For Whom I Stand

Yahel regularly features blog posts written by current participants in the Yahel Social Change Program. This week’s blog post comes from Rachel Cherrick. The group has recently been tackling issues related to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and has heard many different narratives that come out of this topic. The next few participants posts are dedicated to the different responses to this topic. The views in this post belong to the author.

When I was in Israel in eighth grade with my Jewish Day School, I remember that as the siren sounded on Yom Hazikaron, Israel’s Memorial Day, we got off our tour bus and stood in silence on the side of the highway alongside dozens of other Israelis, in memory of all those that had sacrificed their lives for this country. This year on Yom Hazikaron, I also stood alongside the highway in silence as the sirens rang throughout the country, but this time I did not stand to only honor the Jewish Israelis who have fallen soldiers and victims of terror who died, but also those who most Israelis forget to remember on this day.

While I understand the importance of having a day to commemorate Israelis who have died in the name of Israel, Yom Hazikaron more than any other day reminds me of the pain and suffering that so many Palestinians have also endured as a result of this struggle. The bereavement of losing a loved one transcends beyond borders and walls separating Palestine and Israel; it is something that no one would ever wish upon another human. This past week our group watched a powerful documentary called Encounter Point that follows the efforts of several everyday Palestinian and Israeli leaders, working to promote a nonviolent end to the conflict. Two of the actors include a bereaved Israeli mother and a wounded Palestinian bereaved brother. Both use their grief and anger surrounding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to recognize each other’s pain as a way to try to reach a mutual understanding of the other’s situation through dialogue and meetings. It is important that both the Israelis and Palestinians see that each side has lost loved ones and that more importantly, such a trauma should not deter each side from trying to find a peaceful solution. One of the first steps to coping with this grief is to give space for Israelis to share their pain with Palestinians and vice versa, thus helping to slowly break down the walls the Israel continues to build around its borders and build bridges to restore the face of humanity to this struggle.

Yom Hazikaron Ceremony at Tichon Ezori where I teach English
Yom Hazikaron Ceremony at Tichon Ezori where I teach English

While we have spent much time on Yahel these past few weeks exploring the meanings and roots behind various Israeli and Palestinian narratives, I recognize more and more the damaging effects of this internalized national trauma on both Palestinians and Israelis. This past week, our group took a trip to the West Bank where we met with several different Palestinian non-violent peace activists. We heard from Daoud Nassar, the founder of Tent of Nations, a Palestinian farm that promotes non-violent peace building. He spoke about the organization’s newfound form of resistance by refusing to be the enemy of the Israeli. What can come from blaming the other side? Only more hatred and bitterness. Traumatic experiences have a tendency to foster hatred toward the other side or those who seemingly caused the trauma. But traumatic experiences also have the potential of fostering mutual understanding among the Israelis and Palestinians.

So this year on Yom Hazikaron, rather than standing just to commemorate the Israeli fallen soldiers and terror victims, I also stood to honor the individuals that participate in the reconciliation processes. I stood to honor the individuals that work to bring about understanding and compassion among Palestinians and Israelis and who continue to work in spite of and as a result of their own grief and suffering.

Street art from Tel Aviv--"Jews and Arabs refuse to be enemies"
Street art from Tel Aviv–“Jews and Arabs refuse to be enemies”
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