Two representatives from the bi-national grassroots organization Combatants for Peace (CFP) joined Smithies for a Peace Meal earlier this week. One representative was Palestinian; the other, Israeli. CFP was formed in 2006 when combatants on both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict decided to lay down their weapons and advocate for a nonviolent two-state resolution. CFP is the only organization in which former active fighters from an active conflict zone have laid down their weapons, banding together to create peace.
Shay Eluk, an Israeli Jewish CFP member, recounted his enlistment in the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF). A three-year enlistment is compulsory, and Shay felt it was his duty to serve in the IDF and protect his people. After his first year of service, Shay was relocated to work just beyond the Gaza border wall. All he had been conditioned to believe about Palestinians was challenged. “You grow up knowing, just knowing, they are trying to kill you. All the time. Kill you and your family,” Shay stated matter-of-factly. During the week, Shay’s work led him into direct engagement with Palestinians, and in daily experiences of shared humanity, he began to reassess what it meant to love his country. Loving his country and advocating for the Jewish people did not have to mean checkpoints, suppression of Palestinian demonstrations, or occupation. Through Combatants for Peace, Shay continues to raise awareness that bi-national movements for peace have power.
Ossama Elewat found himself in a secret meeting between Palestinians and Israelis when he least expected it. Just when Ossama’s dissent was peaking and another Palestinian revolutionary uprising was brewing, a friend invited him to meeting that changed his perspective. He spent time with Israelis who were horrified at the human rights violations occurring in Gaza and the West Bank.
Ossama and Shay did have one, striking experience in common: neither of them had had amicable interactions with the other side. In fact, Shay had never spoken with a Palestinian prior to his service. Ossama’s only experiences were with Israeli Defense Forces who terrorized his family. The meeting Ossama attended was the first of many. Now the coordinator of Jerusalem-Jericho Group, Ossama is a critical member of CFP. He works in a large agricultural area in the West Bank, giving tours to Israelis and Americans to demonstrate the scope of occupation.
“They try to separate us. The simple things, like going to the meetings, challenges the reality of the past,” Shay told us. To his left, Ossama nodded in agreement. Shay and Ossama embody two sides of an active conflict zone, each of them having taken up arms in the past. In the Bodman Lounge, the pair laughed and patted each other on the back, clarifying for one another when searching for translation. Combatants for Peace demonstrates the incredible movement that can ripple out from even the smallest effort. A conversation between a handful of hopeful individuals led to CFP. Perhaps Combatants for Peace can help lead to a peaceful two-state resolution.