In 2014, I attended a Memorial Day Ceremony in memory of victims on both sides of the conflict, co-sponsored by Combatants for Peace and the Parents Circle – Families Forum. This was undoubtedly the most meaningful Memorial Day event I have ever attended in my nearly 40 years in Israel, and I am aware that this event is growing in numbers and importance from year to year.
At the ceremony, Muhammed Najjar spoke for Combatants for Peace:
Between the pain of those who are gone and the fear of those who may yet pay with their lives we come together to say enough pain and enough war, and stress that peace is the only solution to stop the killing.
We don’t hear statements like the one above very often during the year from “leaders” in Israeli or Palestinian society. Peace has all been but forgotten by most of the politicians who recently ran for office in the Israeli elections, who live in denial and apathy on this topic, which ought to be central to our lives, now and in the future.
Combatants for Peace, which was founded in 2006, is one of the most important Palestinian-Israeli peacebuilding organizations in both Israel and Palestine, which persists in promoting the idea of peace, despite all the obstacles due to the deep freeze of the political peace process and the ongoing violence in the West Bank and on the Gaza border. The organization is made up largely of Israeli and Palestinian former combatants, people who in the past had take an active role in the violence of the conflict, who have laid down their weapons to pursue another path, as was done in other conflicts in the world, such as the one in Northern Ireland, that lasted a long time but was finally resolved in April 1998.
Among other things that distinguishes it as a leading peace organization in this region, Combatants for Peace is a believer and a practitioner of non-violence. This is an important aspect of its raison d’être.
This egalitarian, bi-national, grassroots organization was founded on the belief that the cycle of violence can only be broken when Israelis and Palestinians join forces. Committed to joint nonviolence since its foundation, CFP works to both transform and resolve the conflict by ending Israeli occupation and all forms of violence between the two sides and building a peaceful future for both peoples. “From the CFP website)
Another unique feature of this vibrant and vital organization is that it was founded and remains a joint Palestinian and Israeli venture. Deep friendships and high levels of cooperation have developed over the years, which give some hope to both Palestinian and Israeli society for a better future.
Combatants for Peace sponsors a number of very important programs for peace:
- In House events, which are group meetings with a Palestinian and Israeli member of the movement who present their personal stories face to face and hold open discussions with people who come to learn about how militants can be transformed into peacebuilders
- Learning Peace, which is a series of lectures open to the public which enables people to become educated in the ways and means of peace work
- Field Trips, which are usually in the form of tours of the Bethlehem and Nablus areas where people can get a first-hand look at the complicated situation in the occupied territories and meet and learn from Palestinian members of this non-violent movement.
- Theatre on The Ground, which is a special form of “political” theater performances which promote the concept and the method of non-violent resistance
- Memorial Day Ceremony, in memory of victims of the conflict on both sides. This is attracting thousands of Palestinians and Israelis from all walks of life, and its size and influence grows from year to year.
In order to learn more about this organization’s vision, mission, goals, objectives and programs, I talked with two of its leading activists: Sulaiman Khatib, one of the Palestinian founders, who deals with external relations and Galia Golan, an Israeli Jew who is in charge of coordination with the American Friends of Combatants for Peace, I asked both of them how they persevere for peace, and why they are involved with Combatants for Peace.
Khatib replied right away:
I am optimistic… The dream is to live in dignity and freedom for everybody, from the river to the sea, whatever the solution is. My experience has taught me: We can’t just sit and wait for an agreement. We have to be involved in the here and now. What keeps me moving: the people that I meet every day. For example, yesterday, I and an Israeli friend gave a lecture to a mechina. This was important to me. This gave me hope. These people had never met a Palestinian before and they are going to be in the army soon. I also see this with Palestinians who meet Israelis for the first time.
And Galia Golan, coordinator with American Friends of Combatants for Peace, gave her response from the point of view of a Jewish Israeli activist:
Actually, I had been going to some of the Combatants for Peace activities in the occupied territories for quite some time and I was very impressed not only by their grass roots activities but mainly by their dedication as former fighters, on both sides, to non-violence. The essence of their work can be found in their personal stories of transformation from the use of force to non-violent struggle to end the occupation and to try to achieve peace between the two peoples. I joined Combatants for Peace formally in 2014 when I helped organize the demonstration against the war on Gaza. To this day I never cease to be amazed and impressed by the activists, both Palestinians Israelis.
These peacebuilders–and many other Jewish Israelis and Palestinian Arabs in their organization and other organizations– are keeping a flicker of hope alive in a darkening situation in Israeli and Palestinian societies, especially this week with so much violence on both sides, in which so much despair and apathy prevails. In particular, their commitment to the annual joint memorial commemoration which will take place this Tuesday , May 7th, in Tel Aviv for Palestinians and Israelis killed during the conflict, should be a beacon of light to all of us who persevere in keeping the vision of peaceful coexistence in our region alive as a goal to continue to pursue.