Thousands of Israelis, Palestinians commemorate Memorial Day in joint ceremony
Around 8,000 people arrived in Tel Aviv’s HaYarkon Park to attend the polarizing 13th annual joint Israeli-Palestinian memorial service in honor of fallen victims on both sides of the ongoing conflict, after the defense minister’s order to deny access to Palestinians was overruled by Israel's High Court earlier Tuesday.
The High Court’s ruling came after the organizers of the ceremony, Parents Circle – Families Forum and Combatants for Peace -- filed an urgent petition against Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman’s decision to bar 110 Palestinians from entering Israel to attend the event, which he called a “demonstration of bad taste and insensitivity.”
Just hours prior to the event the High Court of Justice ordered Liberman to grant entry permits to 90 Palestinians from the West Bank. However, due to the short turnaround, a number were unable to obtain visas in time.
"The occupation did not give me permission to attend the ceremony," said one Palestinian on a video clip played at the start of the event. "But, I do't need permission to say that I stand with you all there and am your partner in hope."
Organizers of the event said they aimed to bring together the bereaved families of Israelis and Palestinians, emphasizing that both sides are victims to the conflict and that their message is one of peace rather than political.
“I think it’s the only event that happens on Memorial Day that actually brings hope," says Robi Damelin, one of the event's organizers, Israel's daily Haaretz reported.
Lior Barbash, 32, who was in attendance at the ceremony told i24NEWS that he was moved by "the desire to bridge the gap on this difficult day." He described the ceremony as "touching, intimate and hopeful" and said it was encouraging to see so many people unite in a desire to "understand and acknowledge the pain of the other side."
Proponents of the “alternative ceremony” argued that the defense minister does not hold a monopoly on the nation’s sensitivities, but his supporters call it offensive to the families of Israeli victims and counter-demonstrators against the ceremony have continued.
More than one hundred far-right activist counter-protesters heckled participants, shouting "Death to the Arabs", calling for the rebuilding of the Temple and were even seen burning the Palestinian flag. Speakers included Benzi Gopstein, founderof Lehava an anti-assimilation organization and Itamar Ben-Gvir member of Otzma LeYisrael, referred to as an alt-right Jewish political party.
However, the protests were relatively peaceful in comparison with last year, i24NEWS reported, as police maintained a significant buffer-zone to contain counter-protesters at a distance. Last year saw protesters turn violent as some threw objects at the roughly 4,000 participants.
Palestinians and Israeli members of the left took the stage, drawing also renowned Israeli author David Grossman, who lost a son in the Second Lebanon War, and Amal Abu Saad, the widow of late Yacoub Abu al-Qayan, who was killed by Israeli police last year in Umm al-Hiran.
"I belong to Bedouin society, which is part of Palestinian society and I am a citizen of the State of Israel," Abu Saad said explaining the complexity of her identity. She then went on to urge those to suffering to "recognize the narrative of the other, even if one does not accept it in its entirety."
Delivering a stirring speech, Grossman began by addressing the "noise" around the ceremony. "Beyond the noise. behind us there is deep silence around us, the silence of the void of losing our loved one," he said.
Lamenting the loss of his son Uri 12 years ago, Grossman said: “I found that every time I am tempted to give in to anger and hatred I feel immediately that I am losing the vital connection with my son. I choose my choice and it seems that everyone who is here tonight has made the same choice.”
Expounding the definition of "home", Grossman's speech segued into criticisms of the Israeli government referencing treatment of Palestinians as well as the contested conduct towards thousands of African asylum-seekers.
“Israel at 70 may be a fortress, but it’s still not a home," he said. "The solution to the great complexity of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict can be summed up this way: if the Palestinians don’t have a home then Israelis won’t have a home either.”
Part way through his speech he vowed to donate half the money received from this year's Israel Prize to the Parents Circle for bereaved Palestinian and Israeli families and to Eliphelet, an organization that supports refugee children in South Tel Aviv.
Israel's memorial day 'Yom Hazikaron' is said to be the official remembrance day for fallen soldiers and victims of terrorism and is followed by celebrations on Israel's Independence day.
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I have no argument with those Arabs who truly want peace, but do they stand strong for the peace of Christian Arabs as well?