Statement about Yom Hazikaron

Zionism Victoria and the United Israel Appeal are hosting a commemoration for Yom HaZikaron (Remembrance Day) this year, marking 60 years since the Sinai Campaign of 1956, and 10 years since the second Lebanon War of 2006. Both of these wars are notable not only in their importance in framing regional politics, but in the disputing of their necessity and excessive military aggression.

Larry Derfner from Haaretz has written about the development of Yom Hazikaron motives over the years, noting that it is now “the one day of the year where it’s absolutely forbidden to question the justice of any war or clash in which any Israeli soldier ever died. On Israel’s Memorial Day, every war, every operation, every hostile encounter in this country’s history is implicitly declared to have been unavoidable, an unquestionable act of national self-defense.” [1]

The Sinai Campaign of 1956 is no exception.  Official Israeli justification focuses on Fedayin attacks and the development of Egyptian sponsorship of these attacks, along with Egypt’s blockage and hindering of passage through the Suez Canal to Israeli ships or ships carrying goods headed to Israel.  Thus Israel’s attack, also termed Operation Kadesh, was a retaliatory one, aimed at halting the capacity of Fedayin attacks and re-establishing use of the Suez Canal, as well as what was seen as a window of opportunity to diminish Egypt’s military power following a recent arms deal with the Czech Republic and an expanding empire.  Whilst Israel had its own motives, the attack was planned by France and the UK, in a plot to undermine President Nasser and the Egyptian leadership and regain control of the Suez, using Israel to influence an International affair, which escalated to threats of nuclear war and the resignation of the British Prime Minister.

The entire Sinai region, including the Suez Canal and the Gaza Strip, was captured in six days.  According to a speech delivered to the Knesset, Israeli Prime Minister at the time David Ben-Gurion stated that 170 Egyptians were killed in the occupation[2].  Other sources estimate 1000-3000 dead and 4000 wounded.   On the first day of the Sinai Campaign, a border police unit massacred 48 villagers at Kfar Qasim, men women and children.  While Yom HaZikaron commemorates wars such as the Sinai war, the Kafr Qasim massacre was banned from the media, taken out of the education curriculum, and a memorial now stands in the village, paid for by the villagers.[3]

Archived documents reveal that Israel’s plan consisted of occupying and Judaizing the region, replacing Arabic names of towns with Hebrew ones. Ben-Gurion stated: “If we had had an army like this in 1948 we could have conquered all the Arab countries.”[4]  Israel was intent on staying and occupying the region, and only withdrew four months after the war, following US threat of sanctions and Soviet Union threat of force if the withdrawal was not complete, despite a resolution in the UN General Assembly demanding the withdrawal of troops, to which France and the UK adhered immediately.  The instability caused by this war and lack of a peace settlement laid the groundwork for the 1967 Six Day War.

The second Lebanon War of 2006 again put Israel in the spotlight for its aggressive retaliation, this time to attacks by Hezbollah.  Following the capturing of two Israeli soldiers by Hezbollah, then Prime Minister Ehud Olmert described the kidnapping as an act of war by Lebanon, pinning responsibility for the acts of the organisation Hezbollah on the entire State of Lebanon. Israeli Justice Minister Haim Ramon said that “all those now in south Lebanon are terrorists who are related in some way to Hezbollah.”[5]  A retired Israeli Army Colonel explained that the rationale behind the attack was to create a rift between the Lebanese population and Hezbollah supporters by exacting a heavy price.  According to a Human Rights Watch report, the invasion resulted in at least 1109 Lebanese deaths, the vast majority of whom were civilians, 4399 injured, and an estimated 1 million displaced. It also severely damaged Lebanese civil infrastructure, notably including the Rafic Hariri International Airport in Beirut.

According to Israel the large number of civilian deaths was incurred due to Hezbollah tactics of firing rockets from highly populated areas, storing weapons in populated areas and the use of civilian shields.  However, Human Rights Watch disputes this argument, finding little evidence to support this claim.  For example they found strong evidence that Hezbollah stored most of its rockets in bunkers and weapon storage facilities located in uninhabited fields and valleys.  Following the war, the Israeli government appointed a commission which released the Winograd Report.  The report heavily criticized Olmert, accusing him of a “severe failure in exercising judgment, responsibility and caution,” resulting in calls for his resignation.

Commemorating Israel’s wars without considering their validity and morality encourages a position where all of Israel’s actions remain unquestionably justified and more wars become a fixed feature of the future for the State of Israel. We join an increasing number Jews around the world, and the broader International community, that refuse to justify every Israeli act of aggression as borne solely of self-defence, and encourage a responsibility to look at the revised narrative of history. Once such revision occurs, many of Israel’s wars will appear to have been overly aggressive and unnecessary, with Sinai and Lebanon being two significant examples. This acknowledgement is a step towards a cultural and political shift that prioritises peace and justice for all peoples, and abandons the framing of Israel as a victim, always justified in its actions.

Combatants for Peace’s alternative Memorial Day:
A short video about the alternative Memorial Day:
Human Rights Watch’s report on civilian deaths during the Lebanon War 2006: