A different approach to Yom Hazikaron took place Sunday in Tel Aviv. An alternative form of marking Israel’s remembrance day for fallen soldiers – bringing together Israelis and Palestinians who have lost family members to decades of conflict – was the 12th annual such gathering.
About 4,000 participants crowded into an arena for the ceremony convened by Combatants for Peace and Parents Circle-Families Forum, a grassroots organization of bereaved Palestinians and Israelis with the slogan, “It won’t stop until we talk.” Regardless of one’s politics, their website – theparentscircle.com – is a testament to the ability of families who have suffered the worst imaginable tragedy to get beyond anger and try to find or create something constructive in the aftermath.
On the other hand, whatever one’s politics, one should condemn the behaviour of a few dozen apparently far-right thugs who protested outside and disrupted the proceedings. Screaming “traitor,” “enemies” and “Nazis,” the protesters threw sand and spat at attendees, including a member of the Knesset. According to a report in the Jerusalem Post, one individual shouted at those entering the arena: “I hate Hitler – not for what he did but for not finishing the job and killing you.”
Across whatever divides exist among Jews, there should be a clear consensus that language and behaviour like this has no justification.
Yet, while 50 or so individuals with no sense of decency made the experience shockingly unpleasant, remember that 4,000 people came together across lines of race, religion and experience based on two things they share in common: grief and the certainty that something has to change if our respective peoples are to ever know lasting peace.
We can argue whether what the participants did helps advance that ideal future, but we can’t argue that everything done before has achieved it, because it has not.
After hundreds of community members filed out of the Chan Centre at the University of British Columbia Monday night following an uplifting and uncontroversial celebration of Yom Ha’atzmaut, anyone tuned to CBC Radio One heard an interview with David Grossman, re-broadcast from 2010. Grossman, considered one of Israel’s preeminent authors as well as a leading voice for peace, spoke about losing his son Uri, in the 2006 war in Lebanon against Hezbollah, about the necessity of Israeli military strength and about the efforts by then-U.S. president Barack Obama to broker some sort of peace in the region.
The interview was, sadly, timeless. There has not been a U.S. president who has not tried and failed to find peace between Israelis and Palestinians. There is not an Israeli parent who has not feared for their child in the Israel Defence Forces or when a terror attack strikes. One does not need to be a victim who has lost a family member, Grossman said, to be victimized by the circumstance where that kind of anxiety hovers over every day.
There is no doubt it is controversial for the parents, children or other loved ones of dead Israeli soldiers and the parents, children and other loved ones of Palestinians who have died in the conflict to come together. There is a whole range of reasons why many people would find this idea threatening, profane or wrong. But those who came together for the event should be granted by everyone the most minimal acknowledgement: it’s worth a try.
It might not work. But everything else has failed.
It is arrogant in the extreme to assume that we have the only answer. It is equally arrogant to assume there is no solution just because we ourselves can’t conceive of one.
If the current generation – of Israeli leaders, of U.S. presidents, of Diaspora leaders, commentators, activists, diplomats and anyone else – does not have solutions to this conflict, there is one encouraging light. There are young Israelis, Palestinians, Canadians and others who are trying new things. These ideas, too, might not work. But we have to keep trying.
At the local Yom Ha’atzmaut celebration Monday, children – some even toddlers – participated in songs of peace. Children of all ages danced and, even when they weren’t on stage as part of the performance, they filled the aisles with exuberant moves. The main musical attraction, the young Israelis who form the uplifting musical group Jane Bordeaux, chose to spend Yom Ha’atzmaut in Vancouver – their first concert outside Israel.
Will these young people hasten the future we seek?