‘The blood you shed’: Israel buries fallen soldiers

Mourners gathered at Jerusalem’s Mount Herzl cemetery, where young Israeli soldiers were laid to rest.

As night blanketed the military cemetery of Jerusalem, mourners streamed in for the funerals of young Israeli soldiers, with only the stifled cries of anguish piercing the steely silence.

Mount Herzl cemetery, named after the founder of political Zionism, has in the past few years seen more remembrance ceremonies than funerals.

But mounds of ochre earth now mark freshly dug graves as Israel buries its soldiers fallen in the battle against Hamas militants, whose shock assault unleashed Saturday has claimed 1 200 lives in the country.

Most of the victims are civilians, but at least 169 Israeli troops have been killed in the battles to repel Hamas fighters. Eleven of them were laid to rest at the cemetery in the night to Wednesday.

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A few steps from the tomb of former prime minister Yitzhak Rabin, the brothers in arms of 20-year-old Noam Elimelekh Rottenberg lowered the coffin draped with Israel’s blue-and-white flag into the grave.

“Noam, this war will be the last. We don’t want to live like that. The blood you shed will be avenged a hundredfold,” vowed Colonel Nissim Yitzhaki, who leads the fallen soldier’s battalion.

Alerted by messages on WhatsApp, around 1 000 people had turned up to mourn the soldiers. Many have no ties with the deceased or their loved ones but have come to share in the collective grief.

Many of them, their jaws clenched, struggled to hold back their tears.

‘Unbearable’

“Difficult days lie ahead for us as we face this cowardly and cruel enemy,” said the colonel, in reference to Israel’s fightback against Hamas militants who had launched their assault on Saturday.

None of Rottenberg’s relatives would talk about the circumstances of his death.

Their pain is palpable in the face of an attack that is unprecedented since Israel’s creation in 1948.

Rabbi Yitzhak Revah, who runs the Talmud Torah religious school that the young man attended, said: “You are dead because you were Jewish… It’s unbearable.”

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Another rabbi, Yitzhak Neiman, with his fists clenched with rage, said the “last time I felt this anger, it was at the gate of Auschwitz”—the Nazi death camp where a million Jews were murdered during World War II.

The roar of a fighter jet across the sky sent a stark reminder of the risk for any large gathering at a time like that.

The crowd had just been informed that in case a warning siren went off, they must seek shelter or lie down on the ground, hands on their heads.

As the sound of the Kaddish, the Jewish prayer for the dead, rose in the night, many in the crowd wiped away their tears.

A few metres away, a mini-digger machine was set to work again, readying more space for victims.

– Agence France-Presse

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