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Liberman goes to war against alternative Memorial Day ceremony

Frustrated but unbowed, organizers of the Israeli-Palestinian Memorial Day ceremony hope this year’s event will be the biggest yet. 

Palestinians and Israelis take part in the yearly alternative Memorial Day service organized by Combatants for Peace in 2016. (Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

Palestinians and Israelis take part in the yearly alternative Memorial Day service organized by Combatants for Peace in 2016. (Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman announced Tuesday that Israel would deny entry permits to 110 Palestinians who planned to participate in the annual Israeli-Palestinian Memorial Day Ceremony.

Liberman called the alternative Memorial Day ceremony, organized jointly by Combatants for Peace and the Bereaved Families Forum, a “show of poor taste and lack of sensitivity that hurts the bereaved families who are most precious to us.”

Israeli peace activists remained undeterred. “It’s always darkest before the dawn,” Nathan Landau, an organizer for the Israeli-Palestinian group Combatants for Peace, said by phone on Wednesday.

“Liberman’s decision is a cowardly one,” he added. “It reflects his deep fear of the brave people — bereaved family members, Israelis and Palestinians — who are choosing to commemorate this day in a different way.”

In a joint statement, Combatants for Peace and the Families Forum wrote, “It is the Defense Minister who is desecrating Memorial Day and hurting the Israeli and Palestinian bereaved families who want to pursue reconciliation.”

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This year has not been easy for the organizers of the Israeli-Palestinian Memorial Day Ceremony, which began in 2006. The initial venue for the event, an auditorium in the city of Holon, backed out of the agreement with the organizers after the municipality deemed the event “political.”

“After a month and a half of being in contact with [the venue], we suddenly got the call,” Landau recounted. “They said ‘listen, we can’t hold the ceremony here.’”

“I had told them what the event was at the very first meeting,” he continued. “I showed them the videos of [last year’s] ceremony — all the cards were on the table. But then I realized that was not the main consideration motivating them here: It was about fear.”

Israeli minister of Defense Avigdor Liberman holds a press conference during the construction of the new Israeli settlement Amichai, to be established as the new home for the evacuated residents of Amona, October 18, 2017. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Israeli minister of Defense Avigdor Liberman holds a press conference during the construction of the new Israeli settlement Amichai, to be established as the new home for the evacuated residents of Amona, October 18, 2017. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Despite the challenges, organizers of the event expect an even bigger turnout than last year, when 4,000 people attended the ceremony at Tel Aviv’s Exhibition Grounds. Last year, like this year, Israel refused to grant permits to Palestinian participants, so a parallel event attended by 800 people was held in Beit Jala, near Bethlehem, in the occupied West Bank.

“There is a great demand for shared recognition of the grief and the pain,” Landau said. “We expect a lot of people will come.” He estimated this year’s attendance will exceed 6,000 people.

Outside of last year’s ceremony, right-wing demonstrators cursed, harassed, and assaulted attendees as they walked into the venue. Some attendees reportedly had bags of urine thrown at them. Landau said that far-right groups were planning to protest the Memorial Day Ceremony this year as well.

“We know there will be protesters,” Landau told me. “The question is how tolerant the police will be of that kind of behavior. I hope this year they will be less tolerant.”

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