The 16th joint Israeli-Palestinian Memorial Day ceremony was held Tuesday evening, co-hosted by the left-wing NGOs Combatants for Peace and Parents Circle – Families Forum.
During the ceremony, two bereaved Israelis and two bereaved Palestinians spoke and video message by the actor Richard Gere was screened. Due to the coronavirus safety precautions, the ceremony was broadcasted online.
Two weeks ago, a company that rents out billboards refused at first to approve signage publicizing the ceremony, but eventually did so.
Gili Meisler, whose brother Giora was missing for two years after the Yom Kippur War until his remains were returned from Egypt, said that he is trying to use his personal loss to show to anyone who would listen that reality could look different.
“[At first] the strong feelings that accompanied me was hatred, revenge and complete certainty that I was right … I believed that giving up revenge would be like losing him again and betraying him. But then, just before I finished high school, by chance I met Ali from East Jerusalem and the strong friendship that developed put my whole worldview to the test,” Meisler said. “Ali, who was about Giora’s age, became the find I could talk to about my life and about life in general, and suddenly I experienced truly knowing ‘the enemy’ and friendship with ‘the other,’ ‘the stranger,’ ‘the fearsome.’"
Layla Alsheikh, 43, from the village of Battir in the West Bank said that 19 years ago her baby son died after inhaling tear gas from a canister that had been thrown into their courtyard. She described the hard road she was forced to travel with her son to get medical attention. “Despite all this, I didn’t look for revenge, I focused on protecting my other children,” she said, explaining the reasons she chose to join the Parents’ Circle.
“An Israeli woman came up to me after she hear my story and said: ‘I’m sorry that members of my people caused you this suffering. As a mother, I understand the suffering, sorrow and bitter pain inside you. I know what you feel right now and I know it’s hard for you to put into words.’ This woman didn’t know that her simple words lit my path again, a path that I had closed by myself, on myself because at that time it wasn’t important for me to fight for change, or, more precisely, I didn’t believe there was a chance or hope, until I felt the righteousness of those who are fighting for a better future not only for their children, but for everyone,” Alsheikh said.
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“From that moment I took upon myself non-violent struggle, determined and with all my strength, to change reality,” Alsheikh continued. “I took the message of reconciliation and peace and I started to spread it everywhere … with the goal of trying to change what needs to be changed and ending the occupation, which wears down my people anew every day and expands the circle of violence," she added.
In the video Gere sent for the ceremony, he said that he hopes that the Middle East conflict could be resolved and set an example for the whole world of how to solve conflicts. Gere asked everyone to look deep into themselves and find a narrative of connection instead of superficial narratives about separation.