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Both Israelis and Palestinians come together to honor victims

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

Israelis and Palestinians coming together for any reason right now is rare, but some did last night for a joint memorial ceremony honoring victims of the Israel-Hamas conflict. NPR's Daniel Estrin reports.

DANIEL ESTRIN, BYLINE: Israel's Memorial Day begins with a siren.

(SOUNDBITE OF SIREN)

ESTRIN: When the minute of silence ends, memorial ceremonies begin, honoring fallen soldiers and victims of attacks. At a movie theater in Tel Aviv, a few dozen Israelis gather to watch an alternative ceremony honoring both Israeli and Palestinian victims.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: (Non-English language spoken).

ESTRIN: Remembering Palestinians on Israeli Memorial Day makes many uncomfortable. In recent years, the Israeli government has tried to ban Palestinians from participating. With the war, there are sweeping restrictions against Palestinians visiting Israel, and there are fears the ceremony could be attacked, so it's livestreamed.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: (Non-English language spoken).

ESTRIN: The emcees are a Palestinian and an Israel from the group Combatants for Peace, those who once fought in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

GUY ELHANAN: (Non-English language spoken).

ESTRIN: Emcee Guy Elhanan says, we chose to gather here today to remind ourselves war is not inevitable.

AHMAD ALHILU: (Non-English language spoken).

ESTRIN: Combatants for Peace member Ahmad Alhilu speaks to the camera. More than 60 people and his family have been killed in Gaza. He speaks about the Hamas attacks on October 7, Israel's deadliest day in history, which prompted Israel's ongoing offensive in Gaza.

ALHILU: (Non-English language spoken).

ESTRIN: He says, I personally understand the great fear and hurt that struck Israelis after the events of October 7. However, does killing tens of thousands of people, causing hunger, fear, terror and indescribable pain, promise security and peace for Israelis? The other group organizing this ceremony is the Bereaved Families Forum, Israeli and Palestinian families who lost loved ones to conflict. Since the war, their Zoom meetings have been rough, says group activist Oren Balaban.

OREN BALABAN: Being a peace activist nowadays in Israel and in Palestine is challenging because Israel still lives in October 7. If you open TV, it's October 7. And actually, in Palestine, they don't recognize October 7. They lived from October 8. Actually, it's hard to talk Israelis and Palestinians nowadays.

ESTRIN: His wife, Yasmin Gamliel, watches the ceremony and feels deflated.

YASMIN GAMLIEL: It's such a small amount of people compared to so much hatred above. I know you should keep hope, but it's really hard to right now.

MICHAL HALEV: (Non-English language spoken).

ESTRIN: Michal Halev speaks at the ceremony about her son killed at a music festival October 7.

HALEV: (Non-English language spoken).

ESTRIN: She speaks about grieving mothers, Israeli and Palestinian.

HALEV: (Non-English language spoken).

ESTRIN: She says, there are and will be no winners in this war. We have all already lost. Then two musicians sing in Hebrew and Arabic.

UNIDENTIFIED MUSICAL ARTISTS: (Singing in non-English language).

ESTRIN: The Bereaved Families Forum says it numbered about 600 Israeli and Palestinian families before this war. Since the war, some 150 families joined. Many more Palestinian and Israeli families have not joined but are newly bereaved all the same. Daniel Estrin, NPR News, Tel Aviv. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Daniel Estrin is NPR's international correspondent in Jerusalem.
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