From Tuesday to Wednesday night on April 17 to 18, millions of Israelis memorialized Yom Hazikaron, the day of remembrance for fallen soldiers and victims of terror, upon the land of Israel. But 130 Israeli divers memorialized the day first on land, and then 30 meters below Israel’s Mediterranean Sea.
For the last 16 years, Putzker Diving Club, located in the northwest city of Nahariya, has conducted a Yom Hazikaron ceremony, honoring the lives of the Shayetet 13 (Israeli naval SEALS) 12 navy commandos killed while fighting Hezbollah in Lebanon. The Hezbollah ambush occurred after the terrorist organization hacked into nearby Israeli drone signals. Following the 11am siren, Putzker conducts a traditional Yom Hazikaron ceremony for the 12 soldiers, which often includes a few of their family members and close friends, but is also open to the public.
The “Kidon” Sa’ar class missile boat, which was purposefully sunk, lies nearly 30 meters below water. The Israeli boat was built in Haifa and used by the Israeli navy for 20 years. The site is visited by thousands of people every year from all over the world and is well taken care of, as Putzker often makes repairs to the site and memorial to ensure it remains in honorable condition.
Throughout the morning and day, divers take a boat out 3 kilometers and descend to the site of the wreck, which includes parts of a 60-meter boat.
At the front of the boat lies a memorial for the fallen navy soldiers: 12 chairs implanted into the boat with cement in the shape of a bat, the navy emblem, and on the back of each chair, their names inscribed, next to the logo of the navy seals.
“Each chair represents a seat of each person missing, as if they still sit there,” said Yair Yam, founder of the Putzker Diving Club. “Every year on Yom Hazikaron, we also put flags under the water. Each chair has a laminated picture with their name and information.
“Every year we read about one of the soldiers who died. This year we honored Guy Golan, who was 21 years old when he died. He was a good, smiling, and quiet guy, a perfectionist. His family comes every year to the ceremony from Kibbutz Hatzor, bringing one or two buses with friends who dive at the memorial every year.”
Yam, a name which means “sea” in Hebrew, thought up the idea with one of his diving instructors and a friend of the family of one of the soldiers who was killed in the 1997 incident.
“We thought what would be the best and the most special thing to remember the soldiers, and the Putzker staff knew that we wanted to have some more diving reefs, so we contacted the navy and they said they had a missile boat out of commission to give us,” he told Breaking Israel News.
Yam was born in Nahariya, and developed an appreciation and love for the sea when his father took him fishing at age five. In 1994, they opened the dive center and have since become an environmentally friendly diving site and nature reserve, also working with Israeli research universities like Haifa University and Tel Aviv University.
Yam admires the quiet underneath the water, and believes it is the perfect place for a memorial. “We have respect for soldiers who have fallen. Because of them, we have quiet here on the land. And now, we need to thank them and their families for their sacrifice so we can continue to live here in peace.”
According to Yam, the club gets more divers each year who request to participate, often receiving 30-40 additional people per year, but unfortunately cannot accommodate them all.
“Last year was the 20th anniversary of the incident, which was special. This year, it was special because Israel is having its 70th birthday,” Yam explained.
For Israelis, Yam maintained that the site increases knowledge of the 1997 incident, “When you live normally, you don’t remember, but when you go under the water at our site, it reminds you.” For tourists to Israel, he said, “they come to understand the memorial’s meaning for us.”
“It’s very special to see the memorial and a lot of creatures who have made it their home,” Yam told Breaking Israel News.
This year, Merom Harpaz, blogger of diver.co.il, descended to the memorial site for the second time, this time with his 29-year old son, Omri. “It really gives you the feeling that when you are inside the water and sea, everything is silent. You can just be with those who lost their lives,” he told Breaking Israel News.
The younger Harpaz agreed, saying the site’s meticulous upkeep, decorations, and respect for each individual who was lost, was especially inspiring.
The older Merom also maintained that in light of Israel’s 70th year of independence, it is especially important to remember and feel the loss of those who made the state’s existence possible. He told Breaking Israel News, “We should also remember that the doctor who was killed in the force was a Druze– this shows the mix of cultures who sacrifice for Israel and shows the unity of the people that brought the state to it’s 70th year of independence.”
He concluded that like any other dive site, this memorial “combines a love for SCUBA diving and Israel’s sea” but more importantly, it memorializes those who lost their lives during combat”–a meaningful message for Israel’s Memorial Day.