If it’s important enough to you, you will find a way. If it is not, you will find an excuse. – Ryan Blair
Combatants for peace is an organization that reunites former combatants from both the Palestinian and the Israeli side. Its goal is to change the attitudes in the public, motivate nonviolent resistance to the occupation (of the West Bank) by building an activist community with both Israelis and Palestinians together. In terms of achievements, Combatants for Peace is organizing every year a common Memorial Day for both Israelis and Palestinians who felt in the conflict and is recurrently organizing events to promote non-violence and the end of the occupation of the West Bank. Combatants for Peace has been awarded eight times, it has been praised and dedicated in two different books and Netflix has realized a documentary about it called “Disturbing the Peace”.
In order to have a clear view of the vision of Combatants for Peace, I have written and asked five questions to two of the main actors of the organization. The first one is Chen Alon. Chen is a former major of the IDF (Israeli army) who has decided to refuse to serve in the West Bank to protest the occupation. I met Chen in a bakery of Tel Aviv in Israel. The second one is Soulaiman Khatib. Soulaiman is a former Palestinian insurgent who has spent years in prison for stabbing two Israelis. I met Souleyman in a coffee shop of Ramallah in Palestine. Both of them are very close friends and call each other partners.
What would you say to someone who would tell you that you committed treason by idealism?
Chen: That you committed?
Chen: Ok… Ehmmmm… I would say that he or she… Eeeeeh… Is doing the same thing, the same thing that is called dehumanization that was part of my practice. So, I know that to define other people’s action as treason is part of dehumanization or not to be able to put yourself in the shoes of the other. And, on the other hand, I would say that I had this thought. It’s not something that is external to my being and my essence. I mean, I’ve been thinking about this. I’ve been asking myself whether I’m doing… Whether I’m betraying my own people, my own legacy, my own history… And I… I have another definition other than treason. I think what I’m doing is… is the opposite of betraying or being a traitor. (It) is reconnecting myself and my people to the right way of why we have to act or why we are in dilemma or in conflict. ‘Cause if there is no dilemma or conflict, it’s easy. I mean there is no question of betraying or being a traitor. But I’ve been dealing with that question a lot. I must say that from someone from the outside as you would describe, it’s less frightening than my own voices of maybe what I’m doing is treason. Maybe I’m a traitor…
Thomas-Xavier: So you really put the things in balance and you really asked yourself to be sure that what you’re doing wasn’t like…
Chen: Yeah! I think the years that I was committing these actions in the occupation when I was engaged with violence, that was the real treason. I mean, to translate the fact that I’m a human being and Zionist and Jewish and Israeli (into) what I did in the occupation, that was the real treason. I think that to wake up and to say I’m not willing to do this anymore, that’s the opposite of betraying or being a traitor.
Thomas-Xavier: So, you think the conflict in itself is a treason to the Jewish cause?
Chen: Absolutely. Absolutely. I think that any human being or collective or people or group of people that’s perpetrating or translating the fact that they’ve been oppressed and now translate their identity from being oppressed to being oppressor is kind of betraying its humanity.
Thomas-Xavier: Would you argue that it’s not the same kind of oppression or oppression is just oppression? Because there are people who compare the occupation of the West Bank to the Holocaust…
Chen: It’s not. It’s so childish to think that anything can be, you know, analogies. To say like… There are ranges in the world, there are ranges in history. I don’t think that any kind of violence… Like to shout at someone is not like to shoot at someone. It’s a different action. And, I’m saying that as a theater practitioner, it’s important to differentiate between actions. I mean, not any sexual harassment is a rape. But yes, I think that responsibility is always the same. There is one responsibility. And what I did was to say: “Yeah, I’m a third generation Holocaust survivor. Nothing in the history can be compared to the Holocaust as the systematic killing of people, genocide,…”
Thomas-Xavier: Like factory killing?
Chen: Yeah! That was insane. But it doesn’t mean that what I did in the occupation is right because of that. I mean… So Human responsibility for me is to be able to integrate and differentiate when it’s needed. And, I’m not creating the analogy between the Holocaust and the occupation. But I did some actions in the occupation that, for me, personally, for my history, for my family history, for my people’s history resonates as evil. For example, to separate, to awake a village at night, to concentrate all the village in the school and to divide people between men and women. That(’s) something that I did. To invade houses, to hear my footsteps in a… You know, boots, army boots walking in empty streets by night under curfew. For me, that resonates (like), you know, other marchings in empty streets. But it’s (a) personal thing. I’m not creating a historical analogy between the events.
