Opinion

Israelis, the Time Has Come to Acknowledge the Other Side’s Pain

Right-wing protesters demonstrate against a joint Israeli-Palestinian Memorial Day event in Tel Aviv, May 7, 2019.
David Bachar

As much as it’s possible to feel happiness in the context of bereavement, death and pain, the decision by the High Court of Justice to allow the entry into Israel of 100 Palestinians so they can participate in the Israeli-Palestinian memorial service, made me happy. I believe that before any discourse, any negotiations and any discussion of returning territories, it’s important to stop for a moment and remember that the other side is also suffering no less than we are (perhaps even more) and to acknowledge that publicly.

Israeli society is awash with mourning and bereavement all year long, and especially on these days: Those who have lost their dear ones feel profound personal pain, and the little solidarity that still remains among us is also reflected on this day. But not everyone is motivated by the sense of solidarity.

>> Read more: Israeli-Palestinian Memorial Day event disturbed by protesters; ceremony streamed in GazaThis Memorial Day, Netanyahu's biggest achievement is the one he won't talk about | Analysis

Some politicians derive tremendous political capital from the mourning and bereavement, and make sure that we will all feel constantly threatened, because that feeling increases their power. On that issue there is no difference between Likud and Kahol Lavan, which is also joining the battle cries, and whose voice seems even louder than the voices of Likud.

Israel moves between two constant sources of threat: On the one hand, the endless Iranian threat, and on the other, the Palestinians – and the flames of hostility burning between them and the Jewish public in Israel seem only to be getting higher. The avoidance of any kind of agreement or arrangement – in which genuinely heroic efforts are sometimes invested – turns any hope into dust.

Every once in a while, in the wake of shooting from Gaza, there is a military operation of the kind that destroys the little that is left of the place. In a random survey conducted yesterday on TV’s Channel 13 news at the Ashdod beach, there was agreement among the bathers: We should have attacked them a little more, and it’s a shame that it all ended so quickly. The years of hatred and separation have done their job: All the participants in the random survey thought that killing a few more Arabs is really not so terrible.

A building in Gaza that was destroyed in an Israeli airstrike.
AFP

And now suddenly, 100 flesh-and-blood people who have also lost their dear ones in hostile acts, will arrive deep inside the State of Israel, and it will turn out that not only do they have faces and names, but that there is a group of people in the State of Israel – even if small – that is willing to acknowledge their pain and the injustice done to them.

What injustice was done to them? Perhaps the kind perpetrated by the Israel Defense Forces, perhaps the kind perpetrated by Israeli citizens, who knows; perhaps the grandfather of Ahmed Dawabsheh, the boy whose parents and brother were murdered in Duma in what looks like a Jewish terror attack, will be there; perhaps the parents of Mohammed Abu Khdeir, the teen who was abducted by Yosef Chaim Ben David and his two nephews, and burned to death, will be there; and perhaps there will be other people there, whose dear ones were killed in various and sundry IDF actions, by chance or not by chance, deliberately or by mistake.

We don’t even know their names, but now we will hear them and we will also learn about their stories and their pain. And why is that important? Because the long years of hostility have erased the face of the other side, and it’s easier to hate someone you don’t know – certainly someone whose pain you don’t acknowledge.

“The place where we’re right / Is hard and trampled / Like a yard” wrote Yehuda Amichai, and this is the poem that should be read on memorial days for IDF soldiers, along with all the other poems and songs, if not instead of them. If we read this poem to our children, and as a result we also listen to the other side occasionally, maybe we will be able to make flowers grow in this part of the world, flowers which, as we know, grow only in a place where there are people who occasionally stop being right.

The audience at the joint Israeli-Palestinian Memorial Day ceremony held in Tel Aviv, on Tuesday, May 7, 2019.
Gili Getz

The pain, how surprising, belongs to both sides, and acknowledging it will be the beginning of our redemption, not only on the other side of the Green Line, but inside it as well. That, rather than silencing, will make us grow.

A prohibition against public expression of the pain doesn’t eliminate it. So that when we acknowledge the pain of the other, perhaps we will also eliminate the Nakba Law (which allows the Finance Ministry to cut state funding to any institution that publicly observes Israel’s Independence Day as a day of mourning), which is designed to silence people and to ignore the pain of those for whom the miracle of the establishment of the State of Israel – and I’m not saying this cynically, God forbid – was their disaster.

The encounter with people who did them an injustice − because there is no custodian for injustices − could also be the start of a process that begins with listening and acceptance, and whose end nobody knows.