FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Former Enemies Find New Way Forward

by MIKE FERNER

St. Louis.

A young man from Palestine and another from Israel riveted 400 U.S. military veterans to their seats last week in this city on the Mississippi River. What captivated the audience was their recent decision to put down the guns they’d pointed at each other for years.

The two members of Combatants For Peace addressed the mid-August national convention of Veterans For Peace, a 7,000–member organization dedicated to abolishing war.

Yonaton Gur, a 28 year-old Israeli journalist and Tel Aviv University student spoke first.

“My grandfather commanded the Israeli Navy during the 1967 war, my father was an officer in Israeli Army Intelligence, and I grew up on a kibbutz.” But, he explained, “I also grew up in the 90’s, with a more peaceful perspective following the (1993) Oslo Accords.”

Gur served as a Lieutenant in the Israeli Army’s armored corps and as a reservist in the occupied territories. “Many small stories make up the everyday life of an occupation,” he said, and something as mundane as a shirt pocket first caught his attention. “I never realized how important shirt pockets were, but when you’re an Arab in the occupied territories you have to reach into that pocket many times a day, at any moment, to produce your ID for Israeli authorities at checkpoints.”

His duty in the occupied territories eventually convinced the former reservist that the occupation was wrong. “We would be on patrol and stop simple farmers, making them wait a half hour or more while we called back to the base to check on them. I tried to be as human as possible, with my best attitude. That felt good at first but the fact that I was doing it at all was the main issue. It didn’t matter if I was being nice about it.”

The moral dilemma he found himself in eventually forced him to quit the reserves. “You can’t on the one hand be against the occupation and yet still be part of the military.” Gur’s decision placed him “against most of my people and my family tradition. But once I resigned, I knew I had to do more, so I joined Combatants for Peace.”

That group was formed in early 2005 by Palestinian and Israeli fighters tired of violence, who decided to try a different way. Their web site succinctly states this revolutionary idea: “After brandishing weapons for so many years, and having seen one another only through weapon sights, we have decided to put down our guns, and to fight for peace.”

Raed Al-Haddar, who holds a Bachelor’s in Sociology from Bir Zeit University in Ramalla, is Gur’s Palestinian partner in CFP. Today he shares a stage instead of the killing grounds with his former enemy. Married, with two daughters, the 28 year-old calls his own story “part of the whole Palestinian story.”

Not even ten years old at the start of the first intifada in 1987, he “faced the occupier on the way to school every day” and saw people gunned down by Israeli forces. It became the norm for boys to try and provoke an incident with troops “sometimes to prove our manhood, and sometimes just for shits and giggles,” Al-Haddar said through a bemused interpreter.

On one occasion he and a young friend were throwing rocks at an Israeli Army jeep. “The soldiers fired at us and my friend was killed on the spot. I couldn’t believe it. I was in shock. It made me angry so that only black revenge stayed in my mind. I revolted any way I could. I even joined the radical group, Fatah. I used guns and threw Molotov cocktails. I was arrested before finishing high school.”

Israeli security forces put Al-Haddar in a small, dark cell under solitary confinement for 45 days of interrogation. “I was petrified of death. During that time I learned about other revolutions, like the ones in Algeria, Cuba and Vietnam. That knowledge gave me the push to continue.”

Released at the age of 17, he “kept the same attitude–to fight and use violence.” When the second intifada began in 2000, Israelis placed a curfew on his village as the killings and bloodshed resumed. When his cousin was killed it changed his life, Al-Haddar recalled.

“A sniper killed him with one head shot. The killing of my friend during the first intifada made me violent, but for some reason the killing of my cousin made me think. I retraced my thoughts about the struggles between Palestinians and Israelis and thought of how to end it.”

He met an Israeli family and learned to his surprise that “they supported the existence of Palestine, even though I thought no one in Israel supported having two states.”

His thinking continued to change until eventually he was ready to attend a meeting of Combatants For Peace. “I was hesitant. Psychologically I wasn’t ready to accept that I would actually meet one of the Israeli soldiers who had caused the struggle of the Palestinian people. Our first meeting was in secret with lookouts posted. I was so afraid. I asked myself ‘what the hell am I doing meeting with an Israeli soldier? Just yesterday we were fighting!'”

