Bereaved families may pose a security threat.
This obviously was the consideration behind the decision to cancel entry permits to hundreds of Palestinians, who wanted to participate in the 12th joint Israeli Palestinian memorial ceremony on May 30th in Tel Aviv, organized by Combatants for Peace and the The Parents Circle – Families Forum. The cancellation came from the Coordinator of the Government Activities in the Territories Major General Yoav Mordechai, but according to a source in the Forum, it is clear that the decision was taken by the Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman.
It is beyond belief that a double checked Palestinian matron, on the peak of the internationally broadcast ceremony, would stab with cuticle scissors her Israeli sister in pain.
And yet these people, who days and nights are living their tragedies through, are extremely dangerous.
They are dangerous to the status quo. They are dangerous for the establishment, for that matter.
After losing their dear ones, they have nothing much to fear.
Deciding not to hate, they are immune to brainwash.
And above all, by their personal example, they refute the mantra “there’s nobody to talk to.”
Here they are, hand in hand with their Israeli counterparts, ready to talk and to reconcile, to look for another way. Not ready to continue with the cycle of violence.
By blocking the Palestinians from joining the peace yearning Israelis, the Government has sent to the public a clear message: peace is not on its agenda.
I’ve quit attending official memorial ceremonies, including the most depressing ones, those of my school kids, years ago. Two things were missing: a hope as well as any reminder of the other side. Well, the other side was present – as evil incarnate, a dark formless mass with no faces. As such, it suited perfectly to the narrative of the once persecuted people: the entire world is against us.
And the hope? Forget it. We will live by the sword. We are ready to pay the price for the sake of our homeland. We will keep building in the occupied territories, because the settlements serve as the shield that protects us from invasion of the barbarians’ hordes. We will somehow get along with the growing cost of living and declining quality of school education and medical service.
And we will raise our kids not to live happily side by side with our neighbors, but to kill and get killed.
Because there’s nobody to talk to.
Also this year I planned to join the bereaved families in Tel Aviv. To get inside, one has to come early – Shlomo Group Arena, which seats 3500, is usually packed and the popularity of the event is on the rise.
Yet in the morning, following the cancellation of the entry permits, the Family Circle Forum CEO Rami Elhanan dispatched a dramatic message, calling members of the Forum to join an improvised event in a West Bank Christian town of Beit Jalla, at Talitha Kumi School.
“My sisters and brothers, members of the Forum! The forces of Darkness prevent us from meeting our Palestinian partners,” he wrote. “This as an opportunity to show that we move forward, whatever happens! Let’s create in Beit Jalla a historic event of Israeli-Palestinian fate-sharing, and demonstrate our commitment and determination to a better future in this country. Let us strengthen our Palestinian brethren under the yoke of occupation and the prisoner crisis. In Tel Aviv there will be thousands. In Talitha Kumi, we shall show to Lieberman who we are and what our strength is!
In the evening, buses took Israelis from Tel Aviv and Jerusalem to Beit Jalla. The hall was packed to full capacity with young people sitting on the floor. Those who could not enter followed the event on screens outside. A group of Palestinians, determination on their faces, stood silently in the corner holding posters of their jailed friends.
The ceremony, presented by a young Israeli girl, who also served as a Herbrew/Arabic translator, was opened with brief speeches of the participants, some of which were supposed to be delivered in Tel Aviv. Leaders and participants of the Parents Circle and Combatants for Peace, including some of bereaved parents spoke about their losses and how they dealt with it. Later, the ceremony in Tel Aviv was broadcast on a video screens in the center of the hall, as well as outdoors.
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Look at the faces. I hope I’ve managed to capture the atmosphere of the event. Concentrating on the visual aspect of the story, I’ve left its verbal part to a prominent human rights activist Rabbi Arik Ascherman, who was among the audience.
“I think the main message that we heard both from bereaved Israelis and bereaved Palestinians was that they and their families were making an effort to dedicate their energies to peace, understanding and positive pursuits, rather than hating,” says Ascherman next morning as he speaks from the office of his Haqel – Jews and Arabs In Defense of Human Rights Israeli/Palestinian interfaith NGO.
He accentuates: “There were several things that struck me.
We know that there are some who are outraged by the idea of Palestinian/Israeli memorial day. They say: “This is the day of our pain, this is our narrative.” They see it as desecrated by sharing with the others. Yet there was a powerful and amazing thing to have Palestinians truly listening to bereaved Israelis who had lost loved ones to terror and Israelis who were truly listening to the stories of Palestinians who lost loved ones. What can be more promising for the future?”
“There are people who are convinced that there is nobody to talk to and who would repeat the lines about education in Palestinian society to hate Israelis. Yet they should be the first to understand how important and wonderful this is that in some space there are people who are willing to listen and understand and open up their hearts to each other.”
Rabbi Ascherman adds that on that night he attended two memorial events “because my daughter was leading a neighborhood memorial ceremony and then I traveled to Beit Jalla. I was struck that in both places there was a deep and fervent wish to put an end to the violence.”
“One of the things I thought on that day was peace. I think that on one hand we have to believe in the justice of the way we’ve chosen. At the same time I thought of the words I heard from the well known in the United States social rights rabbi Balfour Brikner, who said: There isn’t a day that I don’t look in the mirror and ask myself: “Am I doing the right thing?”
“And I think that if we ever are going to achieve peace, we all, Israelis and Palestinians, on one hand need to have deep belief in the way we’ve chosen and on the other to be willing to question and test it and always asking ourselves: “Is there another way?”