EILOT REGION, May 7 (CGNews/Amirit Rosen) - For The Arava Institute—a college for environmental studies in the south of Israel
where Israelis, Palestinians, Jordanians and Americans study together–these recent weeks have posed unique challenges. This period included Holocaust Remembrance Day, Israeli Memorial Day for fallen soldiers and those killed in terror attacks, and Independence/ Nakba (Catastrophe) day. As the time drew closer, we were aware that with such a mixed student body we were going to have to find new ways to mark these days, a challenge that was not going to be easy to say the least.
In a student ceremony on Holocaust Remembrance Day, we touched on how people’s present personal experience link to their past and how past catastrophes become the living trauma of nations thus perpetuating a present-past continuum. Continuing this theme on Memorial Day a week later, the students decided to hold a joint ceremony grieving all people lost to violence whilst focusing on those that had been killed and hurt in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
The Memorial Day ceremony entailed an even greater emotional struggle because it involves pain and injustice that is ongoing and current. A circle where students shared their feelings and thoughts towards Memorial Day and Nakba/ Independence Day was the first step. As Memorial Day drew closer and more Israeli flags were raised, I saw how hard it was for our Palestinian friends to be with us through this expression of a nationalism they see as opposed to their own.
Against a background of a raised Palestinian and Israeli flag made by the students themselves and which, while symbolising equality, was also a very challenging sight for some of them, the ceremony began with an acknowledgment of how hard and special this ceremony was. One of the Israelis students said “In Israel, this is a day of grief for soldiers and those killed in terror attacks, but what we are doing here is recognising that both sides have been killed and hurt. This is extremely difficult to stomach and yet we choose to be in this difficult place together.”
The fact that an Israeli student mentioned that this ceremony is also commemorating fallen Israeli soldiers was extremely hard for Palestinians to hear. After the ceremony, many Palestinians said they felt misled. In their eyes, we had agreed it would be a ceremony about grief and suddenly we started speaking of soldiers whom they do not see as victims, but as perpetrators of the occupation. One of the Palestinians even said that had he known this he would not have taken part in the ceremony.
After in-depth discussions with the Palestinian participants, I understood further why the mention of soldiers was so hard to bear. One of my Palestinian friends told us about how he and the inhabitants of his village experience daily the violence of the occupation and repeated humiliation by Israeli soldiers. At the same time, I think he began to see how difficult it is for an Israeli to view a Palestinian who engages in violence as a human being, and therefore deduce that it is indeed possible for a Palestinian to view an Israeli soldier as a human being.
As we continued the ceremony we had Israeli and Palestinian testimonies of loss and grief. Strong criticism was directed at our leaders. Israelis read poems such as, “Even a fist was once an open palm with fingers”—the famous poem by Yehuda Amichai, one of Israel’s greatest poets. The Palestinians showed pictures of women and children hurt and killed in Gaza with background songs such as, “Don’t let the occupier see your tears”.
Of course during the ceremony much pain and anger needed to be dealt with on both sides. However, no one left the ceremony itself. Everyone sat together, listening to each other’s grief in the way they chose to express it.
At that brief moment, recognition was not a matter of negotiation, it was not a question of who is “right”; it was seeing the other and their pain. We ended with Muslim, Christian and Jewish prayers for peace.
Many of us—both Israelis and Palestinians—are recognising that our pain is used to fuel and justify ongoing violence. We challenge our societies and our hearts, by trying to create a space that can contain our own pain and the pain of the other that is caused by us. This will, hopefully, allow us to really see each other, stand together and—to the extent that we are able to do so emotionally—to stop the havoc and the injustice.