On the eve of Israel’s Memorial Day for fallen soldiers, for the eighth year running, Combatants for Peace (CFP) is due to hold its joint Palestinian-Israeli memorial ceremony. The event, its attendance growing every year, features bereaved families from both sides of the divide, ex-combatants, and members of the general public. Participants include Palestinians from the occupied territories who have to apply for permits in order to attend. Each year, while a few participants have had their requests denied, an overwhelming majority have been accepted.

This year, 109 Palestinians applied for permits. All of them were rejected. The army has the right to deny permits on security grounds, but given that the army has accepted the vast majority of applications in previous years, it’s worth asking what’s changed. The CFP says an informal response from the army stated that “the request was denied at the highest level…the army is against this ceremony in principle.”

The new defense minister is Moshe Ya’alon, a known hawk, whose first move of note in his new position was to take a NIS100,000 helicopter flight to his daughter’s wedding. While we cannot yet be sure what has caused this change of policy in the defense establishment, it seems reasonable to surmise that it has something to do with the changing of the guard.

The CFP ceremony isn’t for everyone. With the conflict still ongoing, it’s understandable that some would find the notion of a joint Palestinian-Israeli memorial ceremony difficult to digest. But that does not justify suppressing it. A joint ceremony without Palestinian participants loses its raison d’etre. The military should have the right to deny permits on genuine security grounds, but it should not be allowed to interfere so blatantly in civilian events.

CFP are trying all legal avenues to try and reverse the decision, but it remains to be seen whether they will have enough time to do so. Perhaps they will benefit from the publicity. Whatever one’s position on the conflict, only when Israelis and Palestinians sit down and try to understand one another’s positions will any progress be possible. As their recent initiative to bring Palestinian members to Yad Vashem (for which permits weren’t denied) shows, CFP are at the forefront of these efforts: whatever one’s differences with the details of the policies they advocate, their work should be encouraged, not suppressed, especially not by the army.

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