Next Monday, April 24, for the 18th year, the joint Israeli-Palestinian Memorial Day Ceremony will take place. The event is co-sponsored by the Parents Circle-Families Forum and Combatants for Peace. These Israeli-Palestinian joint organizations represent those who have paid the highest price in this conflict.
This will be my 17th time attending the ceremony. I only missed the first one, simply because I did not know about it. The attendance and participation by Israelis and Palestinians have grown from a few tens of people to hundreds of thousands (including those who participate online). In my view, this is the most important and compelling national ceremony of the year in Israel and Palestine.
Supporting and opposing continued existence
It is probably the only event during the year that is equally difficult and equally important for Israelis and Palestinians. This is also a ceremony that brings out very strong emotional responses both in support and in opposition to its existence.
The opposition includes those from both sides who falsely claim that participants are memorializing the death of terrorists. It is true that Israeli soldiers who have been killed in wars and in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict are memorialized at the ceremony. Their stories are told by their parents, siblings, sons and daughters.
It is also true that many Palestinians who oppose this ceremony view these Israeli soldiers killed by Palestinians as terrorists who were sent to kill them. Many Israelis believe that almost every Palestinian killed by Israelis, soldiers or civilians was a terrorist and that the death was warranted because they also believe that the Israeli army is the most moral army in the world. In our reality, we also know that many completely innocent Israelis and Palestinians have fallen as victims of this conflict.
Those who support this joint Memorial Day ceremony have to believe that in many respects we are all victims of this conflict and the best way to lead to its end is by recognizing the pain that we all suffer as this conflict continues. The price paid as the result of a loved one being killed in this conflict is too great a price and if we don’t do everything possible to bring this conflict to an end, we are guilty of crimes against our very own humanity.
We Israelis and Palestinians all personally know too many people who have been killed in this conflict. We have all buried loved ones, friends and colleagues. Some of us personally know people who have been killed on the other side of the conflict, as well. Some of us have attended funerals and condolence visits to the families of loved ones killed from the other side. The pain is the same on both sides.
THE LONGINGS and memories are the same for an Israeli mother and a Palestinian mother. The pain of fathers, brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles and grandparents does not differ by religion or nationality. The words spoken by some about those killed that refer to them as heroes or martyrs do not cover up the genuine pain that is felt when the television camera is shut.
Parents on both sides enter the bedrooms of their dead children with the same longing and pain. Suffering is suffering regardless of which side of the conflict you come from.
At this joint ceremony, the families tell their stories. They speak about who they buried and about the circumstances of their death. The stories are told in Hebrew and Arabic. The joint audience of Israelis and Palestinians is impacted by the humanity demonstrated by those who have the courage to face the enemy on the other side and reach out with compassion.
Their message is, “Enough! We don’t want more killing. We don’t want to bury more of our loved ones.”
Participation in this ceremony is an uplifting experience. It compels you to feel compassion. I know there are those Israelis who support peace and are against the occupation who say that Memorial Day is a holy day and we should find another opportunity to commemorate the memory of those from both sides who have fallen in the conflict but not on the official Memorial Day. I understand their feelings but I believe that they, too, can find solidarity, a true sense of mourning and commemoration in the joint Israeli-Palestinian ceremony, as well.
I have unending admiration for those courageous family members willing to stand on the stage before hundreds of thousands of people in the audience and online and tell their stories. Like many others, I have said that the Israeli-Palestinian Bereaved Families Forum is the organization I admire most in the entire world and pray I will never be a member of. In fact, we should all pray and work hard to ensure that no new members will join the family of the fallen.
The writer is a political and social entrepreneur who has dedicated his life to peace between Israel and its neighbors. He is a founding member of Kol Ezraheiha-Kol Muwanteneiha (All of the Citizens) political party in Israel. He is now directing The Holy Land Bond and is the Middle East Director for ICO – International Communities Organization.