Nehemia Shtrasler
Haaretz (Opinion)
May 6, 2011 - 12:00am

The ceremony at Mount Herzl that concludes Memorial Day and opens Independence Day is quintessentially Israeli - a special mix of grief and joy, of mourning for the fallen while also celebrating the fact of the state's existence. But even in this ceremony, changes are occurring.

For 57 years, radio personality Amikam Gurevitch read the Yizkor memorial prayer at the ceremony. Last year, Gurevitch was unable to participate, so the Yizkor prayer was read instead by Eli Ben-Shem, chairman of the Yad Lebanim memorial organization for the fallen. Gurevitch used to read the original version written when the Israel Defense Forces were founded, which said, "The people of Israel will remember their sons and daughters." But there is also another version, formulated immediately after the Six-Day War by the chief army chaplain, Rabbi Shlomo Goren, in a burst of messianic enthusiasm. Goren changed one substantive word and wrote, "God will remember His sons and daughters."

For many years, former education minister Zevulun Hammer tried to coerce Gurevitch into reading the Goren version, but Gurevitch stuck to the original, secular, state-oriented version. Last year, however, the organizers exploited Gurevitch's absence to introduce Goren's version into the ceremony. From his resting place in heaven, Hammer is no doubt smiling and saying, "I finally won."

This is not a minor victory. It is indicative of the deep change the state has undergone in its 63 years. From a secular state with a strong government and a weak rabbinate, we have become a state where the rabbis rule and governance is weak. The Yizkor prayer, after all, is meant to remind the people of Israel not to forget those who sacrificed their lives in battle. What does God have to do with this?

But that is not the only change we have undergone. The biggest and most tragic change is the transition from being a nation that pursued peace to a nation that flees it - from a nation that stretched out its hand to its neighbors to a nation that perceives peace as a threat that must be repulsed.

Nine years ago, 24 Arab states came out with an Arab peace initiative. But Israel was so alarmed that it has preferred to ignore it to this very day. Nine years have also elapsed since Syrian President Bashar Assad proposed peace in return for the Golan Heights. His outstretched hand was also rejected with contempt.

This policy of rejecting any attempt at negotiations was invented by Yitzhak Shamir. Whenever such an attempt occurred, he would say: "Nu, good." And when his efforts to reject the initiative bore fruit, he would say with satisfaction: "The threat of peace has been removed."

Benjamin Netanyahu, his diligent pupil, is even more adept than his mentor. He spends most of his time looking for new ideas on how to present himself as someone interested in negotiations, in contrast to the other side, which is torpedoing them. In this way, he can gain another month and another year without moving. Former Labor MK Amir Peretz said of him this week: "He doesn't reject peace, he plays games with it." How right he is.

Until recently, Netanyahu was worried about his upcoming visit to the United States. Perhaps President Barack Obama would announce a new peace initiative, and then what would he do? But now he is calm and happy.

A golden opportunity has fallen into his lap for yet another postponement of the negotiations, because this week, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas' true face was exposed.

How, asks Netanyahu, does a Palestinian leader dare to sign a reconciliation agreement with Hamas, a terrorist organization? This, after all, is proof that Abbas does not really want peace. This shuts the door to negotiations, the prime minister laments, as he smiles to himself because he has once again succeeded in pulling the wool over our eyes. True, even without any agreement with Hamas, I have yet to sit with Mahmoud Abbas for even one moment in order to discuss the borders of a Palestinian state. But who's counting?

Netanyahu would like to believe that time is on our side. He doesn't understand that his rejectionist policy is undermining our independence to the point of endangering our existence.

The Western world is no longer prepared to accept the occupation. The countries of Europe will recognize a Palestinian state in September, and this will begin the process of imposing an agreement on Israel. International investors are already voting with their feet. They are not prepared to risk their money here. How long can we resist the pressure of the entire world?

After all, South Africa also thought it was strong and independent - until sanctions were imposed on it. The zealots of Masada 2,000 years ago thought they were big heroes as well, until they had no choice but to commit suicide - with complete independence, of course.


American Task Force on Palestine - 1634 Eye St. NW, Suite 725, Washington DC 20006 - Telephone: 202-262-0017