Israel turned down all 181 applications of Palestinians from the West Bank invited by the organizers of a joint Israeli-Palestinian Memorial Day ceremony in Tel Aviv. Sources told Haaretz that the order banning the Palestinians came from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who also serves as defense minister. Netanyahu’s bureau declined to comment.
A statement in response to the applications said: “The requests were denied because there is a closure on the eve of Memorial Day.” Such a closure is imposed every year, but in previous years, invited Palestinians were allowed to enter Israel on the eve of the ceremony, which has been held since 2006.
The ceremony 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.
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Sulaiman Khatib, one of the leaders of Combatants for Peace who served 10 years in an Israeli prison for an attempted stabbing, told Haaretz that they were considering a petition to the High Court of Justice over the decision. “I come in every time, in the end they allow it...they refuse every time until two hours before the ceremony, it’s complicated because the High Court is needed, they make it difficult.”
Combatants for Peace said: “How expected but regrettable that the Defense Ministry hasn’t learned anything from the lessons of previous years, including the High Court’s ruling from last year. Many of those denied entry come in to Israel legally and on a regular basis throughout the year and take part in various activities of the organizations and in our dialogues. It is regrettable to see how the Defense Ministry not only turns its back on activities that promote partnership and peace, but also disparages all the bereaved families that seek to remember their loved ones in a joint framework that offers optimism and a shared future.”
Last year, some 6,800 Israelis and Palestinians on both sides of the political divide came together to mourn and acknowledge each other’s grief for loved ones killed in the conflict at the unique joint Memorial Day ceremony, where they called for an end to the violence.
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Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman prohibited then too the entry of Palestinian participants in the ceremony. “I will not lend a hand to the disgracing of Memorial Day,” he said at the time. “This is not a memorial ceremony but a show of bad taste and lack of sensitivity that hurts the bereaved families who are dearer to us than anything.” The Defense Ministry said that the participants are relatives of terrorists, a claim it subsequently took back.
The High Court overturned Lieberman’s decision and instructed him to allow entry to 90 Palestinians, saying that the defense minister had completely ignored “the feelings of the bereaved families who want to take part in the ceremony,” and that Lieberman’s decision showed “real imbalance and unreasonableness that justifies our intervention.”