Thomas-Xavier: And did you ever had people who would come to you and tell you that what you’re doing is bad, that you are betraying the Jewish? How do you feel in front of that?
Chen: Sure. Not only just peoples. But sometimes family members, sometimes brothers in arms. You know, people I have served in the army with them. All sorts of critical views about the refusal, about the partnership with the Palestinians… But I just deal with that. You know, I’m not afraid of critics and I’m not afraid of these words: betraying, traitor… I can deal with that. I think what I’m doing is much more… (It) is contributing much more than the army or any kind of violence. We are developing something which is bigger than physical force. So, it’s easy for me to rationalize… Not to rationalize… But to justify what I’m doing.
Thomas-Xavier: Without the occupation, would you have stayed in the army?
Chen: Yeah. I mean, (for) someone who has been experiencing violence, for us it’s not a theoretical question. To ask some kind of hypothesis of a “If Israel would be (a) democratic state and the Arab citizens, the Palestinians who are Israeli citizens would get equal treatment by the authority and the war, equality and justice, would you serve in the army?” Yes. I’m not a pacifist. So, theoretical questions or hypothetical questions are irrelevant in our case. I mean, I was a soldier, I became a major in the Israeli army, I served the occupation, I committed crimes in the occupation as a major, as a soldier and these are not hypothetical questions for me. And a real decision was needed and I did this decision. Then, we made this alliance with the Palestinians and this is a very non hypothetical action. So, if you’re asking me about, you know… I don’t know. I can ask you hypothetical questions about Belgium and that would be easy to answer. But when you are facing a real dilemma in real life, like defending your country, keeping the security of the only shelter that the Jewish people have in the world, but the price for this is to oppress and humiliate and starve three million Palestinians, that’s a real question. What do you do when you’re an officer in a specific refugee camp in the West Bank. It’s not a hypothetical question. Then, you have to decide. To really decide what you’re doing. And I decided to refuse because that was the right thing to do.
What would be, in your opinion, the best solution to the conflict?
Chen: It’s a, you know… It’s a very though question at this moment. I mean, twenty years ago, I was definite and certain about the fact that there’s a need for (a) two state solution. I almost knew what are the borders, what are the compensation… You know, all the core questions about Jerusalem, the refugee problem, territories, borders. I have to be honest and to say that like other things about this conflict, the solution is a dynamic term. I mean, since the beginning of (the) Oslo Agreements, we more than doubled the amount of settlements and settlers and we appropriated, annexed most of the Palestinian territories. So, the two-state solution is not relevant anymore. So, I think, at this moment in time, I believe in some kind of a fluid solution that we call, the people of the initiative (Combattants for Peace), “two states, one homeland”. I don’t know if you’ve heard about this. It’s not “neither/or”, it’s both. It’s one state and two state in the same solution. It means that there is one homeland for all of us which is all Israel and all Palestine between the Mediterranean Sea and (the) Jordan River. There are two political entities that are independent but there is a lot of fluidity and free(dom) of movement and a solution to the refugee problem.
Thomas-Xavier: That looks like Belgium…
Chen: Yeah. Yeah. Some kind of confederation. So, it seems like a remote dream right now. People think it’s crazy and blablablah but, you know, most of the solutions in the Balkans, in North-Ireland, in South Africa, they always seemed like a dream before they came true. And I believe that that’s the most… That’s the right vision to dream of right now. It’s some kind of confederation, “two states one homeland solution” which is not “neither/or” but the advantages of both solutions. Like the one state solution and the two states solution. And you can hear more about this… I mean, we have… There’s a website with those kinds of pamphlets or booklets of how this vision look like when you are put(ting) it on paper as practical solutions.
Thomas-Xavier: So, you think the Arabs and Jewish could live together without…
Chen: Absolutely. There’s no question about that. I mean, we are doing it in Combattants for Peace as you saw it in the film.
Thomas-Xavier: I saw that there were still disagreements…
Chen: Yeah. Sure. But there are disagreements in Belgium too right? And people are not killing each other yet.
