Some 10,000 Israelis and dozens of Palestinians marked Memorial Day in joint ceremonies in Tel Aviv, Haifa and Kibbutz Harduf in the Galilee on Tuesday night, May 7. The largest such event, in Tel Aviv, was criticized by far-right Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu earlier this week. “There is no place for a memorial ceremony likening the blood of our people and that of terrorists,” Netanyahu, who is also defense minister, said in a post on his Twitter account. “That is why I refused to allow entry to [Palestinian] participants, and I think the High Court should not have intervened in that decision of mine.”
The High Court ruled on Monday that Israel must grant permits to 100 Palestinians to attend the ceremony in Tel Aviv. In 2018, it made a similar decision after then-Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman tried to bar Palestinians from attending the service.
The joint ceremony in Tel Aviv has been held since 2006 and is organized by the Israeli and Palestinian peace movement organizations Combatants for Peace and The Parents Circle – Families Forum (PCFF), which bring together bereaved families from both sides of the conflict. The event is pitched as a pro-coexistence alternative to the official Israeli Memorial Day events.
Before the event took place, dozens of right-wing activists gathered outside the venue to protest, with some waving large Israeli flags and others yelling racist slurs, including “Death to Arabs,” “We hate Arabs,” and “Arabs are sons of bitches.” A handful of demonstrators spit on people entering the event. Later Tuesday evening, the police said it had arrested five protesters who caused disturbances and threw objects at people participating in the service.
Mika Almog and Samira Saraya opened the ceremony, held in Hebrew and Arabic, called “Sharing Sorrow, Bringing Hope,” saying that Israelis and Palestinians needed to take action to put an end to the conflict. “All of us, Israelis and Palestinians, are victims of the conflict, pain and loss, but we are also its perpetrators,” Saraya and Almog said. “Therefore, it is in our power and duty to bring it to a conclusion and provide hope and a future for ourselves and our kids.”
Mohammed Unbus, Combatants for Peace member from the occupied West Bank city of Tulkarem, said in a video recording eulogizing his brother, who the Israel Defense Forces killed during the Second Intifada. “I hate the violence that caused me to lose you,” Unbus said. “I still believe that the vortex of violence will only come to an end through joint action in order to create change in this holy land.”
Religious Jewish activist from Yeruham in the Negev, Leah Shakdiel said, “We share the pain of our bereavement with the other side and listen to the pain of its bereavement so that we can participate with the other side in the joys of life, growth and peace.” Fatima Mohammadeen, a member of the Gaza Youth Committee, delivered a speech in a recorded statement in which she emphasized the plight of Palestinians in Gaza. “It is difficult to describe life in Gaza. We live under the most horrific forms of punishment and are denied the most basic aspects of life, such as education, freedom and medical care,” she said.
Teenager Mohammed Ali Darwish, from the Aida refugee camp in Bethlehem, recalled the October 2015 death of his friend Abed al-Rahman Shadi Abdallah, 12, who was killed by an IDF bullet as he watched a Palestinian demonstration. The two of us loved to play soccer together, Darwish recalled. “I remember you asking me, to watch the clashes,” Darwish said, explaining that his fear kept him from going. “I did not know that would be your last request,” he said.
He remembered watching Abdallah as he walked to the violent protest. “My eyes followed you until I could hardly see you,” Darwish said. “I moved forward just a little to call you back, but the sound of the bullets and the yelling were louder than my voice.” He recalled how he went to the scene of his friend’s death. “I saw you lying on the floor soaked in blood… After but a few moments you were picked up and carried you away forever. I know that today, this bloody conflict full of hate and hostility does not spare or show mercy to anyone – not even innocent children.” On this night, Darwish explained, “I am talking about you and your death in front of thousands of people who believe in life and humanity – and I know your death was not in vain.”
Last year’s event was held at Tel Aviv’s Hayarkon Park with nearly 8,000 Israelis joining bereaved Israeli and Palestinian families. Among those who addressed the 2018 ceremony was author David Grossman, whose son was killed in the Second Lebanon War, and Dr. Amal Abu Sa’ad, whose husband Yaqoub Mousa Abu al-Qia’an was shot dead by Israeli police in the Negev Bedouin village of Umm al-Hiran a year earlier.
On Tuesday evening, hundreds participated in another alternative Memorial Day ceremony held in Haifa, among them the veteran Communist activist Benjamin Gonen, author Lilach Weber, actor Adiv Jahashan, feminist activist Jessica Nevo and Communist member of the Municipal Council of Haifa, Raja Zaatry. In addition, some 600 people attended another Israeli-Palestinian Memorial Day at kibbutz Harduf in the Galilee.
Alternative Torch-Lighting Ceremony in Jerusalem
The Yesh Gvul movement held last night (Wednesday) its 22nd annual alternative torch-lighting ceremony for Independence Day. Hundreds gathered in front of the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem to honor prominent individuals who “dedicate their time and energy to lighting up the dark corners of Israeli society and politics, today and always.” Founded in 1982 in the shadow of the First Lebanon War, Yesh Gvul attempts to provide support to conscientious objectors and “refuseniks”: Israelis who object to all or some forms of service in the military because of the occupation of the Palestinian territories.