Collective Memory, Law and No Women: Why the Israeli Legal Discourse Is Not a Viable Venue for the Commemoration of Women

This article claims that Israeli collective memory often adheres to a narrative pattern that is highly compatible with the frame of mind best titled “national honor”. The following is a dominant narrative pattern in Israeli collective memory: “the villainous enemy shamed and humiliated us; we remember the shame and humiliation, the honorable duty to avenge them, and the brave heroes who sacrificed their lives to cleanse our national honor”. Very few documented legal proceedings can be interpreted to fit this narrative formula; hence the minor role played by the legal discourse in the Israeli collective memory. The 1961 Jerusalem Eichmann trial qualifies as one of these rare legal proceedings.

Moreover, Israelis subconsciously assume both “the villainous enemy” and the “brave heros” to be men.  Consequently, only three types of legal proceedings have paved womens’ entree into the Israeli collective psyche: those that claim recognition for women as “brave heroes” (as in the case of Alice Miller, a young woman who demanded to be given a chance to serve as an IDF pilot); those which claim that women are victims and their assailants “villainous enemies” (as in the case of Rachel Heller, a woman soldier who was raped and killed); and those that were understood to challenge the established categories of “brave heroes” and “villainous enemies”. However, most women participate either in family-law proceedings (such as divorce and child custody), or in criminal proceedings regarding their sexual victimization (such as rape and sexual harassment). These women’s legal stories do not follow the paradigmatic commemorative pattern. Furthermore, the women are “protected” in the name of “privacy” (i.e., “personal honor”) in the criminal context and “family honor” in the family-law context, and their names are concealed. In conclusion, for more women to be commemorated through the legal discourse, Israel’s honor-based mentality must give way in the context of commemoration, as well as in the context of paternalistic “protection” of women.