How War Veterans Became ‘Combatants for Peace’

Categories: Partners On The Ground, Seek Peace and Pursue it
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On the evening of Nov. 14, I attended a screening of the new documentary film, “Disturbing the Peace,” and a post-screening panel discussion.  It relates the story of a joint Israeli-Palestinian peace organization, Combatants for Peace, with interviews, dramatic reenactments, and some on-the-scene footage.  The portrayals of several courageous individuals (Israelis and Palestinians) who created the organization and keep it going are memorable and inspiring.

The screening was followed by an informal panel discussion featuring Ameinu board member Dan Fleshler (a co-founder of The Third Narrative), the film’s director Stephen Apkon, its co-producer Marcina Hale, and four CfP activists — two Palestinians and two Israelis.

What endears me especially to this organization is that the Israelis generally consider themselves Zionist, while the Palestinians genuinely espouse peaceful coexistence.  The organization purposely refrains from endorsing any one plan for peace — whether one state, two states or something in between.  They are veterans of the armed conflict, including at least one Israeli who served in the elite IDF commando unit, the Sayeret Matkal.

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Sulaiman al-Khatib

I first met Sulaiman al-Khatib, CfP’s director, just over a year ago (when invited to a breakfast meeting with him and a colleague).  He’s a remarkably warm and upbeat individual, despite having been imprisoned for ten years for knifing an Israeli soldier when he was 14 years old (he sought revenge for the killing of his brother, shot for violating the curfew). The film documents his and other stories of former combatants on both sides who discovered the shared humanity of the other, and decided to seek another way, together.

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Sulaiman and Israeli colleague Alon Chen, with puppets.

Its most memorable scenes are not the recreations, but realtime events, such as a kitchen-table discussion between a Palestinian activist and his skeptical wife, as their two young daughters look on with bemusement.  He argues for his complete commitment to peace and his faith in his Israeli colleagues who struggle with and for them.

Another scene is of a joint demonstration, Israelis on one side of the separation fence and Palestinians on the other, as they march with giant puppets and placards to converge across from each other, chanting peace slogans.  Soldiers attempting to break them up fire a teargas canister and are then harangued by one of the demonstrators,  an IDF veteran, for acting violently against a peaceful demonstration.  The soldiers appear befuddled and penned in by the demonstrators on both sides.

Another shows Israelis protesting against the  2014 Gaza war, while being angrily denounced as traitors or worse.  Finally, there’s the very uplifting joint Israeli-Palestinian Yom Hazikaron (Remembrance Day) ceremony for both side’s war dead; one of our two Palestinian panelists (the same person who had argued with his wife) addressed the 4,000 in attendance, in Hebrew, on his aspirations for peace.

About Ralph Seliger

A veteran editor, freelance writer and blogger, I edited the print magazine, "Israel Horizons," from 2003 until 2011; and I've blogged for and edited the Meretz USA and now Partners for Progressive Israel Blog since its inception in 2006 (although I no longer edit the PPI Blog). I've been an active supporter of the Zionist peace camp since 1982. Other print and online platforms where I've been published include: The Forward, The Daily Beast, History News Network, Tikkun, In These Times, Jewish Week, New Jersey Jewish News, Jewish Currents, Huffington Post, and Dissent.
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