Last night, I attended what I believe to be one of the most important and meaningful ceremonies that takes place in Israel — the joint Israeli-Palestinian Memorial Ceremony, put together by Combatants for Peace and The Parents Circle-Families Forum.
We came together, over 9,000 Israelis and Palestinians, to mourn the loss of life and continued pain that this conflict inflicts on both sides, acknowledging one another’s narratives, identities and suffering.
The joint ceremony started at 9pm, one hour after the 8pm commemorative siren and after most local Israeli Memorial Day ceremonies begin. I interpret this start time as intentional, providing us with the time to first separately mourn fallen soldiers and victims of terror from our own families, our own communities and our nation.
In experiencing the feelings of our own national mourning, we are then able to empathize with the losses of those with whom we share this land. We come together not only to grieve with one another, but to acknowledge our responsibility to act together to end the cycle of violence.
I was vividly reminded last night that I am not alone. I felt proud to be a part of this diverse community of Israelis and Palestinians that not only accept one another’s national identities and grief, but use this painful day to instill hope in our ability to change our reality.
Leah Shakdiel, a Religious Zionist peace activist and feminist scholar, eloquently expressed at the ceremony that “we share the pain of our bereavement with the other side and listen to the pain of its bereavement so that we can participate with the other side in the joys of life, growth and peace.”
Every year, there are those who attempt to prevent the ceremony from taking place. Last night, dozens of protestors stood outside the venue, trying to drown out the ceremony with their chants of hatred and incitement. It is not only the extremists. This year, the event took place in the shadow of yet another attempt by the Israeli government, specifically Prime Minister Netanyahu, to prevent the entry of Palestinians participants into Israel for the ceremony.
While the objection was supposedly based on security concerns, Netanyahu and his allies made clear that they reject even the basic principle that Israeli and Palestinian losses could be compared, or that it is appropriate for our two peoples to mourn together.
Thankfully, the decision was overturned (again) by the Israeli Supreme Court, ruling that the ceremony in no way poses a danger to the Israeli public and further highlighting the necessity to safeguard Israeli democracy and freedom of expression.
The decision stated: “There are 99 paths to commemoration, 99 ways to express grief. Here lies the core of free expression, of personal autonomy, which grants to every person the right to write and shape their life story in their own way…”
Last night, I chose to mourn in a way that is the most meaningful for me and to exercise my democratic right to freedom of expression.
Each year, the ceremony concludes with the Arab-Jewish Women’s Choir, Rana’s rendition of Chava Alberstein’s “Chad Gadya (One Goat).” And each year, I am deeply moved and motivated by these Arab and Jewish women singing together the words: “How long will the cycle of horror last? Victor and victim, beater and beaten; When will this madness stop?”
This madness won’t stop on its own. Only by working together can we bring this bloodshed to an end once and for all.