At nearly 90 years old, Israeli peace activist Uri Avnery wrote a powerful reflection last week on spending the eve of Israel’s “Memorial Day” with Israeli and Palestinian families who have lost loved ones in the ongoing violence.
Avnery is an Israeli writer and founder of the Gush Shalom peace movement. He was a member of the Irgun, a Zionist paramilitary group as a teenager and a member of the Knesset from 1965–74 and 1979–81. His essay In Praise of Emotion, hints to me of the healing power of a the psalms as they are sung in lament, anger, confusion, and grief — especially when we sing them with our enemies. Here’s an excerpt:
Last Sunday, on the eve of Israel’s Remembrance Day for the fallen in our wars, I was invited to an event organized by the activist group Combatants for Peace and the Forum of Israeli and Palestinian Bereaved Parents.
The first surprise was that it took place at all. In the general atmosphere of discouragement of the Israeli peace camp after the recent elections, when almost no one dared even to mention the word peace, such an event was heartening.
The second surprise was its size. It took place in one of the biggest halls in the country, Hangar 10 in Tel-Aviv’s fair grounds. It holds more than 2000 seats. A quarter of an hour before the starting time, attendance was depressingly sparse. Half an hour later, it was choke full. (Whatever the many virtues of the peace camp, punctuality is not among them.)
The third surprise was the composition of the audience. There were quite a lot of white-haired old-timers, including myself, but the great majority was composed of young people, at least half of them young women. Energetic, matter-of-fact youngsters, very Israeli.
I felt as if I was in a relay race. My generation passing the baton on to the next. The race continues.
BUT THE outstanding feature of the event was, of course, its content. Israelis and Palestinians were mourning together for their dead sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, victims of the conflict and wars, occupation and resistance (a.k.a. terror.)
An Arab villager spoke quietly of his daughter, killed by a soldier on her way to school. A Jewish mother spoke of her soldier son, killed in one of the wars. All in a subdued voice. Without pathos. Some spoke Hebrew, some Arabic.
They spoke of their first reaction after their loss, the feelings of hatred, the thirst for revenge. And then the slow change of heart. The understanding that the parents on the other side, the Enemy, felt exactly like them, that their loss, their mourning, their bereavement was exactly as their own. …–Uri Avery
Read the rest here.