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Israeli-Palestinian ceremony ‘a beacon of hope for peace’

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“Yom Hazikaron is a deeply painful and sacred day. But so often, the Palestinian narrative is erased, which leads to greater despair for both sides,” says Basil Dubb, the co-chair of the local Jewish Democratic Initiative (JDI), explaining the organisation’s participation in a joint Palestinian-Israeli Yom Hazikaron ceremony on Tuesday, 3 May.

“As the organisers so eloquently put it, ‘By acknowledging the pain of those living on the other side, the ceremony offers us all the choice to walk a new path: the path of respect, equality, freedom – and ultimately peace’,” Dubb says.

He hopes this is something the local Jewish community can embrace. “If as Jews and South Africans, we believe that peace isn’t just possible but necessary and urgent, then all Jewish communities around the world must play their part in the educational, political, and socio-cultural process of peace-building,” says Dubb. “Compassionate listening and engagement, even when it’s excruciatingly painful, is a part of that process. The ceremony strives to remind people that war isn’t a predetermined fate, but a human choice.”

The Israeli-Palestinian Joint Memorial Day ceremony isn’t new. It has been hosted for the past 17 years by Combatants for Peace and the Parents Circle Families Forum. Combatants for Peace is made up predominantly of former fighters from both sides of the conflict who have since rejected violence. The Parents Circle Families Forum is an organisation of more than 600 Israeli and Palestinian families, all of whom have lost immediate family members to the conflict.

The event is the largest Israeli-Palestinian peace event in history. Last year 300 000 people joined in live, and more than one million people streamed it afterwards.

“It has become a beacon of hope for the peace community worldwide,” says Dubb. “JDI got involved in sponsoring the event last year to support the peace movement. As an organisation dedicated to democracy, peace, and equality, we stand in solidarity with all those who strive towards those ideals. We believe in amplifying the global Jewish solidarity movement towards a more democratic, peaceful, and secure Israel without the threat of occupation.”

He points out that “so many of the top former heads of the IDF [Israel Defense Forces] and Shin Bet [Israel’s internal security agency] have stated unequivocally that the ongoing occupation is one of the greatest security threats to Israel’s national security. This ceremony is one way to address such a statement and show that the occupation does nothing but perpetuate violence against both Israelis and Palestinians.”

He says the memorial is “also about showing Israeli society the massive support there is in the Jewish and non-Jewish world for a diplomatically and citizen-led resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict”.

“By far the most moving element of the ceremony is the testimony from parents and family members, Israeli and Palestinian, who have lost children, brothers, sisters, parents, and partners to this conflict,” he says.

“As the organisers say, ‘By mourning together we begin to shift public opinion on a massive scale.’

Dubb says that the fact that the ceremony attracts more than one million viewers worldwide speaks for itself. “Anyone who watches even part of the ceremony will experience the unique magic and hope it provides. The ceremony honours the lives of all those who have fallen victim to decades of violence, and provides a framework for escaping and ending this violence once and for all.

“When we begin to process our pain as Jews who have seen so many of our brothers and sisters die as a result of this conflict and occupation, and the pain of those who many see as ‘the enemy’, we can begin to heal and find a vision for the future. By fostering relationships with Palestinians, we can bring about a viable and permanent peace resolution.”

Furthermore, as South African Jews, “we have seen first-hand the powerful and even painful work of developing a shared society for all. Not that the circumstances are the same, but much of the trauma is the same. Violence is not a now-issue, it’s a forever issue. It lives in each cell of our bodies and is carried down epigenetically through the generations. We want to see Israel be a thriving, peaceful society that can be a light unto the nations as it was always imagined to be. The ceremony is a step in that direction.”

Dubb understands that some may feel uncomfortable with the ceremony, but he asks, “If peace-building and shared healing is controversial, then what hope do we have as Jews for the future of Israel? We Jews are one of the few persecuted minorities in the world who have achieved what so many can only dream of: self-determination and a nation state where we can freely and openly express our culture, ethnicity, religion, and identity. This is no small feat. Surely, we Jews have an added responsibility to be an example to others, to show the power of peace and the evil of war?”

He says that JDI understands that many hold the view that there’s “no partner for peace”, “but it’s perhaps more accurate to admit that neither the Knesset nor the PA [Palestinian Authority] are committed to peace in this moment.

“Perhaps it’s time to move away from the hope that this peace agreement will be initiated by the governments, and towards the understanding that it’s the will of the people that will change the facts on the ground. To have a partner for peace, we Jews must begin to build and safeguard relationships with Palestinians who want the same as us: peace and self-determination. This isn’t a controversial statement. A two-state solution is the official policy of the South African Jewish Board of Deputies, the South African Zionist Federation, the South African government, and the Israeli government.”

This and past ceremonies can be streamed online.

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