by Lucy Blomfield
When you think of the Israelis and the Palestinians, what words come to mind? Terror, despair, intractable conflict...
What images do you see? Are they like these?
Most media outlets voice the extreme, violent events and show the corresponding pictures. They focus on hate but there are other stories.
A group of men said, “We will not be part of this destruction any longer!” What is remarkable about this, is that the members had been enemies, former Israeli and Palestinian fighters. Each one paid a great price to stop fighting each other. The group is called Combatants for Peace.
The stories of the members of Combatants for Peace are different, yet the themes are similar. Here are two.
Zohar Shapira was a commander in an elite unit of the Israeli army for 15 years. He was in hundreds of military missions. Many in the West Bank – many in Gaza (see map).
One day, in a small village in Nablus (a Palestinian city in the West Bank), he led a Platoon to arrest a suspected suicide bomber. A young woman and her two daughters were involved. Zohar was shooting above the head of the youngest daughter as she ran, terrified, toward him and his men. He realized then that she was not the enemy. He saw that they were “just two human beings.” He described the encounter, “I felt physically, though she was not hurt, that I had done a crime.” He asked himself, “If I’m not stopping now, what will ever stop me from continuing to do these immoral, unjust crimes...justifying that I’m defending my people 50 kilometers away.” That was the moment, he said, “when my eyes were opened.”
Later he and 13 officers and combatants wrote a letter to the Israeli Prime Minister. In the letter, they refused to continue occupation missions, to humiliate Palestinians, or to defend settlements. They were all throw out of the unit. 1
Bassam Aramin, a Palestinian, began his struggle against the occupation when he was 13. He became a Fatah fighter, and was imprisoned in an Israeli jail for 7 years for planning an attack against Israeli soldiers.. He said, “In prison, you become more determined to fight. [You] don’t see any possibility to make dialogue with the other side.” 2
“But as I served out my sentence, I talked with many of my guards. I learned about the Jewish people’s history. I learned about the Holocaust.”3
After he was released, Bassam changed his mind.
“More than 60 years we [have been] fighting each other. And what is the result? More killing, more civilians suffering, more detainees. Israel is not safe, Palestine is not free. There is no end to this bloody conflict, and the civilians are paying the price.”4
“And eventually I came to understand: On both sides, we have been made instruments of war. On both sides, there is pain, and grieving, and endless loss.
And the only way to make it stop is to stop it ourselves.”5
“I heard about Israeli soldiers who refused to serve.” He wanted to talk to them.
The enemies had a meeting in Bethlehem. Bassam discovered, “That they are just like me. They want the same peace. We found we have many things in common...”
After he heard the Israelis speak, “I [saw] that we must become real partners for peace.”
“After many months of working together, we became a family actually.”6
After hearing the personal stories, “...just knowing the men in front of you is the strongest way to fight fear and stupidity. And step-by-step, the ice was broken, and we could start speaking ideology and seeing that our political goals are very similar, and the means that we will use to reach them are the same.”
“...this is part of the policy, of preventing people to meet. Because it is dangerous for them, for the Israeli government. Because when people meet, you can’t tell them afterwards that they are enemies.” 7
“[The Israelis] are trying to kill every Palestinian dream you have. [Often] you cannot go to work. You just look at the sky. For what?!”
“It is very easy to fight. It is difficult to go our way.” 8
“We know that to serve our people, we must fight not each other but the hatred between us. We must find a way to share this land each people holds in the depths of its soul, to build two states side by side. Only then will the mourning end. 9
On January 16, 2007, near Jerusalem, Bassam’s 10-year-old daughter Abir was caught between Palestinians throwing rocks and Israeli soldiers firing rubber bullets.
The first friend to arrive at the hospital to be with Abir and Bassam was Zohar Shapira.
Abir died in a hospital three days later. An Israeli Pathologist concluded that she was likely hit by a rubber bullet. Despite this, the Israeli State Prosecutor’s Office closed the case, citing lack of evidence.
Bassam said, “This [was] the challenge, to continue or not to continue. It was a difficult moment. But, to [take] revenge is not a solution.”
“I decided that I’m going to double my efforts to protect those innocent people who are paying the price of this dirty conflict.”
The case of Abir’s death is still being investigated. 10
The members of Combatants for Peace are committed to the following:
They are willing to pay the price to make this way of peace happen.
The Other Israel, The America-Israel Council for Israeli-Palestinian Peace