Did Gantz Attend a Memorial for Hamas Terrorists? Fact Checking Netanyahu's Claim

The prime minister also stated that his main rival said he put Israeli soldiers at risk to prevent harming Palestinians. So we checked the archives

Benny Gantz presents his party's list in Tel Aviv, Israel, February 19, 2019.
\ AMIR COHEN/ REUTERS

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told Likud ministers and MKs on Sunday that Kahol Lavan chairman Benny Gantz had attended a memorial ceremony for Hamas terrorists and that Gantz said he put Golani soldiers at risk so as not to harm Palestinians.

“[Kahol Lavan co-chairman Yair] Lapid and Gantz are trying to camouflage themselves as if they’re not leftists. The media is trying to hide all kinds of things about Gantz,” Netanyahu stated. “A year after Operation Protective Edge, Gantz attended a memorial ceremony for a thousand Hamas terrorists who were killed in Protective Edge.”

So we checked the archives.

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The event in question took place in June 2015 at Kibbutz Kfar Aza, near the Gaza border. But it was not an event saluting terrorists, as Netanyahu claimed, but a ceremony that, according to its organizers, aimed to bring the Israeli and Palestinian people closer. It was presented as a festive concert by Jews and Arabs to express hope for dialogue and reconciliation.

The event, entitled “Concert Without Borders,” was the brainchild of Dr. Esther Bartur, a Bible lecturer at Tel Aviv University and a lawyer who specializes in civil rights. She suggested the idea to conductor Avner Itai, and when he agreed to participate and organize it with her, she started to recruit choirs, the orchestra, and soloists to participate. Yair Dalal was the concert’s musical director, and officials from the Shaar Hanegev Regional Council helped organize the event. Both Jews and Arabs from Israel participated in it; a delegation of Palestinians scheduled to attend did not come in the end, because Hamas did not let them leave Gaza. Most of the event was devoted to Hebrew and Arabic musical performances rather than speeches.

Mozart’s “Requiem” was played during the first half of the concert, along with Jewish and Arab lamentations, “like a burial prayer for both the Israeli and Palestinian victims of the last war,” the organizers said. In the second part of the concert, “symbolizing the hope of reconciliation,” Jewish and Arab musicians sang together in both languages.

Some residents in the south protested the holding of the concert, claiming that it improperly equated the suffering of the two peoples.

Gantz, who had conducted Operation Protective Edge the previous year but had since retired from the army, attended and was photographed in the audience. Asked about the concert by Channel 2 News, he said, “It was very nice. There is not only a statement here, but also action and hope, which I think is very, very beautiful.”

Soldiers at risk?

Netanyahu’s second claim, that Gantz endangered Golani soldiers, takes out of context remarks Gantz made at an event he attended in 2015. Speaking at a conference held by Shurat HaDin, a legal center that represents terror victims, Gantz addressed the dilemma he faced as chief of staff with regard to attacking Shifa and Wafa hospitals in the Gaza Strip during Operation Protective Edge, given that they were being used by terrorists for military purposes.

“Shifa was full of refugees,” Gantz said. “The issue came up many times, and I always rejected the proposal to bomb there, even though I knew that the Hamas leadership was behind all of this .”

As for Wafa Hospital in the Gaza City neighborhood of Shujaiyeh, he said, “I was there. During the campaign Golani was [in a position] under the hospital and gunfire was coming from the hospital. We had warned the hospital directors in advance. We made sure that no [civilians were] inside. I was there myself, and nevertheless I told the commanders, ‘Wait.’ We asked the [hospital] officials again to get everyone out, and only then did I give permission to attack. And no civilians were hurt. In that case I took a risk with Golani. So we take risks.”

Gantz, then, was admitting that he had taken a risk when he restrained Israel Defense Forces soldiers to prevent the potential humanitarian and public relations disaster of attacking a hospital.