Top Court Overturns Netanyahu's Decision to Bar Palestinians From Joint Memorial Day Ceremony

Ruling comes after hearing petition from Israeli NGO against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's decision to bar entry to all 181 applicants

Last year's joint memorial service held in Tel Aviv.
Ofer Vaknin

Israel's top court overturned Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's decision Monday, ruling that the government must allow 100 Palestinians into the country to participate in a joint Israeli-Palestinian Memorial Day ceremony

Netanyahu barred entry to all 181 applicants. The directive from Netanyahu, who serves as both prime minister and defense minister, came to light after a report by Haaretz. It is identical to the one issued by former Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman last year, which was also overruled and sharply criticized by the High Court.

Supreme Court Justices Isaac Amit, Daphne Barak-Erez, and Anat Baron discussed the petition, filed by Israeli NGO Combatants for Peace.

"It is not for the defense minister to intervene in how a family chooses to express their private bereavement, the sadness and grief that is present with the loss of a loved one," Amit said, "The petitioners before us have gathered bereaved families who have chosen to express their pain and commemorate their dear ones in a joint ceremony, it isn't for us to intervene in that decision."

"The defense minister is responsible for the security of Israel's residents, and it is up to him to defend them from all danger. We struggled to see the danger that this ceremony poses to the Israeli public," the ruling said. "We decided to make this ruling on condition, and to instruct the defense minister to issue entry permits for the sole purpose of participating in the ceremony to 100 Palestinians."

Justice Amit said that the state's decision to ban Palestinian families from attending the ceremony was not made for security reasons, but because of other considerations. Justice Amit hinted that he disagreed with the state's claim that they restricted the number of entry permits due to the recent escalation in Gaza.

Roee Shweika, the lawyer representing the state, admitted that the decision to bar Palestinian families from attending had been made before the escalation in Gaza, though the situation in the Strip had been one of the reasons presented by the state for the ban.

Netanyahu responded to the decision on Twitter, writing, "Today's High Court decision was wrong and disappointing. There is no place for a memorial ceremony that equates our blood with the blood of terrorists. That is why I refused to allow entry to the ceremony participants and I believe that the High Court has no place intervening in that decision."

Justice Amit wrote that the decision was founded on the same principles as last year's decision, and that the previous ruling was "an inseparable part of this ruling." 

"This present discussion is a little embarrassing," said Justice Amit during the hearing. "It's like a re-run of last year." 

"The public sensitivity that accompanies this petition is not lost on us," Justice Amit added. "Grief tugs at the heartstrings of Israeli society. However, this ceremony is not in opposition, it isn't provocation, and anyone who is rattled by it is welcome not to attend, and not to take part."

Justice Barak-Erez added, "we are considering the full weight of the security concerns that were presented, even more in these difficult times that Israel is enduring, and we are full partners in destiny, solidarity and identification. However, the answer to these security concerns, as written in the ruling issued exactly one year ago, is a strict examination of the personal details of all those who seek to enter Israel on an individual basis, and not a sweeping rejection."

The organizers of the joint Memorial Day ceremony, along with Combatants for Peace, released a statement in response to the ruling: "Once again, the High Court has proven that the power of the defense minister and prime minister is not unlimited. The thought of barring Palestinian families, a large part of which are much bereaved, from taking part in a memorial ceremony, whose goal is reconciliation, peace and hope, is entirely absurd. In a perfect world, we would not be holding this ceremony in a week where the number of bereaved families has grown on both sides. We call on the public to come to the ceremony and to join us in spreading our very important, central message: No to despair, yes to hope."

Gabi Laski, who represented the petitioners said, "Justice was served today in the Supreme Court, and tomorrow evening some 100 Palestinians will come to Park Hayarkon in Tel Aviv to take part in this meaningful and important event."