No Palestinians took part in the Israeli-Palestinian memorial service in Tel Aviv on Sunday night, marking the first time in the service’s 12 years that Palestinians were barred from attending, including during the height of the Second intifada.
Some 225 Palestinians were supposed to be in attendance at the ceremony in Tel Aviv’s Shlomo Group Arena, an alternative to the standard Israeli Memorial Day events organized by the groups Combatants for Peace and the Families Forum, but the Defense Ministry’s Coordinator of the Government’s Activities in the Territories denied their one-day permits.
Earlier this month, a Palestinian teenager who entered Israel with such 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.
After the terror attack, COGAT announced it was reviewing its process for awarding one-day permits.
‘The State always claims there is no one to talk to, but when there is an opportunity to hear the other side, it blocks its ears’
“In light of changes to the security circumstances and the abuse of the group passes [two weeks ago], the Coordinator of the Government’s Activities in the Territories decided that at this time it is not possible to issue the requested permits,” COGAT wrote in its decision on Thursday.
The organizations, along with several Knesset members from left-wing parties, denounced the ban. “Our Palestinian partners are trying to instill a message of hope in a society consumed with despair. The State always claims there is no one to talk to, but when there is an opportunity to hear the other side, it blocks its ears,” the Families Forum said in a statement.
Dov Khenin, of the communist Hadash party, called it “outrageous and political.” Meretz MKs Zehava Galon, Michal Rozin and Issawi Frej also spoke out against the decision as politically motivated.
On Sunday night and Monday, Israel marks its Memorial Day, known in Hebrew as Yom Hazikaron, honoring 23,544 fallen soldiers and thousands of terror victims.
The country observes two sirens, one at 8:00 p.m. on Sunday and another at 11:00 a.m. on Monday. On Monday night, the country switches to celebrating Independence Day.
Thousands of participants, dozens of protesters
Some 4,000 people attended the Tel Aviv ceremony, filling the arena to its limit, forcing organizers to turn people away at the door.
Unable to enter Israel, 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.
While the absence of the Palestinian participants was a surprise to the organizers, the opposition to the ceremony by members of the Israeli right-wing was not.
In the days leading up to the event, the groups’ Facebook pages were bombarded with threatening comments and posts, which prompted organizers to lodge a formal complaint with police.
On Sunday night, dozens of right-wing activists protested outside the arena, calling the attendees “Nazis,” “traitors” and “Amalek,” the Jewish people’s traditional arch-nemesis.
During lulls in the ceremony, the protesters calls could be easily heard from the back of the stadium.
At least one protester was detained by police, while some others were simply removed from the area.
Meital Ofer was first to speak at the event. She was “born into a bereaved family,” as her uncle Yitzhak was killed in the Yom Kippur War, on October 11, 1973.
Exactly 40 years later, on October 11, 2013, Ofer woke up to see that she had several missed calls from her mother. “I called home, and over the phone my mom said the four worst words: “They murdered dad overnight.”
Ofer’s father Seraiah, a former IDF colonel, was bludgeoned to death by two Palestinian terrorists outside his home in the Jordan Valley.
During interrogation, his murderers said the killing was “a gift to Hamas prisoners in honor of Eid al-Adha,” a Muslim holiday that began that evening, Ofer recounted.
“They murdered him because he was colonel in reserves. They murdered him without knowing him at all, without knowing what a rare person he was, without knowing how much peopel loved him, how he was unique in this world,” she said, her eyes sparkling with tears in the stage lights.
Her voice catching, Ofer said she “wants to promise her children a future in this place, a future of good life, a future of coexistence. I want to give them hope, not as a slogan, but as a real thing.”
After Ofer, See’am Nawara spoke about his son Nadeem, who was shot dead during a violent protest outside Ramallah in 2014. The border guard who shot him used live-fire rounds instead of the less-lethal bullets he was instructed to use. A video released following the incident appeared to show that the teen was shot while he was some distance from the demonstration and apparently posed no immediate threat to the Border Police unit.
In January, the border guard, Ben Deri, agreed to a plea deal in which he admitted to using the live rounds, but that he did so accidentally.
During the course of the investigation into the incident, Nawara said, the family had to exhume Nadeem’s remains.
“Believe me that one of the most difficult things for a father to do is to bury his son. And even more difficult is to dig up his son a month after he was buried,” Nawara said in Arabic through a video message.
“I should have chosen revenge or rage or hate, yet after contemplating this deeply I decided to choose the path of peace, of law, of nonviolence and tolerance,” he said.
After a musical performance by Jewish Israeli singer Achinoam Nini and Arab Israeli singer Mira Awad, Palestinian Marian Saadah spoke, also through a video message, about her sister Christine who was killed by the IDF in 2003 because their car was misidentified.
The army believed her family’s car belonged to a Hamas official and opened fire, killing 12-year-old Christine and injuring the rest of the family, including Marian.
“In spite of the politicians’ failure, I strongly hope and believe that the nations can steer themselves toward a complete victory, by coexisting, in equality and justice, so we may live in hope and peace,” she said in Arabic.
‘The day we can trust each other completely, peace will come to us and our neighbors’
Roni Hirschenson, who helped found the Families Forum in 1995, recalled the deaths of his sons Amir and Elad.
In 1995, Amir was a soldier. He was killed along with 20 other servicemembers and one civilian in the Beit Lid suicide bombing.
Five years later, his son Elad committed suicide after his best friend Sgt. David Biri was killed in what some consider the first terror attack of the Second intifada.
“The killing has continued for one simple reason: there is no peace,” he said.
“The day we can trust each other completely, peace will come to us and our neighbors,” Hirschenson said.
To conclude, the ceremony eschewed the singing of Israel’s national anthem — the normal way to mark the end of such services — and instead a mixed Jewish-Arab choir sang a rendition of the Jewish song “Chad Gadya,” or “One Little Goat,” in verses alternating between Hebrew and Arabic
Like the American folks song, “There’s a hole in the bottom of the sea,” “Chad Gadya” builds with each verse. There’s a little goat, the song goes, that my father bought for two bits that is eaten by a cat, who’s eaten by a dog, who’s beaten with a stick, which is burned by fire, which is extinguished with water, which is drunk by a bull, which is slaughtered by a butcher, who is killed by the angel of death, who is killed by God.
In an added verse, the all-female choir sang: “Chasing and chased, hitting and hit, when will this madness end? And what has changed this year? I’ve change this year. I was once a sheep and I was a calm kid, now I’m a tiger and a preying wolf, I was once a dove and I was a deer, now I don’t know what I am.”
“My father bought, for two bits, a little goat, and now it all starts over again.”
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