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Breakfast with Palestinian Peace Activists

By Ralph Seliger

Last weekend, I met two Palestinian activists in the joint organization of Israeli and Palestinian veterans of the conflict known as Combatants for Peace (CfP).  Invited by a journalist friend, I met at a Manhattan diner with Mohammad Owedah and Sulaiman Khatib, who are touring on behalf of CfP.  They gave us a fascinating picture of themselves, their organization, and the current situation. 

This is how a University of Massachusetts/Amherst webpage describes their organization:

. . .  founded in 2006, [CfP] is a non-profit, volunteer organization of ex-combatant Israelis and Palestinians, men and women, who have laid down their weapons and rejected all means of violence. Their mission is to build the social infrastructure necessary for ending the conflict and the occupation.

They work together toward this goal of bringing justice and peace to the land, demonstrating that there is a real alternative to the cycle of violence and that Palestinians and Israelis can work and live together. They believe that disseminating such activities widely can and will affect attitudinal change at the societal level and policy change at the political level.

The two activists admit that there are disagreements within their group over the ultimate solution.  Owedah says he is firmly committed to two states, while Khatib prefers one bi-national state.  At the same time, both fully accept the Jewish connection to the land and oppose the BDS movement.  They oppose boycotting Israel within the Green Line, but support a targeted economic boycott of the settlements (as advocated by Peter Beinart and some other left-Zionists).

Khatib spoke of his life-altering visit to the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam, where he read a quote on a wall panel that convinced him that Jews have rights as a distinct people.  Here’s what I believe to be this actual statement by Anne Frank:

Who has inflicted this upon us? Who has made us Jews different from all other people? Who has allowed us to suffer so terribly up till now? It is God that has made us as we are, but it will be God, too, who will raise us up again. If we bear all this suffering and if there are still Jews left, when it is over, then Jews, instead of being doomed, will be held up as an example. Who knows, it might even be our religion from which the world and all peoples learn good, and for that reason and that reason alone do we have to suffer now. We can never become just Netherlanders, or just English, or representatives of any country for that matter; we will always remain Jews, but we want to, too.

Khatib came to this realization after serving ten years in an Israeli prison for a knife attack on Israeli soldiers when he was 14 years old.  Released from prison at 25, he is now 43.

His colleague, Owedah — a native of the Silwan neighborhood of East Jersualem where he still resides and works as a social worker — said of the current outbreak of violence, that it’s mostly the result of young people in East Jerusalem feeling oppressed and directionless because they have no real economic opportunities, and their energies are not being channeled constructively by adequate educational and recreational outlets.  Ironically, some of the security measures are actually fueling the unrest; due to the barriers newly set up within their neighborhoods, thousands of teenagers are unable to attend their schools, leaving them in the streets with nothing to do.

Disagreeing somewhat with Khatib, he does not see the violence as an expression of nationalism.  Otherwise, contends Owedah, there would be more violence in the West Bank than there is.

Unfortunately, we did not get to meet their Israeli colleague, Maya Katz, also touring for CfP.  Ms. Katz is a clinical psychologist who was raised on Kibbutz Gesher and now lives in Tel Aviv.

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