Last night, more than 6000 Israeli Jews and Palestinians from all over Israel, including 90 Palestinians from the West Bank, gathered together in the Yarkon Park in North Tel Aviv, for the 13th year of an “alternative” memorial ceremony, one that looks towards the future and not only to the past. The participating Palestinians from the West Bank were granted permission to enter Israel for this occasion against the wishes of Minister of Defense Avigdor Lieberman, thanks to a decision of the Supreme Court of Israel. I identify with this event and wish that it could become the mainstream memorial event in both Israel and Palestine, instead of the worn-out state rituals which sanctify only the painful past.
Many thousands of Palestinians and Israelis have died in the wars and terrorist attacks and counter-terrorist attacks in our region during the past 70 years, since the establishment of the state of Israel. Not just Israelis have died. This event commemorated the fallen and the victims on both sides. I believe that this is essential in order to ensure that the feelings of victimhood will not grow and lead to more incitement and hatred. Rather, this gathering showed that there is another way.
This important annual ceremony is co-sponsored by two Israeli-Palestinian grass-roots organizations that are among the most prominent groups in civil society on both sides of the conflict who are pointing the way towards reconciliation and peace: Combatants for Peace and Parents Circle-Families Forum . They organize a very impressive and meaningful memorial convocation, in which many Israelis and Palestinians who have been affected very personally by the conflict speak together in pairs which symbolize their cooperation and their commitment to reconciliation and peace.
The most prominent speaker at the event was the nationally and internationally renowned author David Grossman, who lost a son in the Second Lebanon War in 2006 and who will receive the Israel Prize this year for his life-long achievements in Hebrew Literature. His speech –which closed the ceremony–was printed on the front page of Yediot Ahronot, Israel’s mass circulation daily newspaper this morning, which demonstrates that at least some editors in mainstream Israel also think that his reflections are not just relevant to people on the political left who attended the ceremony last night, but for all Israelis, from all points of view.
Among other things, Grossman spoke poignantly about the meaning of home:
What is a home?
Home is a place whose walls — borders — are clear and accepted; whose existence is stable, solid, and relaxed; whose inhabitants know its intimate codes; whose relations with its neighbors have been settled. It projects a sense of the future.
And we Israelis, even after 70 years — no matter how many words dripping with patriotic honey will be uttered in the coming days — we are not yet there. We are not yet home. Israel was established so that the Jewish people, who have nearly never felt at-home-in-the-world, would finally have a home. And now, 70 years later, strong Israel may be a fortress, but it is not yet a home.
The solution to the great complexity of Israeli-Palestinian relations can be summed up in one short formula: if the Palestinians don’t have a home, the Israelis won’t have a home either. The opposite is also true: if Israel will not be a home, then neither will Palestine.
(For the full text of Grossman’s reflections, see https://www.haaretz.com/israel-news/full-text-speech-by-david-grossman-at-alternative-memorial-day-event-1.6011820
Grossman received a standing ovation from the large group of Israelis and Palestinians who persevered to be there, despite the threats and provocations of extreme right –wing organizations and hooligans. (This year, as opposed to past years, there was much more security, to protect the people who participated in this intensely spiritual and meaningful ceremony).
This joint convocation of Israelis and Palestinians at this special time of year is not just about remembering the past. Rather, it demonstrates by word and by deed that there is a way to a better future in which both Palestinians and Israelis can not only recognize each other’s pain but also learn to live without violence and perpetual conflict. In this way, it offers all of us much needed hope.