Mea Culpa and the travesty of the joint Israeli-Palestinian Arab Memorial Day ceremony

I find it rather cynical to build an organization around the exploitation of bereavement for political purposes as Parents Circle does.

Sheri Oz ,

Joint Israeli-Arab Memorial Day ceremony rehearsal
Joint Israeli-Arab Memorial Day ceremony rehearsal
Flash 90

Supposedly embracing the controversy around the joint Israeli-Palestinian memorial day ceremony, the American Friends of the Parents Circle hosted a zoom discussion on March 30 with Osama Elawat of the "Combatants for Peace" organization and Robi Damelin of The Parents Circle at which they discussed some aspects of the controversy.

The first ceremony took place in 2006 and the number of participants has grown each year. It is held on the eve of Israel’s Remembrance Day and as Israel mourns the soldiers and civilians who fell in war and through terrorist acts, the joint ceremony mourns Israelis and Palestinians together on an equal footing.

In introducing himself, Osama Elawat explained how he went from fearing and hating Jews to understanding that there are Jews who are against "the occupation" and therefore are not his enemies. He ran programs “to allow Palestinians to meet Israelis because the Israeli government are doing their best to keep us divided”.

I find it remarkable and devious that he accuses the Israeli government of trying to keep Arab Palestinians and Israelis divided in view of the fact that the PA does everything it can to interfere with good relations between Arabs and Jews living in neighbouring villages and communities in Judea & Samaria. For example, when four Haredim danced at village leader Radi Nasser's son's wedding, Nasser had to deny they were invited to the wedding and he was removed from his positions as council chief and in the Education Ministry. The video in which the four men are sitting on the shoulders of Arab guests who are dancing with them, belies the claim that they were not welcome at the wedding, but what choice did Nasser have when being threatened by the PA leadership? Will Elawat tell this story? Doubt it.

Robi Damelin of the Parents' Circle grew up in South Africa where, she says, she was an activist for social justice and against apartheid. She claims that this background prepared her for her perhaps surprising response to the murder of her son by a Palestinian sniper. Is she implying that Israel, in her opinion, is an apartheid state? Most of those who grew up under apartheid reject this contention. One Zimbabwian, for instance, regards referring to Israel as an apartheid state as an insult to black South Africans (see also here and here). In any case, Robi says that, instead of seeking revenge, she saw the grief in the eyes of Palestinian Arabs who had lost loved ones and she believed it would be powerful for her and them to stand together on the stage at a joint memorial day ceremony pleading for a "stop to the violence."

"Stop the violence" is code for "end the occupation".

How do I know that? Because everywhere on the websites of these two organizations sponsoring the joint memorial day ceremony and throughout the hour-long zoom discussion, the one term that is repeated most often is "occupation". (For a bit of balance, one might be interested in hearing why Mohammad Massad, former Palestinian terrorist, calls the "occupation" the biggest lie ever told.)

Another catchphrase that was repeated over and over again was "seeing the humanity in each other". As if it is only through the dead, or mourning the dead, that our humanity shines through. Pardon me, but I find it rather cynical to build an organization around the exploitation of bereavement for political purposes as Parents Circle does.

I asked a question of the two panelists: "Does one have to agree that Israel is an occupier in order to be acceptable to you?" The moderator interpreted this to mean: can one attend the ceremony even if one does not see Israel as an occupier? That is not what I asked. But that interpretation made the answer much easier to provide. Here is what Osama said:

“I think you have to agree that we are all human beings to join the ceremony. [Duh!] You have to believe that the Palestinians' blood is not just to fight and the Israeli blood is not just to fight. ... We don't need your political opinion to join us, to be part of us. You just come and be with us and support us and then we are going to talk about the rest.”

Okaaay. Robi added:

“For me, I would invite every settler. [I am not a "settler", Robi.] For me that would be the most joyous occasion. If all the settlers would actually open up this 13th of April ceremony and understand who their neighbors are because the fact is that we don't know each other and maybe, through understanding a personal narrative, by listening to Lila standing on the stage, and talking about her loss and her route to transformation, maybe that just might touch something in somebody's heart and they would have the dignity, you see we have to give people dignity. And yes, I don't like labels. If a settler wants to come to a dialogue meeting, welcome. For me, anybody who is willing to listen is a customer.”

Robi, in case you did not notice, "settler" is a label, and a perjorative one at that in your group's eyes and you are the one who mentioned it. I was amused by her arrogant belief that "settlers" need to come to the joint memorial day ceremony or other events run by the Parents Circle in order to get to know Palestinian Arabs who are their neighbors.

