In late March, after a Gaza-launched rocket totalled a house on Moshav Mishmeret in Israel’s Sharon region – a short drive from the heart of Tel Aviv – one of the questions that arose was how the attack, and any subsequent Israeli response, should it come, might affect or even force the postponement of national elections scheduled for April 9. Israeli elections have been postponed due to war in the past – in 1948 and again in 1973 – but a 1992 amendment to the Basic Law governing the Knesset requires a two-thirds super-majority of 80 Knesset members in order to push off a vote. As Giora Pordes, spokesperson for Israel’s Central Elections Committee, put it to the Times of Israel, postponing an election, “could be done, but probably only in theory.”
Israelis take their elections seriously. Voter turnout in the previous national elections in 2015 was over 72 per cent (by comparison, the Canadian federal election the same year had a voter turnout of 68 per cent, and that was the highest rate going back more than 20 years). You don’t have to live in Israel to know this; even 9,250 kilometres away, in Toronto, it’s been clearly evident these last few months. In a campaign that had a bit of everything – the emergence of a legitimate contender to Benjamin Netanyahu’s throne in Benny Gantz, rocket barrages from Gaza, wild allegations of phone hacking and social media schemes, an earth-shattering Golan announcement and, of course, Bibi’s indictment hanging over it all – it felt as though the politicking would never stop. Nothing, it seemed, could stop Israelis from their laser-focus on the election. And then, just like that, something did.
Last week, the remains of Zachary Baumel were returned to Israel nearly 37 years after he went missing during the 1982 Lebanon War. At the Battle of Sultan Yacoub, in which 30 Israeli soldiers perished, tank commander Baumel and two other IDF soldiers, Yehuda Katz and Zvi Feldman, were taken captive. Now, suddenly, Baumel’s body was back in Israel.
The news came as a shock (as did the apparent involvement of Russia, Syria and possibly even the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine in the complex retrieval operation), but Israelis, as they’ve done so many times before, quickly rallied around a fallen son of Israel and the family that kept his memory alive for almost four decades. The mourning was even tinged with a bit of happiness: now that Zachary Baumel was home, his country could finally honour him appropriately.
“The land embraces you so strongly,” Baumel’s sister Osna Haberman said at his funeral, held April 4 at the Mount Herzl military cemetery in Jerusalem and attended by thousands. “And why? Because there is absolute love between the son that gave everything for the land and the land itself, and there is a perfect union here.
“You are together now.”