Thomas-Xavier: No because we have bodies of dialog between the entities.
Chen: We will have that too in the future. It will probably be like Belgium, the Balkans, North Ireland, South Africa. It will be a solution that will be very general. You know like, as I said, either two states or one states or two states, one homeland or a federation or whatever you call it but it will be contextualized in a specific way of the Israelis and the Palestinians needs.
Thomas-Xavier: So, there is a possibility of a solution?
Chen: Absolutely. Absolutely. Like any other conflict in the world. I believe when there is a will, there is a way.
How are you planning to change the mindset of the people who oppose peace?
Chen: First of all, we are doing it by modelling. So, I’m saying, you know, very simply, if I’ve been transformed, anyone can do that. If I have a narrative and I believe in it and it pushed me into the violent circle and I’ve… His phone rings. He asks me for a minute. How to transform people who don’t believe in any solution? You know, I don’t know. I mean, honestly, I don’t have an answer to that. But, as I said, I’m trying first of all to be part of this modelling to say, you know: “I’ve been transformed and I invite you to go through this journey and to get… To be transformed.” Because it’s more hopefull, it brings more humanity to your life. But then, I don’t believe only in this “either/or”. You know, either you are talking to convince people to go on the other side. But there is another value of activating the choir. Not to preach to the choir but activate the choir. I think the majority of people still have hope, they still believe in solution. They still believe in peace, they still believe in human kind. And what we have to do is not to convince them but to activate them. To pull them out of passivity and make them taking action. If we do that, the situation will change and… It’s not that the only way is to convince the people who don’t believe in peace.
Thomas-Xavier: I’ve had a discussion with someone who told me that the reason that nothing was changing was because Israel and also Palestine lacked real leadership.
Chen: Yes, it’s true. I’m not part of the official politics and I believe the same thing that the people will bring the change. And it’s our responsibility to bring the change as citizens, as people, as human beings, as activists. So, I’m not waiting for the politicians to do the work. I understand, you know, as a citizen of a state… I know that, eventually, the solution will come out of politicians but it’s our responsibility to push them there and to create alternatives. Combattants for Peace is an alternative to the reality.
Thomas-Xavier: At the end of the day, politicians are the choice of the people…
Chen: Yeah. So it’s not, again… It’s not either you get into politics or you’re an indifferent citizen. These are not two options. You can be an activist or a political citizen, it’s our responsibility. Not only for politicians.
Thomas-Xavier: Like the Buddha said: “Be the change you want to see in the world?”
Chen: Gandhi said that. Another Buddha. The other Buddha. Yeah, he said: “Be the change you want to see in the world.” That’s the kind of, you know, the bible phrase of the activist.
Combatants for peace in ten years?
Chen: In ten years? You know, we call ourselves… We are embodying the vision. So, if there would be a solution to the conflict, and there will be a solution to the conflict, we will be the infrastructure in both Palestine and Israel for centers… I can see Combatants for Peace as leading the model of the post-conflict era of Israel and Palestine. Showing how these alliances between Israelis and Palestinians are actually growing on the ground. So, I can… Something I learned in North-Ireland is the peace centers. So we will have Combattants for Peace, after the peace agreements and the people will live in peace. We will create seeds for co-communities. Communities of Israelis and Palestinians that are actually promoting and living by the two lanes that are the essence of Comabattants for Peace. One is the dialog, the humanization and the peace-building… I don’t know how to say but the manifestation of the humanization and dialog and reconciliation and peace-building and… and… anything that is justice and equality. And, at the same time, promoting non-violent culture, non-violent society. Struggling together against the oppression that will happen in ten years which won’t be the occupation because.. So actuallay, we are the seeds of the utopian space that will be the core of the future.
Thomas-Xavier: Would you extend Combattants for Peace to, for example, other conflicts in the world? Like by providing solutions or by providing frameworks?
Chen: Yeah. We do that already. Although we didn’t achieved peace here. Although we didn’t complete the mission, we (are) already serving… We are serving as an example or modelling for other conflicts. As I told you, we have a very close connection with a lot of conflicted communities in the world. Some of them are even in post-conflict era. Like North-Ireland, they learned from us. I mean, it’s a dialog, we learned from them and they learned from us. For example, the alternative Israeli/Palestinian memorial service that we do. I don’t know if you heard about this?
