A few weeks ago I had the honor of participating, for the third time, in the Alternative Memorial Day Service in Tel Aviv, together with my friend and colleague Mira Awad.
This is a joint Israeli-Palestinian event, organized by the Parent’s Circle and the Combatants for Peace. It has been taking place for the past 12 years, having grown from a small club in the Tel Aviv “underground” to a huge ceremony attended by thousands. This year, we packed 4,300 people into a Tel Aviv basketball arena, with hundreds more in the Beit Jalla, connected by video (in the last minute, Israeli authorities did not let the 300 Palestinian families enter Israel, citing “security concerns”. This did not deter anyone from attending, and technology came to our aid, connecting us all virtually if not physically).
Unfortunately, there were also about 45 Israeli right wing thugs who stood outside the arena where the event took place, cursing the bereaved families and guests as they entered and departed the hall, spitting at them and throwing bags of urine.
I was stunned by the public discourse in Israel following this event, a discourse steeped in verbal aggression and fueled by prejudice, racism and outright “non-truths”. The ugly statements these circumstances yielded, bled from Israeli media to Jewish communities throughout the U.S. and elsewhere, poisoning the minds of many well-wishing people everywhere. My goal in writing this article is to expose the lies and propaganda that have led to the public’s distorted view of this incredible ceremony, and bring the truth to light, enabling each caring individual to form an educated opinion for her/himself.
I will begin by saying that regardless of what took place in the ceremony, it was attended by scores of bereaved Israeli families. These are people who have paid the highest price imaginable for the tragic, ongoing conflict that has dominated our lives over the past 100 years. These are mothers and fathers of fallen IDF soldiers (Including David Grossman and his wife), sons and daughters of victims of terror and war, families whose days and nights will forever be tortured by loss and longing, who chose to commemorate their loved ones in this ceremony. This is their way of expressing their anguish and grief. Does anyone have the right to dictate to them how, and with whom, they should mourn? Can any Israeli, or otherwise, decide for them, how to channel their sorrow and with whom? Shouldn’t “freedom of grief” be a natural and intrinsic part of every value-driven society, like freedom of speech, and freedom of religion?
The Israeli alt- right (yes, we have one too!), including MPs and government officials, went to great lengths to present this event as a “ceremony for baby killers and terrorists”. That is a pure lie if there ever was one, vulgar and odious.
No families of terrorists or suicide bombers are invited to this ceremony, Palestinain nor Israeli. The families of Abu Aish and Kawasmeh are not invited, nor are the families of Baruch Goldstein and Natan Zada. The people present in the hall are those who choose to mourn their loss and express their pain, while at the same time calling for peace and reconciliation.
The speakers this year were Roni Hirschzon, who lost both his sons, both IDF soldiers, one in a terrorist bombing and the other to post-traumatic suicide, and Meital Ofer, whose father, sergeant general , was murdered by terrorist in the Jordan Valley.
From the Arab side, we heard Siam Nawareh Abu Nadim, whose son was shot dead by Israeli Border-Patrol Policeman during a demonstration when he posed no threat to anyone, and Marian Saadah , who lost her sister and was wounded herself, when border patrol policemen shot at the family car.
Last year, we heard Areb Aramin, brother of Abir, a ten year old girl which Border Patrol Police shot in the head as she was returning from school. Her father was a peace activist before the murder, and remains an activist to this day , despite his own personal tragedy.
The event is organized by the Combatants for Peace, warriors on both sides of the fence who have chosen to drop their weapons and embark on dialogue, and the Parents Circle…an organization of hundreds of bereaved families, Israeli and Palestinian, who have chosen to overcome the natural instinct for hatred and vengeance, and reach out to each other, with the hope of preventing others in the future from entering the “hell” they live in.
You are all invited to go online, view the ceremony, and see for yourself. Do not become a victim of “alternative facts”.
In recent years, many Israelis have developed the tragic, misinformed concept that we have “no partners for peace”. Well, it is clear that the Palestinians that take part in these organizations and attend these ceremonies are our partners. Why not start by reaching out to them, rather than brutally blocking their entrance to our country and labeling them as terrorists?
Sharing our pain is the first step to healing the deep wounds that have scarred generations of Israelis and Palestinians. Feeling the others’ pain demands letting go of absolute truth and self-righteousness, and of many of the stories we tell ourselves, stories we use in order to “protect” ourselves but which often end up paving the way for the next tragedy. Feeling the other’s pain is the first and most important step to truly seeing them as human, and as such, equal. Once you have cried together, you can no longer think of the other as a monster, a cockroach worthy of extermination. Dehumanization is the most vicious, effective tool used by dictators, tyrants and war-mongers throughout history…maybe that is what can explain the deep objection by extremists to this sort of unity.
We, Israelis and Palestinians must dive into the abyss of our pain and loss, we must release the anger, hatred and frustration from the cages of our soul and replace them with true empathy. It is only from this deep, dark place, from this cold well of tears, that we can start the slow, painstaking ascent towards the light, towards a better future for our children. And in this great journey from darkness, in this courageous, gargantuan feat of forgiveness and forward movement against all odds…we need the help of our friends the world over.
Because…There must be another way.