Mishkenot, first neighborhood outside the walls of Jerusalem, where Aaron Hirschler was killed
I was a bit taken aback when I saw the first headline in yesterday morning’s Haaretz. Every year, on Israeli Remembrance Day, the Ministry of Defence issues a press release – quoted in all of the news media – regarding the total number of “fallen soldiers and victims of terrorism”. Remembrance Day was established to commemorate soldiers and members of the pre-state militias but, in 1998, the first Netanyahu government decided to extend commemoration on this day to victims of terrorism as well. The decision aroused a good deal of polemic at the time, not least from the families of fallen soldiers, but the “victims of hostile actions” (as they are officially called) are now just another part of the day’s events and media attention.
What struck me in yesterday’s headline was the date from which the Defence Ministry now calculates the number of Israeli dead: 1860! It seems that in 2005, the MoD decided to count anyone and everyone whose death could somehow be related to the “rebirth of Israel”. Apart from being the year of Herzl’s birth, 1860 is the year in which the first Jewish neighbourhood outside the walls of Jerusalem’s Old City was established – often designated in Zionist historiography (and indeed that is what I was taught in High School) as the beginning of the Zionist settlement project, although Zionism had not yet been invented of course, and far more prosaic reasons led Jews to abandon the Old City.
The MoD’s memorial website has a list of all of the “fallen”, with short biographies, searchable by date. The very first entry is that of Aaron Hirschler, killed not in 1860, but in 1873. The circumstances surrounding Hirschler’s death are described as follows:
The year 5633 [1872-1873] was one of abundant rainfall that filled all of the cisterns in the courtyards, and the city’s Jewish residents were not forced to buy water at full price from the Arab residents of the village of Silwan. The Arabs, who saw their living slip from their hands, began to raid the homes of the Jews, stealing their property. On the second day of Rosh Hodesh of the month of Tevet 5633 (January 1873), a number of Arabs broke into the family home. Aaron stopped his studies, chased them away, pursued them and tried to catch them. The Arabs, who were afraid that he might identify them, shot him. Aaron was hit by 12 bullets and was taken to hospital. On 6 Tevet 5633 (January 1873), he died of his wounds and was laid to rest in the cemetery on the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem.
The following entries, describe victims of burglaries, street brawls with drunken “Christian Arabs” (“cursing the Jews and insulting Jewish women”), revenge for the “accidental” killing of an Arab, and at least one case in which “the source of the gunshot is a mystery, and it is not known whether [the victim] was shot by an Arab or by accident, by his partner on guard duty”.
It is ironic that a country that felt deep shame at the helplessness of the victims of the Holocaust – so much so that Holocaust Remembrance Day was set on the anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, and named “Holocaust and Heroism Remembrance Day” in order to downplay the memory of those who “went like sheep to the slaughter” – has, in recent years, sought to turn its own heroes into ordinary victims, no different from the victims of terrorist attacks, break-ins or brawls.