UN Envoy Tells Israeli-Palestinian Memorial Ceremony: ‘You’re a Source of Inspiration to Us All'

'There are people who want to burn all bridges between Israelis and Palestinians. What you are doing is going against that,' says Mladenov ■ Event has been criticized by politicians and right-wing activists, who claim it supports terrorism

Noa Landau
Noa Landau
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The Israeli-Palestinian memorial service in 2018.
The Israeli-Palestinian memorial service in 2018. Credit: Ofer Vaknin
Noa Landau
Noa Landau

The United Nations Middle East envoy Nickolay Mladenov sent a video clip expressing support for the joint Israeli-Palestinian Memorial Day ceremony, which will take place online on Monday night.

Mladenov thanked the bereaved parents participating, saying that they serve as a source of inspiration and hope. The event has been criticized by Israeli politicians and right-wing activists, who claim that it supports terrorism. In light of this, Mladenov sought to embolden the event's organizers.

This year marks the fifteenth annual event, which was started by a father whose son died fighting in Lebanon as an alternative to Israel’s national Memorial Day ceremony. It is organized by Combatants for Peace, an organization of former Israeli soldiers and Palestinian militants and the Parents Circle Families Forum, a group of bereaved Israeli and Palestinian families that work together for reconciliation.

“I want to thank all of you for coming together every year. This is an important and remarkable event that you are organizing, and let me begin by saying, from the bottom of my heart, that you are an inspiration to all of us. You are able to cross the divide, to find partners on both sides of the conflict, and this is something that is very much needed today,” Mladenov says in the video.

This is particularly relevant now, Mladenov adds, while the world is struggling against the coronavirus outbreak. “We’ve seen operation, we’ve seen confrontation, but 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,” he says.

His statement continues, “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.

“I want to thank you, again, from the bottom of my heart, for your work, for your fantastic commitment, and to assure you, that we at the United Nations, recognize your work, and we will tell the world about what you are doing, and we will continue supporting you as much as we can. God bless you all.”

Organizers welcomed Mladenov’s remarks and said they would “proudly show them at the ceremony alongside speeches by Israeli and Palestinian bereaved families.”

Last year, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu barred dozens of Palestinians from entering Israel to participate in the ceremony. He had tried to deny entry to more than 180 Palestinians but 100 were allowed in following a decision by Israel’s high court. Right-wing activists demonstrated against last year’s event, cursing and spitting at participants. 

It was also livestreamed in Gaza for the first time last year by activist Rami Aman, who was arrested by Hamas earlier this month for taking part in a Zoom call with Israeli peace activists.

The ceremony will be broadcast Combatants for Peace and Bereaved Families Forum websites and Facebook pages on Monday, the eve of Israel’s Memorial Day, at 8:30 P.M.

Speakers at this year’s event will include Yaqub al-Rabi of the village of Bidya, whose wife, Aisha, was killed by a stone suspected to have been thrown by a settler at their vehicle in 2018; Tal Kfir of Jerusalem who lost her sister, Yael, in a terrorist attack at Tsrifin in September 2003; Yusra Mahfoud of the Al-Arroub refugee camp near Hebron, whose 14-year-old son Alaa was shot and killed by soldiers in 2000; and Hagai Yoel of Kibbutz Ramat Rachel, whose brother Eyal was killed in Operation Defensive Shield in Jenin in 2002.

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