Activists hold the annual Israeli-Palestinian Remembrance Day ceremony

With Israel's most sacrosanct day of remembrance as a backdrop, peace activists in Israel broadcast their annual joint Israeli-Palestinian Memorial Day ceremony on Sunday evening, with parallel events in London, New York and Los Angeles.

The ceremony, organized by Combatants for Peace and Parents Circle – Families Forum, two peacebuilding organizations, is unusual in that it seeks to recognize not only Israeli pain, but also the toll of Palestinian suffering over the decades. This year's event was particularly poignant given that it was the first since the deadly Hamas-led attack on Israel on October 7 and comes amid the devastation caused by the war in Gaza.

This year the ceremony, which has been held annually since 2006, was pre-recorded to avoid the possibility of disruption by protesters. In previous years it had attracted fierce criticism and a legal challenge in Israel, and organizers said on Sunday, shortly before the ceremony was broadcast, that its website had been hacked. As a result, organizers said it was not possible to watch it on YouTube as planned and viewers watched it on Facebook instead.

The ceremony, an annual event for peace activists in Israel, included speeches, songs, a poem about peace and a video showing children in Israel and the West Bank talking about the impact of war. A child wished “for all those who died to come back to life.” Palestinians in the West Bank did not attend in person, as Israel stopped allowing many Palestinians to work in Israel after the October 7 attacks led by Hamas, in which around 1,200 people were killed. There were no direct contributions even from the Gaza speakers.

“For many Israelis it seems like a provocation,” Yuval Rahamim said of the ceremony in a telephone interview from Tel Aviv. Mr. Rahamim, co-director of the Parents Circle – Families Forum, an Israeli-Palestinian organization of families who lost next-of-kin in the conflict, said his father had been killed in the 1967 Arab-Israeli war. He acknowledged that many Israelis would have found the event disconcerting, given the scale of suffering on October 7, but he said this also gave it more meaning.

“Many people have woken up to the reality that this conflict cannot continue,” he said, referring to decades of violence. “People are willing to take a stand.”

His sentiment was echoed by Magen Inon, 41, whose parents were killed on October 7 and who spoke in person at the start of the screening in London, which was held at a Jewish community centre. She said that she did not want what had happened to her family to be used as an argument for further war. “We felt like our personal pain was being hijacked by the national cause,” said Inon, who now works as a peace activist.

Many Israelis say the country is still gripped by a sense of shock and national loss after October 7 and are baffled by international criticism of the war on Gaza, which they mostly see as justified.

More than 34,000 people have been killed in Gaza during Israel's military campaign to defeat Hamas, and nearly all have been displaced from their homes amid a food crisis that aid workers say was largely caused by Israeli restrictions on deliveries of aid to the enclave.

But the ceremony, which was screened in more than 200 locations in Israel, highlighted the diversity and complexity of opinions within Israeli society on the issue. Several speakers discussed their hope for an end to generations of bloodshed and for peace.

Among the clearest contributions came from Palestinian speakers describing conditions in Gaza.

Ghadir Hani read a contribution from a woman from Gaza, whose name was given only as Najla, who described how she had lost 20 family members in the war, including her brother, a father of two, who she said had been killed while he went looking for food for his parents.

“They killed him as he walked down the street without posing any threat,” Ms. Hani read. “The death machine is still ready to kill,” she added. “But I know that on the other side there are many people who believe in peace.” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has repeatedly said that Israel's war is against Hamas, rather than the people of Gaza, and that his government regrets the civilian casualties.

Another contributor, Ahmed Helou, a member of Combatants for Peace, which brings together people who have fought for Israel or for Palestinian groups, suggested that the ferocity of the Israeli campaign had forced him to reevaluate the personal cost of his commitment to peace.

“The Israeli army continues to kill shamelessly. Everyone in Gaza is a terrorist in their eyes,” Mr. Helou said, recounting a litany of deaths his family suffered in Gaza. “Does causing insurmountable pain promise peace for Israelis?”

Remembrance Day in Israel began at sundown on Sunday and ceremonies will take place until Monday afternoon.

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