Israeli-Palestinian Memorial Day Ceremony Slated for Tel Aviv

Combatants for Peace will hold its 12th annual ceremony together with the Parents Circle — Families Forum in Tel Aviv after the Holon municipality reneged on its agreement to hold it in its sports hall, claiming it was 'political'

Last year's ceremony, with some 4,000 in attendance
Chai Ashkenazi

The 12th Israeli-Palestinian Alternative Memorial Day Ceremony for bereaved families and combatants on both sides of the conflict will be held on April 17, 2018 in Tel Aviv’s Yarkon Park.

Since 2006, thousands of people have attended the event yearly, which is held on Israel’s Memorial Day. The event, organized by Combatants for Peace and the Parents Circle — Families Forum, was moved to Tel Aviv after Holon reneged on its agreement to hold it in its sports hall, claiming it was “political.”

“We recognize the pain and the terrible price both sides must pay, and choose together to stop the violence and forge a way of agreement that enables life to everyone. We understand that just as we share the same pain and the same tears, so we must share the same future,” the Combatants for Peace site says of the event.

Some 4,000 people attended the event last year, at Yarkon Park. Several dozen right-wing counter-protesters tried to disrupt the ceremony and assaulted participants, spitting, kicking and cursing at them. Some of the right-wing activists followed people leaving the event and assaulted them while they were boarding the buses waiting to take them home.

In video footage of the event, protesters are heard threatening to “stick a knife” into the “head” of participants entering the hall. Others are shouting to burn the participants and “Hitler would have killed you.”

Some of the participants said bags of urine had been thrown at them and many said they felt fear. Meretz lawmakers Zehava Galon, Michal Rozin and Esawi Freige were spit on and cursed out.

The day after the ceremony last year, Education Minister Naftali Bennett posted on his Twitter account: “I expect people who mourn for baby murderers and bus bombers to be a little less sensitive to spits, pushes and water.” A short while later the tweet was deleted. Following the criticism of his tweet, Bennett denied he had posted it and said a “student” in his office who used the minister’s account by mistake had done it.

A few months ago the two sponsoring organizations began looking for another place to hold the ceremony, after the municipal Sports Palaces in Tel Aviv said the audience had exceeded the permitted number of people. One of the organizers said they were told that they were “a headache” and “brouhaha.” Nokia Hall was already booked for the required date.

The organizers started negotiating with the Holon municipality to hold the event at Toto Hall. “We told them everything about the event, hiding nothing,” says Nathan Landau, one of the organizers. “There was a mutual understanding on holding the ceremony in Holon, we agreed on a price and were discussing where to set the security barriers and the size of the stage.”

But although the sides had signed a memorandum of understandings, after six weeks of discussion the hall manager suddenly announced at the beginning of February that the ceremony was canceled, claiming it was a “political event.”

“It was clear she was following orders from higher up,” Landau said.

Several court rulings have stipulated that a local government’s authority to cancel events it doesn’t want, merely because they are “controversial,” is limited. The courts ruled that in view of the importance of the freedom of speech, it may be restricted only in extremely irregular cases, which pose a real danger to public safety.

However, not all local governments abide by that. Two months ago the Gan Yoshiyahu local committee was forced to revoke its decision forbidding political activity in the moshav’s public area. The committee had banned the activity in a bid to prevent Breaking the Silence, which had been invited by some of the residents, from holding a lecture in the community.

When Holon’s Toto Hall canceled the event the organizers returned to the Tel Aviv municipality, which rented them the Gan Vradim compound in Yarkon Park. The organizers hope the overall cost won’t exceed 600,000 shekels ($170,00) — last year they paid 200,000 to 250,000 — and they launched a crowdfunding campaign to pay for it.

The organizers say the new venue will enable more people to take part in the event and hope that this time the police will be able to protect the participants from possible rightist harassment.

Last year Israel refused to allow 225 Palestinians from the West Bank to take part in the ceremony. The official reason was security — a stabbing attack had occurred a few days earlier — but the organizers said it was a political decision. Following the ban, a similar ceremony, the first of its kind, was held in Beit Jala, with the attendance of some 600 people. The Defense Ministry has not given its approval yet to a list of 200 Palestinians who wish to take part in the ceremony.

The two organizations said that “following the ugly events last year, it took longer to find a place for the ceremony. ... In a bid to accommodate the large number of people who want to take part in the ceremony, it was decided to hold it out of doors for the first time. The Tel Aviv municipality welcomed us with open arms and agreed to hold the ceremony in Yarkon Park.”

The Toto Hall director declined to comment.