Jerusalem, Oct 13 (EFE). – Jewish chants rose Friday at the Mount Herzl cemetery in Jerusalem during the burial of hundreds of Israeli soldiers who died in the war with Hamas, a ceremony attended by tens of thousands with Israeli flags and white candles.
White-bearded rabbis laid wreaths of flowers, and soldiers clutching their weapons could not hold back tears as they prayed together around the freshly dug graves of the fallen, who numbered 258 among Israel’s more than 1,200 dead on the seventh day of the war.
“You died like a hero, a hero of Israel,” a uniformed soldier shouted between sobs beside a body that lay beneath the still loose earth.
Tomer, Ibrahim, Sara, Shlomo, Menahem, Avital; recruits of all ages and from all corners of the country have been buried with honor at the military cemetery for several days.
Their coffins, wrapped in the national flag, are buried by their surviving comrades with sacks arranged in the shape of a war trench. Shots are fired into the air at the end of the funeral.
“I’m a 40-year-old soldier, I’ve seen wars, but I’ve never seen this, this terrorism,” a soldier told EFE, declining to give his name because he was not authorized to speak to the press.
He is referring to the massive attack Hamas carried out Saturday morning, in the middle of Shabbat, surprising Israel during its weekly holy day.
Hamas fired thousands of rockets from the Gaza Strip and infiltrated more than 1,000 militiamen into Israeli villages bordering the Palestinian enclave, where they massacred and kidnapped civilians.
The bodies of victims, including elders, women and children, were left next to their destroyed homes or in the middle of the desert. Traumatic images that Israel still cannot process.
“Things like this are forbidden even in thought, in intention, it is something that anyone who has humanity knows of course,” says Chaim Polishouk, a 47-year-old ultra-Orthodox Jew who offers passersby to pray with the phylactery, a small box containing passages from the Torah that is placed on the head.
“I don’t know how, but (the phylactery) scares Israel’s enemies,” he says under his black hat.
All the military graves, without exception, have a blanket of colorful flowers, and those that already have a gravestone show the photo of the person who occupies it, almost always a smiling young man.
One mausoleum had balloons in the shape of the number 26, the age the soldier did not reach.
Thousands of Israelis, who came even without knowing the deceased, hug and pray behind the metal fence that surrounds the their closest relatives.
“We feel very sad, but also very strong. We are the ones chosen by God to lead Israel,” says 80-year-old Lieutenant Colonel Eli Gertler, a volunteer organizer of the funerals.
“I have no words to describe what the soldiers and officers I lost in this war were like, what they are like, because for me they did not die, they continue to live with us,” the five-time decorated veteran of the 1967 Six-Day War laments, his voice breaking.
The Hamas attack surprised Israel at a moment of fragility, in the midst of a deep political crisis and social polarization caused by the policies of the government of Benjamin Netanyahu and its ultra-nationalist, colonialist, anti-Arab and ultra-Orthodox partners.
Arguing that democracy was being compromised, thousands of soldiers rebelled and refused to present themselves as reservists.
“But this war united all the people of Israel with a single wish: no more Hamas in Gaza, no more conflict in Israel, that our deaths are not in vain,” said one anonymous soldier, kippah on and rifle in hand.
Netanyahu promised to “wipe Hamas off the face of the earth,” the de facto rulers of the Gaza Strip, and to use “the full military might” of Israel to do so.
Since the first day of the war, Israeli forces have continued to bombard the Palestinian enclave by air, land and sea, killing more than 1,800 Gazans, more than half civilians, including women and children, amid a humanitarian crisis that has left more than 6,200 wounded and hundreds of thousands displaced.
“Shabbat Shalom” (Saturday of Peace), a woman says to passersby at the entrance to Jerusalem’s cemetery, offering them white candles.
“It is to remember that darkness is fought with light, not with more darkness. Of course we have to defend ourselves, but our true power is in prayer,” said Anat Kipnis, a 39-year-old Jewish woman. EFE