Chen: This is an exception, there is no place in the world (where) enemies are commemorating their beloved one together. This is an exception.
Thomas-Xavier: It’s a really positive symbol…
Israel and Palestine in ten years?
Chen: As I said, I think there will be contemporary agreement which will be some kind of a potential peace agreement or accords that two sides are implementing with a very good will, with a deep understanding that it’s not a zero-sum game. That, for example, Palestinian refugees that are returning to Israel will not be on the expense of the Jews but on the contrary.
Thomas-Xavier: If they come back, where would they live?
Chen: They would live, first of all, in mixed cities and towns and villages. We will establish new Jewish/Arabs or Israeli/Palestinian towns and villages and cities like Neve Shalom for example or like Haifa, like Jaffa. But we will invest a lot of energy and money in creating this co-community places, cities, towns, schools, universities, cultural centers, tribunals… It’s a lot of work to do but if you invest a lot of energy and resources in developing this… So in ten years… I mean, fifty years, you will see a lot of integration between the communities in Israel and Palestine. A lot of Israeli/Palestinian theaters and cultural projects…
Thomas-Xavier: Doesn’t that threatens the demographics of the Jewish country?
Chen: Yeah but the paradigm of demographics… I mean, to live under the paradigm of demographic threat, that’s the obstacle, that’s the prevention of the solution. I mean, if you don’t look on demographic as a threat but as a potential or a chance… Then, if you shift this paradigm, you can gain a lot, you can win a lot, you can achieve a lot.
Thomas-Xavier: Because if this become a single state and a leader is elected and he is an Arab leader… It’s not really a shelter for the Jewish people anymore…
Chen: Yeah but what about the… It’s not “neither/or”. What about an option where Jews and Arabs are sharing the power. Not fighting about who will dominate who but sharing the power.
Thomas-Xavier: So with people as equal? Like a Knesset with as much Jewish as Arabs?
Chen: Yeah! I mean, it’s an option. Right now, I now that it seem like crazy dream but I believe it’s doable… I believe it’s doable. If you believe it’s doable and I believe it’s doable and I believe that we have an authentic and real and honest partner, then, we can achieve that.
Thomas-Xavier: What about the IDF?
Chen: Again, it’s not only the IDF, it’s the police, it’s the court system, it’s the legal system, the legislation system… There is a lot of questions. It’s not only the IDF. There is numerous of questions that you can get answers for them in the paper of “two states one homeland”. How we are going to transform into this mechanism of sharing power and not… How we are going to think about the divide and the integration at the same time. Independence and coexistence at the same time. It’s a very complicated question. I’m not doubting that. But I think it’s doable. If there is a will, there is a way. In other places like in South Africa, in North Ireland, there is one… There is a police, there are cooperating with the legislation with court system with police. There is a way to do that. But there must be a good will and agreement to do that. There is a lot of though practical questions about the settlements, the settlers and the refugees (that) will return to Palestine, to Jaffa and Haifa that… Yeah, it’s complicated.
Thomas-Xavier: It’s possible but there’s still a lot of work?
Chen: Yeah. Absolutely. I mean, it’s not only a lot of work, it seems like now, to the vast majority of Israelis and Palestinians it seems like not doable. So, I’m considered as a crazy when I say all these things. But I truly believe that I can see them just in the next thirty years. If I look at Berlin, East and West. I look at the Balkans, Ex-Yougoslavia, South Africa. I look at Rwanda, I look at North-Ireland. I see, in these places, it’s seemed crazy to think about solutions and in each of these places that I’ve mentioned, there is a very specific solution that works for the people. It’s not perfect, it’s never perfect but if there is a will and there is an interest of both sides… Right now, Israel has no interest to solve the problem because it gains all the profits from it.
Thomas-Xavier: And the Palestinian leadership takes profit?
Chen: Yeah, somehow. But we, the people, have the… We have the power and we have the responsibility to change that.
What would you say to someone who would tell you that you committed treason by idealism?
Soulaiman: Say it again?
Thomas-Xavier: What would you say to someone who would tell you that you committed treason by idealism?
Soulaiman: You committed what?
Thomas-Xavier: Treason. That you betrayed the Palestinian cause.
