After years of efforts by MK Elazar Stern (Yesh Atid), he can finally claim victory in his battle to have non-Jewish IDF soldiers buried together with their Jewish comrades-in-arms.
Stern worked for years to have demarcations between Jewish and non-Jewish soldiers removed in the country’s military cemeteries. On Tuesday he told Arutz Sheva that: “I first proposed a law concerning this in 2013, asking that non-Jewish IDF soldiers who fell in battle should be buried together with Jewish soldiers, without anything visible separating them, and back then it appeared that the law had a good chance of being passed in the Knesset.”
A few years prior to that, when Stern was head of Manpower in the IDF, “I went to the home of Rabbi Mordechai Eliyahu and said to him that we should be burying non-Jewish soldiers together ‘in order to promote peace.’ Rabbi Eliyahu told me that there would have to be some kind of partition, and I said as long as it’s not visible from the outside. The Rabbi said that it would be permissible to make a partition underground and that it should protrude a little above-ground, and following our meeting, I tried to advance this issue but it didn’t happen.”
Stern was elected to the Knesset on the Yesh Atid slate in 2013. “When I first entered the Knesset, people told me that in order to advance this particular piece of legislation, what would help most would be to go and talk to Rabbi Yaakov Ariel. I went to his home and spoke with him about it, and he agreed that we could make a hidden partition without anything protruding. Then I went to the IDF’s then-Chief Rabbi, Rafi Peretz, but he refused to accept what Rabbi Ariel had proposed. Not just that – he went himself to Rabbi Ariel and got him to change his mind.”
At a later stage, Stern continues, “We toured some of the country’s military cemeteries, myself together with the IDF Chief Rabbi Eyal Karim, and later with Moshe Yaalon, and Yaalon told me that he would do what he could to have the issue settled via security guidelines, and I said fine, no problem. He told me that they could separate the graves with a bench or something similar, but I insisted that the burials had to be in the same plot.
“In the attack in which Miriam Peretz's second son was killed,” he adds, “my communications officer also lost his life, and he was not recognized as Jewish. I went to see her one evening, and I told her that I hadn’t been able to attend the funeral because my communications officer was also killed and I had to attend his funeral instead, and she said that she agreed with me one hundred percent. And she has been with me in this struggle all the way. In the end, Yaalon agreed with me that from then on, there wouldn’t be separate plots, but he still insisted that there would have to be visible demarcations between the graves, underground. And that’s what’s finally been decided now.”
When asked if the arguments put forward by Rabbi Eliyahu and other rabbis opposed to the process were incorrect, Stern replies: “Rabbi Eliyahu said there had to be a partition between the graves, and Rabbi Ariel said that they had to be buried at different depths. And the final decision respects both of those positions. The main thing, however, is that from the outside, nothing can be seen.”
Stern asserts that, “This decision will do a lot to further Jewish unity. Personally, I don’t think that there should be any separation whatsoever between graves, whether visible or hidden. There’s no more complete conversion than dying in defense of the Jewish People and the Land of Israel. If a soldier didn’t get around to being circumcised, but his whole body was shot to pieces for the Jewish People, that’s not enough? Who decided that refraining from turning on the lights on Shabbat means you’re more religious in G-d’s eyes than someone who gives up his life for the Jewish People? I hope that this decision will bring people closer to Judaism,” he concludes.