TEL AVIV — Almost 8,000 Israelis joined Israeli and Palestinian bereaved families at Tel Aviv’s Hayarkon Park Tuesday evening at a joint Memorial Day ceremony, which had been denounced by Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman.
The program’s two emcees — one Israeli and one Palestinian — began the evening by praising the High Court of Justice decision hours prior ordering Liberman to grant entry permits to 90 West Bank Palestinians to attend the service.
However, the emcees pointed out that not all of those Palestinians were able to make it because the Defense Ministry’s entry was granted too late.
Three short video clips were played of would-be Palestinian participants addressing the crowd from cities in the West Bank.
“The occupation did not give me permission to attend the ceremony, but I don’t need permission to say that I stand with you all there and am your partner in hope,” said one.
Outside the fenced off section of Hayarkon Park where the event took place, some 150 far-right activists protested the ceremony.
Demonstrators burned a Palestinian flag, hurled insults at attendees as they arrived, and briefly chanted “Death to Arabs.”
The joint Memorial Day event’s organizers also reported a number of “violent instances” that unfolded just beyond the ceremony grounds, where far-right demonstrators “hurled stones and bottles” at attendees.
Police were said to have dispersed the protesters.
The far-right demonstration was organized by the Otzma Yehudit party. Among its speakers were activists Benzi Gopstein and Itamar Ben-Gvir, who could be faintly heard shouting from a megaphone throughout the first half hour of the ceremony.
The Ynet news site reported that a number of protesters managed to break through the perimeter into the outdoor compound but were nabbed by officers before they could reach the section of the park where the ceremony was being held.
According to the organizers — Combatants for Peace and the Israeli and Palestinian Bereaved Families for Peace — which put together the program as an alternative to the standard Israeli Memorial Day events, some 7,800 people were in attendance.
Among those addressing the joint Israeli-Palestinian event was author David Grossman, whose son was killed in the Second Lebanon War, and Amal Abu Sa’ad, whose husband Yaqoub Mousa Abu al-Qia’an was shot dead by Israeli police in the Negev Bedouin village of Umm al-Hiran a year ago, as the car he was driving crashed into an Israeli policeman, killing him, in disputed circumstances.
Abu Sa’ad began her speech by identifying herself as someone who “represents complexity.”
“I belong to Bedouin society, which is part of Palestinian society, and I am a citizen of the State of Israel,” she said. “As if that were not enough, one of these identities supposedly contradicts the other two.”
Abu Sa’ad went on to lament the Israeli government’s mistreatment of the Bedouin community and Israeli security forces’ killing of her husband.
However, she concluded by calling on those present to “recognize the narrative of the other, even if one does not accept it in its entirety.”
For his part, Grossman immediately addressed the “noise” around the ceremony.
The Israel Prize-winning author asserted that “no one can tell a bereaved family how to grieve.”
“If the definition of bereaved family is a real one, please accept the way that we grieve… It is our way to give meaning to the loss of our loved ones,” he said.
Grossman went to blast the Israeli government for its treatment of Palestinians, and also of African asylum seekers.
“When the Israeli government tries to enact dubious deals in Uganda and Rwanda, and is willing to risk the lives of thousands of asylum seekers and expel them to the unknown, this place is less of a home to me,” he said.
The author was referring to the state’s ongoing attempts to deport thousands of African migrants, which have been struck down by the High Court, or cancelled by potential recipient countries.
Grossman announced his intentions to donate half of the money he will receive from winning this year’s Israel Prize to the Israeli and Palestinian Bereaved Families for Peace and to Elifelet, an NGO dedicated to help migrant children in south Tel Aviv.
“To me, these are bodies that do sacred work. No, actually, they do the simple and humane things that the government should be doing itself,” he said.
Also speaking at the ceremony were six other representatives of bereaved families who lost loved ones in violence throughout the decades-long Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Earlier Tuesday, the High Court of Justice rejected Liberman’s ban on the 90 intended Palestinian attendees as “unreasonable” and “imbalanced.”
The defense minister castigated the ruling, saying it created an equivalency between “terrorists” and bereaved families.
The Defense Ministry’s Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories unit had earlier told Liberman that the Palestinians who were invited posed no security threat and recommended that he grant them entry permits, but Liberman had rejected the application, saying that the joint Israeli-Palestinian service was in “bad taste.”
Several Israeli and Palestinian bands performed at the ceremony in between the speeches. However, Channel 10 reported that singers Dana Berger and Efrat Gosh canceled their participation in the program amid criticism of the event.
In a statement released announcing her decision, Berger said that she believed in the values of the organizers, but did not want to upset bereaved Israeli families who reached out to her expressing their frustration with her decision to participate.
Gosh told Channel 10 that she had received threats after agreeing to Berger’s initial request to perform with her.
Tuesday marked the thirteenth year the memorial service was held. Palestinians from the West Bank have attended every event apart from last year’s, which took place shortly after a Palestinian teenager who entered Israel with a one-day pass for a “Natural Peace tour” attacked four people in a Tel Aviv hotel with a pair of wire-cutters, lightly injuring all of them.
Last year, the West Bank Palestinians who planned to attend the ceremony in Tel Aviv instead gathered in Beit Jala, near Bethlehem, to watch the proceedings on a television screen. The two Palestinians slated to speak at the event delivered their remarks through pre-recorded videos.