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Graveside clashes, protest parties, 15,000 join joint Memorial Day service

TJI Wrap
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Published: 28 April 2023

Last updated: 5 March 2024

High Court overrules Defence Minister; civil crisis causes several incidents during national holidays.

In a sharp rebuke to Defence Minister Yoav Gallant, Israel High Court of Justice ordered him to allow about 150 Palestinians invited to the annual Joint Israeli-Palestinian Memorial Ceremony to enter Israel and attend the event on Monday.

The ruling was a bright spot for opponents of the government during the national holidays of Yom Hazikaron (Memorial Day) and Yom Ha’atzmaut (Independence Day) this week, which were marred by clashes at military cemeteries and protests.

The ruling follows Gallant’s decision earlier this month to block the Palestinians from entering Israel for the joint ceremony, due to what he termed “the complex security situation” in the West Bank.

The court said it “regrets” the fact that Gallant’s decision earlier this month was made in contravention of two previous court rulings from 2018 and 2019 ordering the defence ministers at the time to allow those Palestinians invited to the event, now in its 17th year, to enter Israel.

The ceremony, run by Combatants for Peace and the Parents’ Circle, is designed to bring together Israelis and Palestinians who have lost loved ones in the conflict.

This year, nearly 15,000 participants attended the joint Memorial Day event, but it was again marred by right-wing hecklers.

It has been deeply controversial since its inception, though, particularly among the Israeli public, with critics accusing it of legitimising terrorism and equating Israel’s fallen soldiers with those who attacked them. To Palestinian detractors, the event represents unwanted normalisation with Israel.

Elsewhere, bereaved families heckled and scuffled with government representatives who attended events at military cemeteries, despite a petition from the families requesting they stay away.

A special unit from the Prime Minister's Office tasked with National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir's security arrived at the Be'er Sheva cemetery where he spoke. During his speech, bereaved families shouted at  Ben-Gvir, "You are not worthy," and "You don't deserve to be here. You are not a fighter; you are a fascist." Those applauding the minister and those opposing him clashed at the end of the speech.

In Haifa, bereaved families left the military cemetery in protest against Otzma Yehudit MK Limor Son Har-Melech's arrival, with one saying she received no answers from the municipality[GU1]  regarding the MK's attendance and another saying that she "represents the destruction of democracy and the image of the country."

Religious Zionism MK Michal Woldiger refused the personal request from bereaved families not to speak at the military cemetery in Ra'anana. During her speech, one family turned their backs on her.  Woldiger said: "I, as a private citizen, would not have come. I hear you. But I'm not a private citizen, I represent the country."

The Technology Minister, Likud’s Ofir Akunis, on the other hand, immediately handed over the right to speak at a cemetery in Tel Aviv to the bereaved mother of a soldier killed in Operation Protective Edge in 2014. In her speech, Ninet Mundschein said: "Minister Akunis asked me to speak in his place, in order to avoid division. But when I look at those present here, I ask - is there any division at all?"

A few hundred friends and relatives of Israel’s fallen soldiers avoided the official ceremonies at military cemeteries because of the participation of government ministers and attended an alternative Memorial Day service in Tel Aviv, in a square opposite Israel's Independence Hall.

Addressing the symbolism of the venue, Omri Shabtay, the organiser of the event whose father was killed nearly 50 years ago in the Yom Kippur War, said: “I feel like our country has lost its way, and that’s why it is so fitting that we stand right here at this spot where it all began.”

Quoting the national anthem, a bereaved father asked: “For what did my son fall if not for us to be ‘a free nation in our own land?’”

Benjamin Netanyahu's speech at the memorial ceremony at Jerusalem's Mount Herzl passed largely without interruption.

In an address which was prerecorded to avoid potential disruption from  protesters, the Prime Minister urged Israelis to end the “commotion for a moment” and appreciate what the country has done.

As the Independence Day ceremony proceeded in Jerusalem, pro-democracy demonstrators gathered at a major intersection in Tel Aviv, throwing their own "protest party."

The Joint Memorial Day Ceremony, with English subtitles

High Court orders Gallant to allow Palestinians to attend joint Memorial Day event

From revenge to peace: Thousands attend joint Israeli-Palestinian memorial for victims of the conflict (Haaretz)

Israel marks its most tense Memorial Day as mourners, ministers clash at cemeteries (Haaretz)

Israel ushers in 75th Independence Day in shadow of political upheaval (Times of Israel)

Israeli leaders stress national unity while tens of thousands protest at 75th Independence Day ‘party’ in Tel Aviv (Haaretz)

Why these relatives of Israel’s fallen soldiers chose to stay away from the military cemeteries (Haaretz)

Biden: Israel's resilient democracy the bedrock for our robust and special relationship (Haaretz)
US President congratulates Israel on its 75th Independence Day - but alludes to ongoing protests against government's judicial overhaul.

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