‘It’s not only numbers,’ says ex-ambassador remembering father’s sacrifice

“It’s not only numbers; it’s families; it’s the lives of people,” commented Danny Danon on Israel’s Memorial Day, Yom Hazikaron.

By Benjamin Kerstein, The Algememiner

For former Israeli ambassador to the UN Danny Danon, Yom HaZikaron — Israel’s Remembrance Day for Fallen Soldiers, which began Tuesday evening — should teach the country to be “very cautious” in deciding affairs of the state: “It’s not only numbers; it’s families; it’s the lives of people.”

Danon, now Chairman of World Likud, knows the human cost of war from personal experience. His own father Yosef was severely wounded in 1969 during Israel’s War of Attrition, and eventually died of his wounds almost 30 years later, on Yom HaZikaron itself.

“The day that was very important for him because, you know, he remembered his friend who didn’t come back from the battlefield, and he joined him the same day,” Danon told The Algemeiner.

“My father, he came from Egypt at a very young age,” he said. “He lived in a ma’abara [transit camp] in Or Yehuda. He grew up in poverty, but with a lot of love and dedication to Israel.”

During his army service, Yosef served as a navigator in a reconnaissance unit. On maneuvers in the Jordan Valley, the unit was attacked by terrorists, Danon recounted, and “he was severely wounded in his head by grenade shrapnel. All of his friends were sure that he would not survive it, because he was severely wounded in the head. He was evacuated to Hadassah hospital by helicopter, and for very long months he was in Hadassah and he fought the wounds. He recovered, but he lost his hearing, and he had a lot of issues, health issues, that were with him until he passed away in 1994.”

“So I grew up with the injuries, with the fact that he couldn’t hear,” Danon explained. “In a way, I was a kind of his speaker to the outside world. I would escort him to meetings in government offices or banks or another thing with the bureaucracy, and I would be able to speak on his behalf.”

Yosef, said Danon, was often caught between his intense love for Israel and his intimate knowledge of the sacrifices required to defend it.

“On the one hand he was very patriotic and proud of his service and sacrifice,” Danon said. “I got to meet a lot of wounded soldiers during my childhood, and I saw that they became more patriotic after the injury. So, they didn’t blame the country or the government.” Yosef, says Danon, “understood that someone had to be there literally on the border and stop the terrorists.”

“So, he stayed very patriotic,” Danon recounted, “but at the same time, for him it was very hard. He couldn’t communicate. He couldn’t speak freely with everybody. So, when he was in a good situation, he would try to do as much as he could; but sometimes, he had to spend long stays in the hospital. He wasn’t happy about that.”

At 8 p.m. Tuesday in Israel, sirens wailed across the country to begin a moment of stillness in honor of the nation’s fallen soldiers. Israeli President Reuven Rivlin called for “the memory of those who fell in wars of Israel be engraved in hearts of nation forever and ever,” in remarks delivered at the Western Wall in Jerusalem.

To Yosef, Danon said, Yom HaZikaron “was a very emotional day for him, because he knew a lot of the people we would speak about. He knew them personally.” In fact, Danon himself was named for one of his father’s fallen comrades, who was killed trying to rescue a wounded soldier.

“He was very optimistic about everything,” Danon said of Yosef, “but on this special day, we all knew that it was a very emotional time.”

To this day, Danon said, Yom HaZikaron is “very emotional for me and for my family,” and the sudden transition from mourning to celebration when Israel’s Independence Day begins immediately after remains difficult.

“For my father, it was very hard to make the transition to the independence celebration,” Danon said. “He would never be able to actually make that transition. And I think in a way also for me today it’s hard and, you know, I would escort my kids to the celebrations, but I would not celebrate completely because of the proximity of events.”

The key lesson Danon has learned is to appreciate what we have today, and to treat it with care. “We should not take it for granted, and we should be very cautious about the decisions that we make,” he said.