Defense Minister Yoav Gallant on Thursday rejected a request from bereaved Israeli and Palestinian families to allow the latter to attend a controversial annual commemoration on Israel’s Memorial Day.
A statement from Gallant’s office said he was blocking the Palestinians from entering Israel for the Joint Israeli-Palestinian Memorial Ceremony on April 24 due to “the complex security situation” in the West Bank.
He also cited the planned closure of crossings with the West Bank and Gaza Strip over Memorial Day and Independence Day, a step Israel regularly takes during national and religious holidays.
Gallant’s decision was denounced by Combatants for Peace, which organizes the event along with the Parents Circle-Families Forum grassroots organization of bereaved families.
“Gallant is frightened by the threat of dismissal and has completely fallen in line with the fascist madness and silencing of voices,” Combatants for Peace said in a statement.
The group charged the move violated a 2019 ruling by the High Court of Justice that overturned Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s decision then to deny permits to dozens of West Bank Palestinians planning to attend the event, citing security grounds. The court said that it was not legitimate to bar the attendees’ entry for security reasons.
“The ceremony is how hundreds of bereaved families remember their loved ones and precisely represents the other future that is possible here, a joint and optimistic future,” it added.
Last year’s event 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 last year’s ceremony, which was live-streamed online in Arabic, Hebrew and English.
This year’s event is also due to be streamed online.
The ceremony has 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.
Supporters say it represents an effort by those who have lost the most in the conflict to give meaning to the deaths of their loved ones by turning away from violence.
The event is controversial on the Palestinian side as well: Some Palestinians say the ceremony equates Israeli soldiers and oppressed Palestinians. Others reject any dialogue with Israelis at all.