Ministry Cancels Joint Event for Bereaved Israeli and Palestinian Parents

One Israeli parent attendee, whose son was killed in Lebanon, says right-wing protesters ‘said they wished an Arab would kill me’

FILE PHOTO: Education minister Naftali Bennett
Ronene Zvulun / Reuters

The Ministry of Education called off an event planned by Israeli and Palestinian bereaved parents meant to take place Tuesday at the entrance to a high school. The cancellation followed protests by political activists, and ministry officials said the decision was made because the event did not have prior approval from the ministry.

The event, held by the Parents Circle Family Forum, has been taking place annually for over a decade at the Yitzhak Rabin High School in Nesher, near Haifa. Six parents, three Israeli and three Palestinian, arrived at the school Tuesday morning but left after the ministry cancelled the scheduled lectures.

One of the lecturers was to be Aharon Barnea, whose son Noam was killed in 1999 at the foot of the Beaufort in Lebanon while handling explosive devices. He was five days away from demobilization. Barnea, who had come to the school from Holon, told Haaretz he and the other parents were met with hostility outside the school.

“We were supposed to come to Nesher like we’ve been doing for more than a decade,” he said. “Apparently someone in Nesher posted something on Facebook this morning, asking people to show up at the school. There were five or six people at the school entrance, yelling intolerable chants. They wished an Arab would kill me, as well as telling me that my mother was a whore.”

Barnea said, though, that in addition to the loud protests, some pupils came up to the bereaved parents and expressed their sympathy. Barnea added that teachers at the school were angry at the Education Ministry’s decision.

“The school officials behaved impeccably and strongly condemned the cancellation of the event,” he said. “Teachers went to the principal in tears, saying they were ashamed to be living in a country such as this. I’m a Zionist. I came here 60 years ago. My sons served as volunteers in a combat engineering unit. I never thought something like this could happen in Israel.”

Among those protesting the event was Shlomi Zino, a member of the Nesher city council who is a Likud contender for mayor. He told Haaretz that he had not cursed anyone and had not gotten worked up at the demonstration.

“I immediately tried to calm things down and put a stop to it. I’ve always been against any kind of violence against anyone,” he said. “A meeting of the bereaved families’ forum in which Palestinian parents and the school management preach for identification with the victims of the enemy erodes the sense of the righteousness of our path. Just as no one in the U.S. would dream of identifying with Al Qaida victims or with victims in Nazi Germany, there is no reason to identify with the victims of an enemy who tries daily to exterminate us.”

Zino said such events are particularly serious “when addressed to pupils on the eve of their enlistment, when they are a captive audience in their classrooms. I was disappointed to learn that the event had been organized by school leaders together with the Nesher city council and the Education Ministry, and that the mayor, a bereaved parent himself, had participated in similar events at this high school and had expressed his enthusiastic support for the project.”

The Parents Circle Family Forum said in response, “Members of the forum, Israeli and Palestinian, came to the event as part of our public and educational activity aimed at fostering understanding, communication and reconciliation.” They added that “despite the complete and commendable backing of Nesher Mayor Avi Benamu and school principal Sigal Ophir for this project, the head of the Haifa district at the Education Ministry decided to yield to pressure by outside political actors and prevent this educational event from taking place. We regret this but are encouraged by the commitment by the mayor, a bereaved parent, and school leaders to tolerance and to getting to know the other.”

The Nesher municipality said in response that “this is an educational activity that has been going on for more than 10 years. The municipality and the Education Ministry are suspending it and will reexamine it together with school leaders.”

Last April there was an alternative Memorial Day ceremony organized by the Parents Circle Famil Forum and Combatants for Peace. Several dozen right-wing activists demonstrated outside the auditorium and cursed those attending the event until police came and dispersed them. Some 225 Palestinians were to take part in the ceremony but were denied entrance to Israel.