Soulaiman: Ah you mean… Ah! Hm… Yeah… Huuuuh… Soooo… Thank you for this question. Maybe it feels (like a) hard question but this is actually part of the reality that for some people… Maybe the way that I believe in the act can be seen by some people as betrayal. So, first of all, I want to say that for me what I’m doing, it’s basically… That’s my experience, that’s my belief (of) how I serve the cause, the Palestinian cause. And also, the cause of freedom and dignity and ending the occupation. That’s my belief. And of course, I respect any other criticism and other opinion(s). I know it’s hard for some people to (have me) be(ing) in the place where I am right now after years of experience. And, you know, there is no one way of serving the cause. That doesn’t exist. And I definitely welcome having multiple opinions about this complicated cause. Of course. So for me, of course it’s unfortunately hard to hear that from Palestinian voices although intellectually I understand where these voices can come from.
Thomas-Xavier: Did you had in your family or in your work or anywhere people calling you a traitor?
Soulaiman: Of course, like there is… Like I would say two things here. There is this people saying traitor but more people saying normalizer. Which is more, like, of an issue here than saying traitor. So, of course my background can be a bit of help because I was in jail and my family staid living in Area C and my family land was taken by the Israelis. And unfortunately, the more you suffer, the more you are Palestinian. Unfortunately, that’s how things are here. Personally, as I said, Intellectually I understand the different opinions and also… Even, like for some people being angry and say harsh words but it doesn’t affect my beliefs. My firm beliefs of what I’m doing. And I’m expecting opposition, of course. And I don’t really have problems with that as long as it’s a peaceful conversation or even as long as it’s not violent. It doesn’t really bother me. It’s actually good to have, you know, rich opinions in our community.
Thomas-Xavier: Do you ever faced violent opposition?
Soulaiman: I would say… You know, it’s like waves. It’s not stable but, of course, because of the realities, sometimes during Gaza war, for example, some people will be super angry and they will try to align. You know: “Normalizer! Traitor!” Or (they will) give harsh criticism. And, (they will say): “Oh! You guys sold Palestine and sold the cause!” Of course these voices are there online or face to face. And sometimes, it’s close to violence, yes. There was often a little violent but I(‘ve) never felt like this. But I’m not afraid. I live here and my facebook is public. I’m happy to show my true freedom of opinion and what I believe in.
Thomas-Xavier: So during the military operations in Gaza, I guess it becomes more complicated?
Soulaiman: Of course. People are more angry. (But) I’m not talking about a majority. It’s really like some people (that) can cross the line of respect and can be super angry. And not to differentiate between the struggle that we believe and accepting the occupation and the reality. So, you know, not everybody (is an) intellectual and can have a conversation with you. And for some people, if you don’t agree with them, you’re like an enemy, unfortunately… And, definitely, this is not just for the Palestinians, it’s also on the Israeli side. You can’t talk about that.
Thomas-Xavier: So you think that on both sides, you have extremists and moderates?
Soulaiman: Of course. Angry people, extremists,… You have everything. Sometimes (people that are) just angry… Of course. I don’t think that the ideas that we (are) talk(ing) about are mainstream on either side. Of course.
What would be, in your opinion, the best solution to the conflict?
Soulaiman: The best solution?
Soulaiman: Today, of course, there is no short cut and there is no one way. It’s like deep conflict on the same land. And we belong to the same place. So, it’s really harsh. So, while recognizing this reality, I do believe that the majority of our population want to live normally. Like every other people in the world. If the conditions and reality change so that the people can built trust and get to, know each other stories and recognizing the pain… And I believe also (that) this land also has a medicine to help and heal the wound that people have. That require that (a) good leadership and faithful leaderships that should take things from where we are right now to a different place. So for me, I think a serious and a hard recognition of the existence of the other side, while being aware of the differences… At the end of the day, the difference require two sides, including the one in power and the one powerless, to come together and to recognize each other needs, feelings, hearts, history and connection to the place. And that can be the road to a different reality. And I think it’s very political wise to believe that it’s very important to recognize the people’s right of self-determination, basically.
Thomas-Xavier: Self-determination for both sides?
Soulaiman: Yeah, yeah, of course!. So both sides can feel (that they can) achieve their expectations and belonging. That’s a key for me, for changing this reality, actually.
