On Tuesday night this week, on the evening of Memorial Day in Israel, I will be attending an alternative memorial ceremony. It is a memorial ceremony and more. This year it will be the largest Israeli-Palestinian demonstration for peace in our joint histories.
Last year about 200,000 attended virtually from all over the world. This year, it is expected that the attendance of Jews, Muslims, Christians, Palestinians and Israelis from Israel, Palestine and abroad will be even larger, due to the corona pandemic during which so many people have gotten used to participating in virtual events.
The 16th annual Joint Israeli-Palestinian Memorial Ceremony, which will take place on April 13, 2021, will be sponsored by a coalition of over a hundred peace organizations and religious institutions. In addition, to the ceremony, there will be an opportunity for people from all over the world to engage in meaningful discussions with Israeli Jewish and Palestinian Arab peacebuilders via zoom.
The ceremony, which is co-hosted annually by two veteran Israeli-Palestinian peacebuilding organizations — Combatants for Peace and the Parents Circle-Families Forum, both of which are known for their courage and commitment to peace — was founded in 2006 and has grown exponentially each year, becoming the largest annual peace event in Israel and Palestine. In addition to the nearly 200,000 people who attended the live broadcast last year, over a million watched it afterwards via the internet.
What makes this ceremony so special and so compelling?
The answer is really quite simple: it offers some hope to thousands of people in Israel and Palestine—and thousands more around the world—who seek to keep the hope of peaceful coexistence alive, who do not want to give in to the forces of despair, apathy and inaction, and who are compelled by the narrative of shared histories and shared futures based on mutual respect and recognition, as opposed to the one of continued victimhood, victimization and prolonged suffering and endless wars.
This year’s ceremony will be live-streamed around the world. The worldwide broadcast will make this year’s commemoration of the past suffering and joint looking forward to a better future into a global event, during a worldwide pandemic that has highlighted our interconnectedness and our common vulnerability. If former enemies in Israel and Palestine can unite in solidarity and hope, perhaps this can be an example for people all around the world to do the same.
Previous ceremonies have featured speakers such as Nobel Prize Winner Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu, and Booker Prize-winning novelist and bereaved father David Grossman. This year’s speakers include:
- Richard Gere, acclaimed actor and activist (watch his video message)
- Layla Al-Sheikh, bereaved Palestinian mother who lost her son.
- Gili Meisner, bereaved Israeli who lost his brother.
- Muna Abu Sarah, bereaved Palestinian mother who lost her son.
- Tamar Peikes, bereaved Israeli who lost her father and two brothers.
According to Yonatan Ger, the Israeli co-director of Combatants for Peace, this year’s ceremony promises to be particularly meaningful:
The Coronavirus has made it impossible to come together in person, as we have done in previous years. Yet, this challenge will not prevent us from fulfilling the need to remember and remind others of our loved ones, and to say once more that a just peace is the key to a better future for all of us. That message resonates more powerfully today, in a time when people in Israel, Palestine, and all over the world, are standing together against a joint threat.
This is a time for dreaming about peace, even as we remember how much suffering and how many lives have been lost on both sides of the conflict. All memorial ceremonies are painful. This one is also very difficult. But it is an important opportunity to keep the vision of peace alive. According to one of the Palestinian activists, Osama Elawat, who is involved with Combatants for Peace:
Peace is the place where two pains, two stories, two narratives can meet and live together. That’s what we’re doing at the Memorial Day Ceremony. I’m proud to be a part of that.
I too am proud to be a participant in this important joint memorial ceremony for many years. It has become one of the most meaningful and spiritual events in my year. When I am there—whether virtually or in-person—I feel that I am with a large group of like-minded pursuers of peace, who share my values and my hopes for a better future for Israeli Jews and Palestinian Arabs. We do not have to be condemned to continual suffering and mutual incrimination, which is the legacy of too much of our past. Instead, we can envision a better future, and find ways and means of bringing the reality closer to the ideal in our lives here in this region.
In addition to the two host organizations, the event is also being actively promoted by the Alliance for Middle East Peace (ALLMEP), a coalition of over 100 peacebuilding organizations from Israel, Palestine and abroad. I was one of the founding members of ALLMEP in 2006 and I am thrilled to see that it has become such a vibrant and important organization. Among other things, it has helped to get the U.S. Congress to provide millions of dollars for support for peacebuilding organizations in Israel and Palestine and it is now working towards the development of an International Fund for this purpose.
To sign up for the event in advance, or simply to attend, just go on the website of either Combatants for Peace or the Parents Circle-Families Forum.
I hope you will join hundreds of thousands of people from Israel and Palestine and all over the world for this unique memorial event on Tuesday evening of this week. It will inspire you to believe in the possibilities and benefits of peace, rather than ongoing hatred and dead-end violence.