Reversing Government Decision, Top Court Lets Bereaved Palestinians Enter Israel for Joint Memorial Day Ceremony

The High Court of Justice ruled on Tuesday to allow bereaved Palestinians to join Israelis in a Memorial Day ceremony. The ruling rejected the position of Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman, who said the event was not a memorial ceremony, but “a display of bad taste."

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The ruling was given following an urgent petition filed by the Parents Circle – Families Forum and Combatants for Peace, the organizers of the alternative Memorial Day ceremony taking place Tuesday evening in Tel Aviv.

Following the decision, Lieberman responded to the High Court’s ruling, saying that the court had equated "bereavement and terror" and "the murder and the murderer."

Lieberman added that the court’s decision "affects the people of Israel on their most national and uniting day" with the end result being "division instead of unification."

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Meanwhile, the event organizers praised the court’s decision. They said that the court had made it clear to the defense minister that "he also has limits and that he has to keep his sense of taste to himself."

"Lieberman will not tell bereaved families how to mark their pain … and [the ceremony] will be the largest since it was first held 13 years ago," added the organizers.

On Monday, Lieberman rejected a compromise that would allow a small Palestinian delegation to enter Israel to attend the ceremony.

Last week Lieberman said the event was “a display of bad taste and insensitivity that offends bereaved families who are more precious to us than anything.” 

In their ruling, the judges said that "the defense minister’s judgment is completely devoid of sensitivity to the bereaved families’ considerations, who want to hold a ceremony with Israelis and Palestinians."

The court also said that the decision ignored the sentiments of parts of the Israeli public that "identify with its content and goals."

The court took the defense minister to task over his statement that the ceremony is in "bad taste," saying he "completely ignored" the fact that there are bereaved families and parts of the Israeli public that do want the alternative ceremony to take place.

The statement said that in accordance with the court’s recommendation, Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit spoke to Lieberman about letting a small group of Palestinians wishing to attend the ceremony to enter Israel. However, even after considering the proposal, “the position of the minister remains unchanged” and that “the entry of Palestinians to participate in the ceremony is not necessarily conditioned on the specific behavior of any participant or his family.”

In light of the defense minister’s position, the attorney general’s position is that “There is no legal reason to require the state to allow Palestinians to enter Israel on Memorial Day to attend the ceremony.”

The Defense Ministry admitted, however, that contrary to its initial claims, “At this stage there is no information that some of the Palestinian residents who wished to participate in the gathering are relatives of Palestinian residents who were killed during terror attacks against the State of Israel.” The ministry said it “apologized for the inaccuracy in this matter.”

The organizers had submitted a list of some 200 Palestinians seeking to attend the ceremony. Last week Lieberman announced that he had rejected the requests of 110 of them on grounds that the ceremony was “a desecration of Memorial Day.” The Defense Ministry did not provide further details, but it is assumed that the other half of the group was rejected for security reasons. The petition, filed by attorneys Gaby Lasky and Yuval Yoaz, relates to those invited, who don’t have security obstacles, to getting a permit.

The petition argues that the discretion given by the defense minister and the army commander in the territories, who is responsible for issuing the entry permits to Palestinians, “Does not authorize them to consider what is ‘good taste’ or ‘bad taste,’ or even what ‘hurts people’s feelings.’” It is not Lieberman’s job, the petitioners said, “To express his opinion on what constitutes the ‘good taste’ of the event, whose essence is realizing the right to freedom of expression in public.”

The state’s response to the High Court included an accompanying letter from the Public Council for Commemorating Soldiers, a group made up of bereaved family members, heads of the Yad Labanim organization and of the IDF Widows and Orphans Organization. “The ceremony at issue is a political display that isn’t suited to the spirit of Memorial Day,” the council wrote. “It could insult the memory of the fallen and the feelings of the bereaved families and the general public.”