Thomas-Xavier: And also a normalization of the relationship between the people?
Soulaiman: Of course. In the end of the day, we are not normalizing the status quo. Which (would) really (be) work(ing) for the interest of one side. But in the long run, I believe this status quo is not good for both sides. And, at the end of the day, despite (the fact that) Palestinians (are) suffering more because we live under Israeli control… (Even if) I don’t believe in (the) competition of who is suffering more. But, this is not a normal nature. So yeah, I wish to see more people learning the narrative of the other side and the language and the culture. And also, you know, working together. Especially, there are many common issues. Like water, environment, trees, climate change. And this is a small piece of land and I have the firm belief that we have to work together equally for the sake of saving the earth and the nature here. And also, saving the life of the people, of course.
Thomas-Xavier: And in terms of specifical questions like the settlements, like Jerusalem... How to solve these questions?
Soulaiman: As I said, I don’t believe in hiding hard issues. Like, you know, the Jerusalem issue, the refugees, the settlements… There are a lot of issues here. Security, I don’t know… All the issues that are important to both sides have to be addressed. As I said, the truth is, if we show caring about each other needs, I believe there are solutions, even reality and practical solutions for all these harsh questions. And, at the end of the day, there is no one side (that) can take this cake alone. I believe in the way and I don’t focus on the end goals. When people go to a different place of trust and caring, it’s easier to deal with hard questions, I believe.
Thomas-Xavier: What about the idea of the zero-sum game? Is that a real reality or is it just something that people made up?
Soulaiman: From the outside, it looks like there is two sides and there is one here and one there. I’m not a person of that logic. I don’t see things in that way. I do believe (that) if we got stronger and over our pain and victimization, and losses… And we show a little bit more (of an) open heart then we can change the reality step by step together and get to know each other and trust and really believe in good for both sides. (Then,) I think that the idea that one narrative, in order to exist has to demolish the other narrative is just (a) primitive idea. It’s a very strong belief here, unfortunately. But, we could see a third option which is basically creating a new story, a new narrative. Basically, I’m talking about the way, not about the end goal. And I do believe that we can create the way together. Which would basically be to recognize all the stories, the connections, the beings and work together to create a new story and a new narrative. And I believe this is possible instead of thinking: “Oh! Either me or you.” We can survive together, that’s what I believe. And it’s hard thinking maybe for some people because it’s easier to be in the circle of: “I need to destroy you to survive.” But we do can survive together and we have examples from different other conflicts and from the history. I guess, you’re form Belgium, you can see that right?
Soulaiman: So, for example, I traveled there and the borders between Belgium and Holland, it used to be army, nanana and the second world war and after, etc.. And now, there is a nice coffee shop. And that’s not far from here so it’s possible.
Thomas-Xavier: So, finding a common narrative is the solution?
Soulaiman: Yeah, I believe that the narratives can be extent and open to include. And, basically, it’s like the idea of inclusion rather than exclusion what we call the other. And find a common ground, which is exists already. In the history, in our heritage…
Thomas-Xavier: So, that would mean, somehow, allowing Palestinians to be included in Israeli society but also Israelis to be included in Palestinian society?
Soulaiman: In any solution, I believe, people have the right to move and live freely. Both sides. Of course, this is not the reality right now. You know, I can’t go to Jerusalem where my family is without a permit. So, we do have to change this system. Because this system specifically work for one group right now. And, for Palestinians, this system is against us. In the good terms… But it can be even worse than that. So, I believe that, slowly, we do have to change this system to include the Palestinian story within this system or create a new system. And, of course, this will serve both sides. You know, the Israeli could come to the Palestinian area and also move freely in safety. It’s good for both sides in my eyes. Because in our experience, in Combattants for Peace and myself, we don’t believe there is a military solution for this conflict. And both sides are here, there are not going anywhere.
Thomas-Xavier: You think it would come from the people or from the politics?
Soulaiman: Well, there is a lot of conversations about that. About (whether) the solution come from bottom down or the other way around. I think it’s both. For me, I believe, as an activitist, in the grassroot level. We do what we can. The more people (will) believe and join this circle, the more politicians will have to listen and to join. And we are not working against certain people (we are) rather (trying to) create a new reality. And this take a long-long journey, a long time. And it’s seems like impossible, of course for the people living within. But that’s how the feeling (was/is) in other conflicts until it’s finished.
How are you planning to change the mindset of the people who oppose peace?
Soulaiman: So, basically, we have different tools to bring change. But to make it simple, we use our personal story of our background, of fighting, being in jail or the Israelis being in the army and using military means and believing in military solutions to transform and change and open and work together. I believe personal story can be inspiring. It (actually) is inspiring a lot of people to open their heart. For me, I’m not focus so much in changing the mindset. It’s more truly (trying) to open the heart of the people which comes from the belief that people (were) born to be good in the first place. And there is a lot of dehumanization here, in both sides. It’s a normal practice in a conflict. You have to dehumanize in order to kill and also not to see. So what we try to do is to make people see what they don’t want to see. And also, (to try to) touch the good side (of) their heart. And open their heart and their soul. Because, you know, like the histories (of the other) are always something we don’t want to know. And once you know, you can’t go back. So, in my experience, through many years, many people have freely opened their heart. I don’t expect everybody to change and to be active. Many people change but they don’t take actions. So, that’s one trick but we use other things. There are millions (of) techniques in non-violence that I can mention. There is, for example, the trauma healing projects that I’m personally involved. Some other people also from both sides to help heal the wound personally and as a group. Because we are traumatized from generation to generation. It’s not just one person. So, I see there are different tools. Also, there are also actions, direct actions of solidarity that can break the stereotypes about the other side. So there are millions of tools but yeah…
Thomas-Xavier: “Be the change you want to see in the world?”
Soulaiman: That’s also part of it. You know, we (are) all humans and we all have our weaknesses and mistakes including the activists. I don’t claim that we know the truth that other people don’t know. I don’t really believe in that. And I don’t think that everybody else that (is) against us is stupid. I don’t really see things this way. I see that everyone (are) coming from their own journey and we learn non-violence communication. One of the tools, for example, that we use (is) that we have to meet people were they are, not where we want them to be. That’s another journey. And this needs a lot of patience, a lot of empathy and a lot of love, if you wish, to the one, specifically that don’t agree with us in order to help the eyes. We’re doing this daily, in our daily life and this is (a) practice (that) has to be in our daily life with our weaknesses as human. You know, like one day you wake up, you don’t want to talk to anybody and the other day, you’re optimistic. I personally try to keep my DNA of optimism because as somebody said: “While recognizing the reality, we have to keep dreaming.” And, as a friend of mine said: “Keep one leg in the ordinary and one leg in the extraordinary.” And that’s what I see in the importance of some individuals and some activists that can show a model of different reality. Because people (that) live in a conflict zone, they can’t imagine something else. So, it’s very important to stay up there. It is (indeed a) very hard task. Especially when things goes down too much. And that’s why we need a few people. It’s not the majority.. And that’s (what) the history teaches us. (To) have a firm belief and feeling of the dream.
Thomas-Xavier: So you don’t try to convert people to your goals but you let them come and they come by themselves?
Soulaiman: Yes, and of course, we try to convince people that our way is the way. Of course. Like everybody is trying their way, right? And it’s a competing place. Among many ideas. I’m respecting the journeys of other people and that takes time to see things differently. Sometimes, like really… Our conversation is interrupted by the loud noise of an ambulance outside. That’s just (the) Middle East…
Combatants for peace in ten years?
Soulaiman: My truth is (that) I see combatants for peace as just a platform. It’s not a holy cause. It’s very important. I’m one of the founders so, it’s very important to me. It’s like a family. It’s like an activist family and also a model that (is) definitely not just together with other groups that exist here. And, often, unfortunately, there is competition and problems and challenges, of course. Not just between Israelis and Palestinians but among each other. We have to show more harmony to each other. I think, the best, and I’m not the only one, is that we should have our vision and strategy in place and not react to the events that happens everyday. Which means to keep growing, to keep spreading the culture of non-violence and to show there is a human on the other side and all the message that we send using public media and using social media. Using our personal stories, using meetings and actions and many other tools that we use usually can really create more groups and more people to join peace circles. And it doesn’t has to be just combatants for peace. As I said, it’s the bigger picture of a bigger activist community. And I think the way is right with the challenges that comes with that comes with that.
Thomas-Xavier: Do you see, for example, Combatants for Peace creating more initiatives?
