Bereaved Families Have Been Fighting Epidemics for Decades by the Forward

Israelis and Palestinians mourn our losses together on Yom Hazikaron

Image by Gili Getz

Fighting dangerous pathogens that rip through societies is not new to joint Israeli-Palestinian organizations like the Parents Circle-Families Forum and Combatants for Peace. Fear, hatred, and dehumanization, like viruses, are invisible. They are often asymptomatic in many and lead to senseless fatalities in others. COVID-19 and fear, hatred and dehumanization know no borders, religion or nationality. We work to treat them on an individual, case-by-case level and with broad measures on a societal level.

From the horrible darkness of the coronavirus outbreak, some narrow shards of light have nonetheless emerged. Traffic is gone; gas is affordable; the air feels cleaner, healthcare workers are praised instead of athletes and celebrities.

The same is true for Israeli-Palestinian organizations. After a decade of co-hosting the Joint Memorial Day Ceremony, this year Parents Circle and Combatants for Peace are hosting the Ceremony virtually. And while there will be no live audience this year (last year brought 9,000 Israelis and Palestinians), there is a silver lining. This year, all across the world, thousands of people will come together to watch the same content and at the very same time in three languages.

There is tremendous power in that global solidarity. Palestinians will not need permits to enter Israel, nor will they need to cross checkpoints. In the past, it took rulings at the Supreme Court level to obtain permits. They will also not need to fear anti-normalization sentiments back home. This year, more than 40 American organizations have joined together to co-sponsor the Ceremony — from the Union of Reform Judaism to IfNotNow — an unprecedented bridging of organizations from all across the community.

Yom Hazikaron, Israeli Memorial Day, is a sacred day in Israel. Nearly every Israeli family has lost someone in the conflict, and on Memorial Day, they come together to remember and to grieve collectively.

But traditionally, Israelis do not acknowledge that their grief is equally shared by Palestinians. And as a result, the official Israeli ceremonies often offer a narrative of hopelessness, accepting that “we must live or die by our swords.”

Tragically, this leads to deep pain, fueling the despair and sense of exclusive victimhood prevalent in both societies today, which is itself an engine of continued conflict.

There is still great uncertainty about how to stop the coronavirus pandemic, and over what our world will look like once that happens. Sometimes, it also seems like Israelis and Palestinians fear the uncertainty of what their lives and very identities would be like without the fear and hatred that has defined their relationship, for such a long time.

But we do know, with great certainty, that we must acknowledge that war is not an act of fate. We can flatten the curve of bereavement if we can accept that the pain of all the speakers at the ceremony. Bereaved Palestinian Yaquob Al Rawi lost his wife. He shares his pain with Tal Kfir, a bereaved Israeli who lost her sister.

When Palestinians and Israelis challenge the status quo and come together to acknowledge each other’s loss, we can build a new reality based on mutual respect, dignity, equality, freedom and peace.

The Joint memorial speaks to this strange moment, where we’re recognizing our inherent interconnectedness, and searching for tools that can eliminate the threat of needless deaths, but also for hope.

On Monday, thousands of Israelis, Palestinians and other citizens of the world will come together to share grief from their past, and to build hope for their future. Please join us.

The Joint Memorial Day Ceremony will be held via livestream on Monday, April 27 at 1:30 EST. You can join the ceremony’s watch page here.

Shiri Ourian is the Executive Director of the American Friends of the Parents Circle - Families Forum, bereaved Israelis and Palestinians for peace.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Forward.


Israelis and Palestinians mourn our losses together on Yom Hazikaron

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Israelis and Palestinians mourn our losses together on Yom Hazikaron

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