I asked Yosef Hartuv, a Kiryat Arba resident for decades, what he thinks about Robi's response to my question:

“Hundreds of "settlers" in Kiryat Arba, for example, enjoy daily interactions with local Arab businessmen, particularly in the construction business, but also in the shops along the streets. You can see cars from our neighbourhood pull over by Arab shops all the time. We take an interest in the welfare of each others' families and keep up with their news and they with ours.

"Also, there is an active relationship between the Jewish communities of Hebron and Kiryat Arba and two of the largest Arab clans in Hebron, meeting regularly, even maintaining the relationship during the period of Corona. Our discussions are nothing like what seems to preoccupy Combatants for Peace or the Parents Circle where the main topic of discussion seems to be "the occupation". That is because we all recognize that the Jews are here to stay and the Arabs are here to stay and we are working on how to move forward together, how we create investments together.

"Our approach is how everyone can thrive together. We enjoy good professional and personal relationships and look forward to a future in which both our peoples get to raise thriving families who can pursue higher goals as opposed to spending our time beating our chests and lamenting on the occupation narrative.”

And, just like Hartuv, there are thousands of "settlers" in villages around Judea & Samaria who have closer and more frequent interactions with their Palestinian Arab neighbors than does Robi, who lives in Tel Aviv.

They are asked frequently asked why they hold this joint memorial day ceremony at the same time as the Israeli Remembrance Day Ceremony. Robi said that every family has the right to commemorate the memory of their loved ones as they see fit. For her, she sees no better way than to stand beside Palestinians who also lost loved ones. But she did not answer the question at all: WHY ON ISRAEL'S MEMORIAL DAY? Could they have not picked another date, not connected with Israel's Memorial Day?

Then suddenly it struck me – the Palestinian Authority (PA) holds their version of a memorial day on Palestinian Martyrs' Day at the beginning of January. I wonder why the organizations do not hold the joint memorial day ceremony on that day and invite Israelis to the PA instead of having Palestinian Arabs come to Israel. The speakers on the Zoom session criticized Israel’s banning of putting up billboards advertising their joint event and the fact that Palestinian Arabs may not be given permission to enter Israel.

Would the PA allow billboards to advertise the appropriation of Martyrs’ Day for a joint Israeli-Palestinian mourning ceremony? Would they allow Israelis into the event and ensure their safety?

Since I did not pose that question during the online discussion, I submitted it through the Facebook pages of the American Friends of Combatants for Peace and the American Friends of the Parents Circle. Here is the response I got from the former:

“We are also organizing a special Joint Memorial on Nakba day, May 15th. - we hope you can join us for that as well.”

Great! Responding to my question why they appropriate Israel's Memorial Day by inviting me to a Nakba party on the Gregorian Calendar date of Israel's Independence Day. Jews are expected to join in the commemoration of the Arab tragedy of having failed to defeat us and prevent the establishment of the modern State of Israel? That is the height of chutzpah. And it is the height of tragedy that Jews fall for this and support those who want us gone from here. I might believe the sincerity of the Palestinian Arabs taking part in the joint memorial day ceremony if they also suggested having one on Palestinian Martyrs' Day in the PA.

A few days later, there was a Hebrew Zoom session to discuss issues concerning the joint ceremony, with two different panelists. This time I asked: Why do you not hold the joint memorial day ceremony on Palestine Martyrs' Day instead of on Israel's Remembrance Day? Gil Mesler of the Parents Circle said that the organizers also debated the issue regarding Israel’s Remembrance Day. Then:

“We are private people and this is our ceremony. If we don't do it on Yom Hazikaron [Israel's Remembrance Day] it loses its meaning.”

Regarding why it is not held on the same day as the Palestinian memorial service, Martyrs' Day, his response was: "Because".

Adam Rabia, the Palestinian speaker for Combatants for Peace added:

“The day that an Israeli soldier fell is the same day that a Palestinian shahid [martyr] fell as well.”

While that is not necessarily true since some of those who killed Israelis, whether soldiers or civilian victims of terrorism, are sitting in jail getting salaries from the PA and not dead and buried, it does not sound like a reason not to have the ceremony on the Palestinian remembrance day. But appropriating Israel’s day of mourning fits in with the general trend of seeing everything as Israel’s fault, with no sense of responsibility or request for accountability on the part of the Palestinians, whether that is of their leaders or the general population.

Mea culpa is something that seems to come naturally to many Jews whether in Israel or the Diaspora and so they allow this kind of thing to take place.

Mea culpa is not a term that apparently translates into Arabic.

Sheri Oz blogs at Israel Diaries.