“I was driving down Ayalon the other day and saw some graffiti on the wall alongside the road — thousands of — well, I don’t know if thousands, but definitely hundreds of coffins, some covered with the Israeli flag, some with the Palestinian one,” my father tells me as we drive toward Tel Aviv.
“Cool,” I answer.
“Cool?” He doesn’t sound happy.
“Well, I think it sends a powerful message.”
“I think it sends the wrong message,” he states.
“Coffins, death — these are bad things. And I know nothing good can come from that type of badness. If we want to foster peace we should be concentrating on the positive.”
“I couldn’t disagree more,” I reply. I’m surprised. My father is a pragmatist, a critical thinker, perhaps one of the most open-minded people I know. His ostrich-like approach to this has blindsided me.
“Don’t you think think that ending the cycle of death would be a good thing?”
“Of course I do –” he starts to answer.
“So don’t we need to acknowledge its existence, first?”
“Peace will come from looking at the positive things we can build together. Seeing coffins just makes people think ‘look at how much the other side has killed of mine.’ It incites hatred, not cooperation.”
“I don’t think it does. Look, the way you’ve described it, these are Israeli and Palestinian coffins standing side by side. It presents both sides as being victims of the same thing – of the conflict.”
“That’s true, but concentrating on death like that only promotes a sense of vengeance. Each will see their own dead, not the others.”
“You saw both flags, didn’t you?”
“I did. But I still think it’s sending the wrong message.”
“I think it sends an important message. The reason the conflict has gone on for as long as it has is because it’s easy for us to maintain it. We aren’t confronted with its ramifications on a daily basis. Reminding us of the death toll, on both sides, is a way to make the conflict less bearable. Once we acknowledge the grievances we are causing to the Palestinians and to ourselves and I think it will be easier to reach a solution. Essentially, the graffiti you’ve described is concentrating on the good. It says ‘look, the killing will stop when we reach a solution’ — and that’s the reason it bothers you so much. It reminds you that we are responsible for these deaths, and that is a very unpleasant thought.”
“The Palestinians are responsible for them as well.”
“Not as much as we are.”
“What are you talking about? Every time we sat down to negotiate with them, they’ve insisted on unreasonable things.”
“This is true. The occupation is a comfortable reality for a lot of the Palestinian leadership. But you can’t ignore the fact that we are the conquerors. Our military, our economy, our society are stronger than theirs, and actively repress theirs. If the occupation was as unbearable for us as it is for them, we would have found a solution by now. But the truth is, we feel the occupation in things like street art and televised debates, while they feel it in things like electricity, water supply, freedom of movement, freedom of expression, nightly raids of their homes – there’s no real comparison here.”
“I still think that promoting anger is the wrong way to go about this.”
“It doesn’t make me angry. It makes me sad. Has nothing good ever come from sadness?”
“No, you’re right. Good can come from sadness.”
“Sadness can make you empathetic. It can make you seek out others who share your grief. It can make you want to ensure no one else has to endure the emotions you are enduring. And I think this graffiti is telling us that sadness is a bridge, an opportunity, a shared enemy. Today is Yom HaZikaron [Memorial Day]. Do you come out of the Yom HaZikaron ceremony feeling angry, or sad? Determined to kill more of theirs, or lamenting the wars? And what is Yom HaZikaron if not an endless procession of coffins?”
Today is Remembrance Day.
It’s an opportunity to remember our dead, but it’s also an opportunity for empathy, and a chance to look forward, and remember the living.