Both parties to the meeting suspected an ambush and only after a while did the suspicion between Al-Haddar and his Israeli brothers­in­arms begin to lift. “Eventually I realized the Israeli was intelligent. We began by taking it a step at a time. Trust started. Now we have a very strong relationship.”

“I know many people have lost hope in this life,” the former fighter said, citing Palestinian unemployment of 70 percent and 12,000 Palestinians imprisoned. “But me and Combatants For Peace have not lost hope. I will never lose hope.”

To a prolonged standing ovation the former fighter pleaded, “Do not leave me alone. We need your help. Stand by our side so the struggle will be against war and we will have security, peace and justice.”

MIKE FERNER is a former Navy corpsman and author of “Inside the Red Zone: A Veteran For Peace Reports from Iraq”, available on his website www.mikeferner.org
 

More articles by:

Mike Ferner is a writer from Ohio and former president of Veterans For Peace.  You can reach him at mike.ferner@sbcglobal.net

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

July 20, 2017
Sebastian Friedrich – Gabriel Kuhn
A New Class Politics
Patrick Cockburn
The Massacre of Mosul: More Than 40,000 Civilians Feared Dead
Paul Street
The Abandonment: Reflections on James Foreman’s “Locking Up Our Own”
Kim Codella
A Practical Education
Frank Scott
America’s Trump, Not Trump’s America
Louis Proyect
Clancy Sigal Goes Away
Don Monkerud
The Real Treason in DC: Turning Our Lives Over to Corporate
Brian Dew – Dean Baker
Are Amazon’s Shareholders Suckers?
Ralph Nader
Detecting What Unravels Our Society – Bottom-up and Top-down
Barbara Nimri Aziz
Covering Islam, Post-Jack Shaheen
Binoy Kampmark
Uhlmann’s Trump Problem
Patrick Walker
In Defense of Caitlin Johnstone
Barry Lando
Those Secret Putin-Trump Talks
Sean Marquis
Thank You, Donald Trump
July 19, 2017
Adam Ziemkowski and Rebekah Liebermann
How Seattle Voted to Tax the Rich
Patrick Cockburn
Why ISIS Fighters are Being Thrown Off Buildings in Mosul
John W. Whitehead
Zombies R Us: the Walking Dead of the American Police State
Mateo Pimentel
Net Neutrality’s Missing Persons
Adil E. Shamoo - Bonnie Bricker
Yemen Policy is Creating More Terrorists
L. Ali Khan
U.S. Misreads Pakistan’s Antifragility
David Macaray
Fear and Trembling in the Workplace
Brian Trautman, Gerry Condon and Samantha Ferguson
Veterans Call on U.S. to Sign Nuclear Ban Treaty
Binoy Kampmark
Militarising Civilian Life: Australia, Policing and Terrorism
Ricardo Vaz
Venezuelan Opposition “Consultation”: Playing Alone and Losing
Jesse Jackson
Trump’s Cold-Hearted Agenda is Immoral
Raul Castro
We will Continue to Advance Along the Path Freely Chosen by Our People
July 18, 2017
James Bovard
Obama’s AWOL Anti-War Protesters
Gary Leupp
CNN: “Russia is an Adversary, Ukraine is Not.”
Ryan Shah
Beware the Radical Center
John Carroll Md
Cold Hands Don’t Need Narcotics
Derrick Jensen
Endangered Species Don’t Need an Ark – They Need a Living Planet!
Kenneth Surin
Brief Impressions of the Canadian Conjucture
Arturo Lopez-Levy
Trump’s Cuba Restrictions: a Detour, Not the Future
Russell Mokhiber
State Street Bentley University Business Ethics and Corporate Crime
Laura Finley
Being Too Much
Robert J. Gould
What is Our Experience of our Flawed Democracy?
Taju Tijani
The Burden of Indivisible Nigeria
Guillaume Pitron
China Now Leads in Renewables
Ted Rall
How I Learned Courts are Off-Limits to the 99 Percent
Binoy Kampmark
Militarising Civilian Life: Australia, Policing and Terrorism
July 17, 2017
Gregory Wilpert
Time for the “International Left” to Take a Stand on Venezuela
Gary Leupp
Trump’s Embrace of the Saudi Crown Prince, and a Qatar Nightmare Scenario
Thomas Hon Wing Polin
Liu Xiaobo: the West’s Model Chinese
Terry Simons
Why I Did Not Go to Vietnam
Jim Green
Nuclear Power’s Annus Horribilus
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail