Swords in our Garden: Yom haZikaron Alternative Memorial Review

MAY 11, 2018

“They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore. Come, descendants of Jacob, let us walk in the light of the Lord (Isaiah 2:4-5, NIV).”

Too often, prophetic strategies are tamed into romantic ideals, effectively absolving us of responsibility. Too often, rather than implementing Isaiah 2 into our surrounding reality, we reduce it to comforting platitudes, or—ironically—weaponise it in reference to those we deem uncooperative.

This was not so the night of April 17th, where over 7,000 people gathered in Tel Aviv for a joint memorial ceremony and inclusive alternative to the national holiday Yom haZikaron. It was the 13th annual event of its nature, inviting bereaved Palestinians and Israelis to commemorate their losses side by side.

During Israeli Independence week, Yom haZikaron (The Day of Remembrance) is dedicated to fallen Israeli soldiers and civilians. Controversy sparked as the memorial organizers, without usurping or overlooking Israeli losses, extended this national, corporate mourning platform to include Palestinian victims of violence–brilliantly disarming the stereotype that one community’s validation can only come at the other’s expense.

Jewish Israelis, Palestinians with Israeli ID’s, and third-party peace seekers mobilised to attend; however, due to the event’s reputation, dozens from the Palestinian Territories were denied permits to cross the border. Ceremony organisers processed an appeal to the court, and to their delight, a mere 4 hours prior to the event, the ban reformed to allow 90 Palestinians through to participate alongside the rest.

Despite being serenaded into the park by the distant shouting and calloused slurs of (Israeli) protestors, the agitated hoofbeats of police horses, and the throbbing pulse of siren lights, the atmosphere was pregnant with hope. A maze of steel gates insulated attendees from opponents, a makeshift sanctuary tucked away from the noise, somehow both electric with vision but ineffably tender.

A series of speakers, musicians and activists from both sides, many of whom personally lost a parent or child to violence, re-eulogised both their loved ones and their enmity for those responsible. The unpredictable nature of grief, as one father expressed, led him here after vengeance and bitterness only soured his son’s legacy. Hope was no longer naive, but rational.

Over and over throughout the night, featured speakers circled back to this theme: that because of, not despite, titanic grief, they finally recognise one another. They unite out of ambition, not submission. The beautiful surprise is that they may arrive out of desperation, but they leave with camaraderie. Each person bargained relentlessly with their own trauma until, in a sacred and ironic turn of events, their enemies accidentally became their allies.

However, while we can work to change hardened hearts—such as those staging incitement outside the gate for the entire duration of the ceremony—speakers were careful not to conflate peace with passivity. Neither Israeli or Palestinian representatives encouraged polite silence from the other in response to short-term acts of violence or long-term imbalances of power. True unity does not mean acquiescing to an unjust status quo; effective Biblical reconciliation treats both the symptoms and the disease.

In this effect, the good news of the Gospel is that God’s love is vast enough to free both the vulnerable and the powerful; that the very concept of dominance is rendered unnecessary by grace.

The community leaders, doctors, educators, artists and other visionaries behind the joint memorial ceremony truly set examples of Isaiah 2. They extend us the invitation to join them—which will require outliving the fear and discomfort of change, leaning into the tension of rearranging a society according to the needs of both Palestinians and Israelis. The call of this text, to “beat swords into plowshares”, means not passively sheathing weapons, but actively repurposing them for growth.

Healing does not barter back everything tragedy steals, but when we enter it together, we already co-midwife a kinder tomorrow.

We have heard it said that death is the ultimate equaliser. Not so; it is grace.

Where mourning is tasked with reconciliation, where pain is turned back on its head, and grief finally given a use, we have broken the back of war.

By Hana Shapiro