Israel's Memorial Day highlights stark divisions

They were two Israeli brothers with radically different views toward the Palestinians: One, an activist for Palestinian rights, the other, a resident of one of Israel's most radical settlements.

Nothing, perhaps, reflected these stark differences more than the place Moti Fogel chose on Israel's Memorial Day to pay tribute to his brother — believed slain by Palestinian militants just two months ago: a ceremony mourning victims on both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Raised as children of the settlement movement, Moti and Udi Fogel were taught that Jewish control of the West Bank — lands promised to the Jewish people in the Bible — was a supreme imperative that eclipsed the Palestinians' demand to control their own destiny in an independent state.

But each took Jewish teachings in a different direction. Udi went to live in Itamar, a radical Jewish settlement deep inside the West Bank. Moti, convinced that the Jewish people should not rule another, became a champion of the idea that Israelis and Palestinians should live together in a single state.

Relations between the two were strained over politics but the two tried to steer away from the subject, Moti Fogel said. Then in March, Udi Fogel, his wife, and three of their children, aged 11, 4 and three months, were stabbed to death at their home in the settlement of Itamar while they slept. Two Palestinian teenagers from a nearby village have been arrested in the attack.

Moti Fogel is a rarity on the Israeli political landscape, an observant Jew active on behalf of Palestinian rights. Still, at the ceremony, he deplored the notion that his brother's death might be exploited for political means, repeating a message delivered at an emotional funeral attended by thousands of people, including hard-line Cabinet ministers.

"The use of the memory of the dead to justify war and the killing of others is no more wrong than using their memory to promote peace," he told an overflow audience of hundreds in Tel Aviv. "It's a cynical use and an overly easy escape from the wordless sorrow of the death of a human being."

The message did not resonate with the 10 or so young protesters outside the hall who found Fogel's presence there to be offensive.

"We won't allow the memory of the fallen to be disgraced," they chanted, pumping their fists in the air and hoisting Israeli flags emblazoned with the words, "A Jewish Israel."

A police cordon kept the protesters behind a barrier.

There were few Palestinians in the audience, organizers said, because Israel bans Palestinians in the West Bank from entering Israel during holidays as a security precaution.

Clips of Palestinians whose relatives were killed by Israeli soldiers were shown at the event.

The Fogels were among the more than 25,000 soldiers and civilians killed in fighting since 1860, the date cited as the beginning of modern Jewish immigration, honored this Memorial Day.

During its six decades, Israel has fought a half dozen wars against neighboring nations and battled two Palestinian uprisings.

Memorial Day is one of the most somber and emotional days on the Israeli calendar. Nearly every Israeli family has been touched during decades of conflict, either losing a relative or knowing someone who has had a loved one die in battle.

A wailing siren that brought the country to a standstill in a minute of silence ushered in the day's observances Sunday night. Restaurants, movies, theaters and clubs shut down, the Israeli flag was flown at half-staff and radio and TV stations aired documentaries about Israel's wars and stories of fallen soldiers.

A second siren sounded across the country Monday morning, followed by state ceremonies at military cemeteries.

"I am one of you, I know how immense the pain is," said Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, whose brother, Yoni, an army commander, was killed during a famous hostage rescue in Entebbe, Uganda.

Amid grief, "we take comfort in the flow of life and in our private and national endeavors, in the hope for reconciliation and peace," Netanyahu told the audience at the main ceremony at Mount Herzl, Israel's national cemetery.

The somber tone will transition abruptly into Independence Day celebrations after sundown Monday at a colorful ceremony in Jerusalem capped with a fireworks display.