Palestinian and Israeli Peacebuilders Join Forces in the Face of Renewed Violence

After several months of escalating conflict in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories, local peace activists and grassroots NGO’s are taking action to break the status quo of violence. In December, they began hosting monthly peace demonstrations to bring attention to the root causes of the conflict, and show that Israelis and Palestinians can stand together for peace.Amongst the organizing NGO’s is Combatants for Peace, a collaboration between former Israeli Defense Force (IDF) soldiers and former Palestinian combatants, which aims to provide nonviolent support to end the occupation of Palestinian territories and establish peaceful coexistence between Israelis and Palestinians.We interviewed Sulaiman Khatib of Combatants for Peace on the impact of these monthly “freedom marches,” and how the group hopes to forward peaceful change.Interviewer: Hello Sulaiman! Could you share with us the purpose of the monthly freedom marches?Sulaiman: “Yes, sure. This is the third time that we, as Combatants for Peace, alongside different organizations are [standing] together. We are trying to form a coalition, Israelis and Palestinians, to raise our voices to show that joint non-violent struggle is the only way to resolve our conflict and to oppose the occupation and the violence that we have seen these days. Next year, we will be seeing the 50-year anniversary of the occupation, since 1967, and we need to say enough is enough. We can’t accept the realities right now, so we are trying to create change through a grassroots movement for peace.”Interviewer: How does this change take place?Sulaiman: “To create change for us, for Combatants for Peace, we work with former fighters. I was myself in jail for ten years, my Israeli colleagues with whom we created this organization, they were [serving] in the Israeli army.But we believe that there is no military solution to the conflict.So we are [taking] a different path. We [are] trying to create an environment of trust-building between both sides and to build bridges between Palestinians and Israelis, using non-violent means and meetings.We basically use ourselves - the transformation that happened to us personally in our individual lives and [through] our stories and struggles - to impact others and influence people at the grassroots using social media and demonstrations. We use all kinds of grassroots strategies and activities to educate and bring people together.For example, we use the “alternative Memorial Day” to bring Palestinians and Israelis together, because we believe that the first position, to kill, [takes place] because of the dehumanization that happens here. So we try to bring a third narrative to Israelis and Palestinians, because the typical Palestinian narrative, the typical Israeli narrative, for a century now, it doesn’t work. It doesn’t give Israelis legitimacy in the Middle East, and it doesn’t bring security and safety. Our [Palestinian] struggle for freedom and self-determination [hasn’t] worked using the forms that exist now. Therefore we think that a third narrative and a new conversation are needed, a new voice that doesn’t exist at the moment.People are angry right now and this anger is legitimate. But we call our Palestinian people to join us in our nonviolent struggle because violence will lead us to nowhere. And we call the Israelis, even the ones behind the uniform to join us, because this is not the solution.As I said, we tried ourselves. I was a fighter, in jail and on hunger strike many times, actually. That’s how I know about non-violence. Before I studied about Mandela and Martin Luther King and Gandhi, and began to learn about the two competing narratives.This the only way for us, but we need to be patient. There are a lot of challenges on our side and on the Israeli side.”Interviewer: How do you overcome the two competing narratives?Sulaiman: “Here we talk about our human connection so we wear a different hat, not just an Israeli or a Palestinian hat. And I do believe at the end of the day, its not naive, that individual change out of love and forgiveness is the only way. That’s how I see it. Because at the end of the day the discussion about justice and rights requires that we look forward, but not by denying the past. We recognize the pain. And we are not competing to say who is the greater victim. We address the imbalance of power, and the occupation directly, and I think at the end of the day for both sides, Palestinian and Israeli, its very hard, but we’re both staying here.”Interviewer: What keeps you going and inspires your work?Sulaiman: “I learned this [approach] from my mom. We have a Palestinian cultural value called smood in Arabic, or steadfastness. It’s connected to the air and the olive trees in this land. I grew up with this value, in my village. Also, I’m optimistic by nature. Without being optimistic we wouldn’t be here. I’m optimistic for the future. I gain inspiration from the other breakthroughs we have seen, the Berlin wall, South Africa, for example. Especially Berlin. I love Berlin, and it gives me a lot of hope because if you look back 20 years it didn’t seem possible. But of course it is possible. It’s hard. There are a lot of challenges and we are aware of that. We are not blind to the difficulties. Yet we believe another way is possible, and we stand for that way.”Interviewer: Thank you for taking the time to talk with us, Sulaiman. We wish you all the best in your work for peaceful change.Read more of Sulaiman Khatib's story here.Image credit: Combatants for Peace; Kristin Lauria