High Court set to rule on the issue in next few days

Attorney general says Gallant should let Palestinians attend joint Memorial Day event

In non-binding opinion, Baharav-Miara says defense minister failed to present evidence of security escalation that would justify deviating from past rulings that allowed entry

People attend a memorial ceremony commemorating the victims of the decades Israeli-Palestinian conflict in Tel Aviv on May 3, 2022, as Israel marks the annual Memorial Day for fallen soldiers (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)
People attend a memorial ceremony commemorating the victims of the decades Israeli-Palestinian conflict in Tel Aviv on May 3, 2022, as Israel marks the annual Memorial Day for fallen soldiers (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

In a non-binding opinion, the Attorney General’s Office on Friday rejected a decision by Defense Minister Yoav Gallant to bar bereaved Palestinians from attending an annual joint Memorial Day ceremony in Israel next week.

The High Court is slated to issue a ruling on the matter in the coming days.

Gallant last week announced that due to the “complex security situation in the West Bank,” the Defense Ministry would not be granting permits for some 180 Palestinians who have lost loved ones as a result of the conflict to attend the ceremony.

But Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara’s office said in an opinion published Friday that it backed a petition by organizers of the Combatants for Peace event to compell Gallant to reverse the decision.

Baharav-Miara’s office noted that the top court has already ruled twice in recent years against efforts to indiscriminately ban all Palestinians from attending the ceremony. It wrote that the Defense Ministry had not met its requirement to present evidence justifying the “deviation from the outline laid out in previous rulings.”

As in previous years, permit requests should be judged on an individual basis, Baharav-Miara’s office wrote.

The annual ceremony, which has grown in prominence in recent years, is hailed by many as a rare chance for both Israelis and Palestinians who have lost loved ones to reflect on the human toll of their ongoing conflict and give meaning to tragedy by turning away from violence.

But the ceremony has also been deeply controversial since its inception, particularly among the Israeli public, with critics accusing it of legitimizing terrorism and equating Israel’s fallen soldiers to those who attacked them on a day widely regarded as sacrosanct.

Defense Minister Yoav Gallant visits Israelis injured a terror attack, at Beilinson Hospital, on March 26, 2023. (Avshalom Sassoni/FLASH90)

The event is also controversial for many Palestinians who reject equating Israeli soldiers with the people they occupy. Others reject any dialogue with Israelis at all.

The Attorney General’s Office noted that Israel will still be allowing thousands of Palestinian workers to enter Israel on Memorial Day and Independence Day, which fall on Tuesday and Wednesday next week, despite a general closure of the West Bank for Palestinians.

If the security situation allows thousands of Palestinian workers into the country, then there should be no issue with granting additional permits to less than 200 more of them, the Attorney General’s Office suggested.

Combatants for Peace hailed the non-binding opinion and urged Gallant to reverse his decision, but Army Radio reported later Friday that Gallant had no intention of doing so.

Israeli bereaved family member Tal Kfir speaks during a joint Israeli-Palestinian Memorial Day ceremony broadcast in Tel Aviv on April 27, 2020. (Rami Ben Ari/Combatants for Peace)

Last year’s joint Israeli-Palestinian Memorial Day ceremony was split between Tel Aviv and Beit Jala, after being held primarily online the previous two years due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Organizers said more than 200,000 people watched the 2022 ceremony, which was live-streamed online in Arabic, Hebrew and English. This year’s event is also due to be streamed online.

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