Former Israeli & Palestinian Combatants Tour U.S. Promoting Peaceful Settlement of Decades-Long Conflict

Posted Oct. 21, 2015

MP3 Interview with Maya Katz and Sulaiman Khatib, Israeli and Palestinian members of the group Combatants for Peace, recorded and produced by Melinda Tuhus

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Since mid-September, eight Israelis have been killed and 75 have been wounded in knife attacks carried out by Palestinians. During the month of October thus far, 45 Palestinians have been shot to death by the Israeli army and civilians in the West Bank, Jerusalem and Gaza. According to the Palestinian Health Ministry, more than 1,800 others have been wounded by live ammunition, rubber bullets and beatings.

Much of the violence is centered around Jerusalem, where a dispute has escalated over access to the al-Aqsa Mosque and Dome of the Rock, Muslim holy sites near the Temple Mount, one of the holiest sites in Judaism. People in the region are on edge, and there is talk of a third Palestinian intifada, or uprising against Israeli occupation.

As violence has escalated in Israel and Palestine, a group of former Israeli soldiers and former Palestinian fighters, known as Combatants for Peace, have been advocating a nonviolent path to end the conflict. The group was founded in 2006 following a very difficult process of trust building. In recent weeks, a small contingent of the group has been traveling throughout the U.S., that includes Sulaiman Khatib, a founder of Combatants for Peace who spent 10 years in an Israeli prison, beginning at age 14, for violently opposing the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territory. Another combatant traveling in the U.S. is Maya Katz, who grew up on an Israeli kibbutz. She was present at the rally on Nov. 4, 1995 when Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated, a moment she says changed her life. She later enlisted in the Israeli army, but after her discharge, she joined Combatants for Peace. Between The Lines' Melinda Tuhus spoke with the pair before a recent public event in Connecticut. Here, they address the current spike in violence between Israelis and Palestinians, and address the question of whether a two-state solution is still viable.

MAYA KATZ: I think that, unfortunately, the situation in the West Bank and also inside Israel, is getting worse and the two peoples are really frustrated from the situation right now where there’s no solution and no conversation between Israel and Palestine, and what we see now is huge frustration – mainly from the Palestinian side – and we can see a lot of clashes between ordinary people, where before we mostly saw clashes between Palestinians and IDF (Israeli Defense Force) soldiers, now we can see a lot of riots and fights in the street between ordinary people, between Palestinian youths and Israeli people, and I think this is the big difference. Actually, I’m a bit worried. I think that we, in CFP (Combatants for Peace), always show there is another way, and even in times like this, when the two peoples are fighting each other, we try to offer an alternative, so Palestinians and Israelis in Combatants for Peace are every day on the ground, in the streets, demonstrating and meeting each other and offering the public another way of dialogue and also another way to imagine there is another option to end this conflict.

SULAIMAN KHATIB: I think, first of all, this violence was expected. That’s my personal opinion; I just came from there two weeks ago. Basically, the violence was expected due to the fact there is no hope. There is no negotiation; especially for the Palestinians, there is no hope and they will see a growing number of settlements in Palestinian territory. So basically, if you ask many Palestinians, the majority, they don’t feel any hope with the current Israeli right-wing government. That’s the truth. And the other way around, at the end of the day, there is no military solution for this conflict – not from the Palestinian side, not from the Israeli side. And that’s what we in Combatants for Peace – as ex-fighters, as ex-soldiers, as ex-officers – that’s what we say, that’s what we experienced ourselves. Unfortunately, not everyone believes what we are saying, but that’s what we try all the time, to influence people.

BETWEEN THE LINES: Maya Katz and then Sulaiman Khatib, please share your views about whether you think a two-state solution is still possible? Do you think a one-state solution is possible?

MAYA KATZ: The official statement of Combatants for Peace is that we believe in two-state solution, but as time goes by, the reality is changing, and there are more and more new settlements in the West Bank so the two populations are really mixed together, so maybe the two-state solution won’t be available in the near future. So we in Combatants for Peace, we try always to think about other options, so as we say right now, we believe in two-state solution or any other just solution that will bring Palestinians freedom and Israelis the safety and the freedom that they need.

SULAIMAN KHATIB: Combatants for Peace, when it started in 2005-2006, we did have agreements that we would support two-state solutions – the majority of our members. But due to the growing of the settlements, which has really prevented any kind of a state, the situation has changed and now we have members that think differently and we in Combatants for Peace have a space for different opinions, and so simply we will support any just, peaceful solution between the Palestinians and Israelis. We work more on a grassroots level; we don’t do negotiations; we try to mobilize people into a joint, bi-national, nonviolent actions and meetings and dialogue and those activities in order to make real change. And we have to do it in cooperation with other people, we can’t do it alone. But we believe … we imagine a different reality in our area, and we are trying our maximum to make change. At the end of the day, what we try to do, basically, is to find a place for the two relatives to co-exist together, next to each other, and I believe, personally, if both sides recognize the loss of each side, with all the pain that comes with that, I am aware that the practical solutions will be much easier.

For more information visit Combatants for Peace at cfpeace.org and on FaceBook at facebook.com/c4peace.

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