Some 200,000 people watched an online Memorial Day ceremony on Monday evening that was organized by the Israeli-Palestinian Parents Circle Families Forum. The event was was conducted in Tel Aviv and the Palestinian West Bank city of Ramallah and streamed live.
The program, which coincided with the beginning of Israel’s Memorial Day observances, featured both Israelis and Palestinians who lost loved ones in the conflict between the two peoples. This was the 15th year the ceremony has been held at the initiative of the Israeli-Palestinian organization Combatants for Peace and the Parents Circle forum.
In a video clip broadcast as part of the ceremony, Nickolay Mladenov, the UN special coordinator for the Middle East peace process, made reference to efforts to combat the coronavirus pandemic, and said: “What we really need to see is Palestinians and Israelis coming together, not just to fight the virus, but to fight for peace. And fighting for peace perhaps may be even more difficult than what we are facing today, because challenges that you have to deal with today are much greater than in the past.”
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And he added: “There are radicals on all sides, there are people who want to burn all bridges between Israelis and Palestinians, and who want to see the divide harden. What you are doing is going against that. What you are doing is really the work of humanity. And that is to turn grief into hope, and to turn hope into a future for all of us.”
For his part, Hagai Yoel of Kibbutz Ramat Rachel, whose brother Eyal was killed in the Israeli army’s Operation Defensive Shield in the West Bank town of Jenin in 2002, said: “I refuse to be considered a traitor just because I oppose the occupation. I refuse to be censored just because I believe that peace is essential. I refuse to be condemned by my society – because it is clear to me that peace, and only peace, will bring about a situation of calm and enable all those who live here to live a better life.”
Yusra Mahfoud from the Al-Aroub refugee camp near Hebron, whose 14-year-old son Alaa was killed by Israeli soldiers in 2000, spoke at the event as well, saying: “In the initial days after the tragedy occurred, I had a great need to take revenge … [but] meeting with bereaved parents on the other side taught me that their pain is the same as mine, and instead of seeking revenge, I have understood that it is better to work for peace rather than instigating violence.”
She added: “I want to address the Israeli mothers who are watching me now and tell them that bereavement is the same bereavement, and the pain is the same pain. Today more than ever, we see how important it is to work together. Let’s educate our children to avoid violence and to work for peace – and that way we will end the bloodshed! Enough is enough. May we all live in peace.”
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Israeli Communications Minister David Amsalem (Likud) criticized the Kan public broadcaster’s Reshet Bet radio station for airing a commercial publicizing the online event.
In a tweet, he said the event was evidence of a serious eclipse of moral values when “an alternative and controversial ceremony, to put it mildly, for Memorial Day receives approval and promotion by the Israeli public broadcaster!?”
For its part, Kan said that publicity was a factual announcement about the event and that the law permits any legally registered non-profit group to advertise on its airwaves so long as it is done in accordance with the law and with advertising guidelines.