A joint Israeli-Palestinian Memorial Day ceremony held on Tuesday was broadcast in the Gaza Strip for the first time ever.
Israel's High Court overturned on Monday Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's decision to bar 181 Palestinians from entering Israel to participate in the alternative ceremony, organized by Combatants for Peace, an NGO for former Israeli soldiers and Palestinian militants and a group of bereaved Israeli and Palestinian families that work together for reconciliation.
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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.
Outside the ceremony, a few dozen protesters demonstrated against the event, and a few tried to burn a Palestinian flag. The police detained three of them for disturbing the peace and "throwing items at participents." A few of them tried to cross the protective barriers, and called participants "traitors," "kapos" and "Nazis."
They screamed, "Terror will come for you, too, don't be mistaken." Another shouted, "The Arab who sits at this ceremony covets your daughter, too, sir. This is the Memorial Day for fallen IDF soldiers, not terrorists, hopefully God will take you, you leftists, dirty leftists."
The screening of the alternative Memorial Day ceremony in Gaza is the brainchild of Rami Amman, a 37-year-old activist from Gaza. “I welcome every peace initiative coming from the Israeli side, I don’t care if it’s right or left wing,” he said. “I don’t think we - Palestinians and Israelis - should be busy blaming one another, especially after the terrible number of days we all went through - we need something else.”
Amman is the founder of a Gaza-based youth movement called Gaza Youth Committee, which is focused on developing local leadership in Gaza. He told Haaretz that the idea first came to him after Operation Cast Lead in 2009.
“I saw the meaningless deaths of normal civilians, and it made me realize I have to do something to change the reality here.” He began reaching out to Israeli activists five years later, after Operation Protective Edge in 2014, and launched the project Skype with the Enemy, in which Israelis and Palestinians could talk via video. “That helps us overcome the siege,” he said. “Both sides would sit there and apologize to one another, saying ‘it isn’t my war!'”
Tuesday night's screening of the joint Palestinian-Israeli memorial ceremony was broadcast in his office. “I’m hoping that people in Gaza will get a different idea about Israelis - and vice versa," he said, though he added that the event will be a very small one.
The screening, he noted, cannot take place in any public space due to security concerns following the recent flare-up. Amman said that despite his efforts, he feels that most Gazans may not be prepared to participate in such an event.
“Some of those who were killed were children, a school teacher, not militants. These killings create new enemies, people who are in pain,” he said. As a result, what was initially intended to be a large event consisted of around 10 participants who watched the ceremony simultaneously taking place in Tel Aviv.
In Tel Aviv, Israelis and the Palestinians who were lucky enough to be granted a permit also viewed a pre-recorded video address by another Gazan, Fatmeh Muhammadin from Shujaiyeh, who currently lives in the West Bank and was denied entry to participate in the ceremony.
Muhammadin is a 26-year-old activist with family members still living in Gaza. Her cousin, a member of Hamas, was killed in clashes with Israel, and the family house was struck a number of times. Muhammadin was also present when Razan Najjar, a Palestinian paramedic, was killed during a protest on the Gaza border fence. “It is still an open wound for me, even talking about it now makes me profoundly sad,” she told Haaretz.
When asked what prompted her to take part in the joint ceremony, Muhammadin answered: “An activist of Combatants for Peace in Ramallah told me about the event, it was clear to me that I want to take part.” When asked if she receive any negative reactions for her decision, she laughed. “Not at all! Everybody said wow, that’s amazing!”
She said she hopes to bring the plight of Gazans into the spotlight on Tuesday night. “I want to tell the story of Gaza. We live under siege, there is a shortage of electricity and our daily life is simply very difficult,” she said. “Some people think that Gaza is a terrorist-territory but I want the world to know that it is a very humane place, to tell about its people.”
“I was hoping I’d be there with you Israelis, and talk to you on the stage - not through a screen”, she said. Muhammadin now lives in Ramallah, after she was granted a permit from Israel to move there. “It took 5 years," she added. "It wasn’t easy.”
Back in Gaza, Amman faced his share of criticism and negative consequences for his actions. Last November, he claims he was abducted and interrogated by Hamas. Now, he said, some accuse him of “normalization” - collaborating with Israelis. “I hear that from people,” he says. “But I stand by my ideas. I believe in the path I have chosen.”
Bar Peleg contributed to this report.
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