When I heard the barrage of harrowing sirens in Tel Aviv on that Thursday night, my heart sank. So much pain and trauma – for the victims of the shooting who didn’t know they were going to lose their lives when they sat for a beer at the Ilka bar on Dizengoff Street, for their families, for the wounded who will now endure months of physical and psychological therapy, for the witnesses who will now jump every time they hear a loud noise on the street.
But the impact of this horrific event does not stop here. For everyday Palestinians living in Jenin, their streets will be filled with Israeli army soldiers day and night, with the risk of inhumane and invasive raids, as well as restrictions on their movement and liberties, which in turn breeds resentment and ill-feeling towards the soldiers and the Israeli people.
This is the deadly and vicious cycle that we all know too well in Israel and Palestine, and for Israelis and Palestinians, it is this cycle that has come to shape our lives on this earth.
Yom Hazikaron is one of the days that reminds us that no matter if you’re Palestinian or Israeli, we are all slaves to this cycle of bloodshed, and we won’t be spared any more suffering unless we come together.
It is this rationale that led to the inception of the annual Israeli-Palestinian Yom Hazikaron remembrance ceremony 17 years ago, hosted by the Combatants for Peace movement and the Parents Circle – Families Forum, an organization of Palestinian and Israeli families who have lost immediate family members due to the conflict. At the ceremony, dignitaries from around the world send well wishes, bereaved Israeli and Palestinian families unite to share stories of their loved ones who were lost to the conflict, and speakers share their vision towards a peaceful future together. Year after year, this is how hundreds of Palestinians and Israelis mark this day.
I remember how moved I was the first time I attended the ceremony. I felt as if I had walked into the holies of holies. This was going to be the way forward, to end the cycle, I thought. In 2018, I joined the steering team of the ceremony, and this year and last year I am the ceremony director.
You might be asking why, of all the days of the year, we do this on Israel’s Memorial Day for the Fallen Soldiers and Victims of Terrorism. Perhaps other less poignant days would provide a better opportunity to promote peace between Israelis and Palestinians.
Layla Sheikh is a Palestinian woman who lost her son at six months old after he inhaled tear gas from an Israeli army raid in her village. Layla and her husband rushed him to a nearby hospital, but were stopped by Israeli personnel at checkpoints. By the time they reached the hospital, it was too late. She didn’t speak to an Israeli for 16 years after she lost her baby. After her friend convinced her to join a PCFF meeting, she was moved by how Israelis and Palestinians embraced each other like family.
After Layla hosted and spoke at last year’s Joint Memorial Ceremony, she was shocked when she got back home and found her children waiting up for her in the early hours of the morning. Why are you all awake, she asked them. They said that they were so proud of her, they wanted to tell her as soon as she got home.
This is exactly the reason why Yom Hazikaron is the most fitting day to unite two grieving societies struck by the bloodshed and suffering that reinforces the cycle.
For me, this joint ceremony is a window into a world of how things could and should be. Nothing has worked so far – and since we’ve never done it before, why not try a new direction, one in which we listen to each other and work together toward ending the vicious cycle of violence?
Only together can we close this cycle of bloodshed. I believe this fervently. We both live on this land, and neither of us is going anywhere. Life is hard enough without the constant threat of violence – at the end of the day, most Israelis and Palestinians just want to live in peace and quiet.
I’m not saying it’s going to be easy, that’s for sure. War is hard, but so is peace. It’s hard to trust the unknown and work at changing ideals and values at both an individual and societal level when the outcome isn’t concrete. There will be a price to pay, and it grows dearer every minute we keep fighting. But the price of war is even higher, and all we get in return is more war. So isn’t it worth it to pay a price but get peace in the end?
So we believe. Like in previous years, Israelis and Palestinians will attend the Joint Memorial Ceremony, placing their trust in something bigger than themselves in hopes of forging a peaceful future for all the children of Israel and Palestine.