some families asked ministers to refrain from joining for fear this would happen A repeat of last yearwhen attendees at multiple ceremonies shouted down lawmakers who backed a divisive government plan to reform the judiciary.

“This is an event that failed leadership and failed security services led us to,” said Eyal Eshel, whose daughter Roni was killed at a base stormed by gunmen on October 7, and who is leading the campaign to prevent ministers from attending. He told Israeli Channel 12: “Respect the families’ request: Do not come.” Regardless, ministers are still scheduled to spread out across cemeteries across the country.

But other changes are being made to reflect the somber mood, especially for Independence Day. The official ceremony marking the beginning of the celebrations will be reduced in size and will not have a live audience. The Air Force’s traditional overflights were cancelled.

Israelis are wondering the right way to celebrate — and whether there is much to celebrate at all.

“People have stopped believing that the country is capable of defending us,” said Tom Segev, an Israeli historian. “The fundamental belief in the state’s ability to ensure a good future here has been undermined.”

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

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