Soulaiman: Yeah. I think this is actually what (is) happen(ing). For example, we have the ceremony, the Palestinian/Israeli Memorial ceremony. Many years ago, there was (only) two hundred people and now almost nine-ten thousand people and we broadcasted it online with translation for people from all countries (so they) can see that. Because, also, we are part of the holy humanity anyway. And, it create options for people outside also. You know, if they want to support this side or that side, there is also (the) option of supporting groups from both sides that try to see the bigger picture. So, the last few years, we do have (organized) mini events. Like in Haifa or in Beit Jala and some events at houses. In Gaza, there was a circle watching in a house and they sent messages. So, definitely, this is one of our strategies also to, of course, expand the groups and circles that we have locally and internationally. Yeah
Thomas-Xavier: Would you see Combattants for Peace being involved in promoting peace in other conflicts in the world?
Soulaiman: So, most of our work and mission is really focusing on here, in Palestine and Israel. This is our main goal. But, definitely, there is the international element and the human element so we do work with other organisations that are on the globe to promote our ideas. Like in Ireland, Cyprus sometimes and other places and local communities in North-America for example and other places definitely. But, you know, our capacity is not that big that we can really… You know, we’re like, basically… Not a huge organization. With a big name but not a huge organization. We don’t have offices but… So today, with the social media, we can connect and we do connect with many activists and groups around the world. And, definitely, it’s not about us personally. At the end of the day, it’s about the cause, it’s about the people, about the land. And also, we are part of the human change so… I see lands and partnerships with like-minded around the world.
Israel and Palestine in ten years?
Soulaiman: It’s a hard question. As I said, I’m really optimistic and I think that things can change faster than we think. But with the realpolitik here now, it’s really hard to imagine how things are evolving. Even, we see more challenges these days but this can change. You know, there is the Israeli elections, there is the American elections next year. There is also (the) Palestinian division here which is a challenge. So, at this moment, there is a lot of hopless. So, for me, as I said, I think this situation can’t stay and people will change and politicians have to find solutions. I’m not busy with the question (of) how long it will takes until we have a real peace agreement. And I’m more putting my energy on really what we do every day while keeping the big vision of course.
Thomas-Xavier: Do you think it could be because of a lack of leadership?
Soulaiman: Also. Of course, we can talk about ideas but at the end of the day, we talk about not just messages. We need messengers to carry the messages. And the politicians have no interest of changing because of their power and their interest. And that’s why, it’s really frustrating that part. I don’t want to blame just the politicians. We also take responsibility as people. But people want something and we work for it to make it happen. And we just mentioned the example of the Israeli/Palestinian Memorial Day (that) became part of the reality. In the harsh reality, there is also kindness and important events happening. So there are other events, there is this coffee in Jerusalem and many others like this. So, there are some people trying to make (an) alternative reality. Yeah. So, our destiny is not in the hands of a few politicians.
Thomas-Xavier: So it’s in everybody’s hands?
Soulaiman: Yeah. And also, as we are talking about nonviolence, it’s also the way to liberate the people that are oppressed or under repression and people from all sides. It’s very hard. Because it’s easier for us to put ourselves in a position of victims and blame politicians and blame the others. So, for me, I think we have to take responsibility as well.
Thomas-Xavier: Each individual?
Soulaiman: Each individual and groups. And, find a way together. That’s what I believe and that’s why I can’t assume a timing.
Thomas-Xavier: Is it going better or worse, the situation?
Soulaiman: As (an) optimistic person, while seeing all the challenges that are happening these days, with the Americans and everything, I do see that the Oslo system and agreements are shaking. Which is a good thing, honestly. Laugh. Yeah. The system is really shaking… Where this goes? Nobody can tell. Laugh again.Yeah.
Thomas-Xavier: So, the Oslo system is…
Soulaiman: But I do see the system of Oslo, that was from nineteen ninety three until now, that we (are) stuck there. Look at Area A and Area B. It’s crowded of people. And Area C, where is the land? There is a lot of settlements, activities and all that… I think the Oslo arrangements are dying, basically.
Thomas-Xavier: So, there’s a need for a new paradigm?
Soulaiman: Yeah! And that’s what I feel (that) this is (a) very important time. It’s (a) very interesting time. Yeah…