Israeli and Palestinian Fighters Tour US For Peace
Between The Lines
Between the Lines Q&A
A weekly column featuring progressive viewpoints
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for release Oct. 31, 2006
Former Israeli and Palestinian Fighters Tour U.S. to Promote Peace
Excerpts of talk by former Palestinian fighter Sulaiman Khatib, and cofounder of Combatants for Peace and former Israeli Air Force Reserves Capt. Yonatan Shapira, produced by Melinda Tuhus
As Palestinians continue to suffer and die under the policies of the Israeli government in Gaza and the West Bank, and as Israelis still suffer under the threat of suicide bombings, a group of former fighters from both sides have come together to put their own experience and suffering on the line to call for a non-violent solution to the decades long Middle East conflict. The war veterans propose the creation of a viable Palestinian state to exist alongside Israel.
Two members of the group, Combatants for Peace, are currently on a speaking tour of the U.S. from Oct. 23 through Nov. 3, sponsored nationally by Faculty for Israeli-Palestinian Peace. Their second stop was Yale University, where they told their stories and then invited questions.
Between The Lines' Melinda Tuhus recorded the event and presents excerpts of their stories. We first hear from Sulaiman Khatib, a former Palestinian fighter, followed by Yonatan Shapira, a former captain in the Israeli Air Force Reserves and co-founder of Combatants for Peace.
Sulaiman Khatib: I will try briefly to tell you about my personal story with the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. I born in 1972, after the Six Day War. I born near Ramallah, my village surrounded by the settlements and soldiers all the time. At that time, it was forbidden to have the Palestinian flag in the schools, so we start in the schools with the other children to bring the P. flag inside the schools. Then sometimes we close the schools, demonstrations, throw stones, and Molotov. At the end, I joined Fatah militia and tried to kill Israeli soldiers. At the end of the day, I found myself in Israeli jails when I was 14 years old. They judge me for 15 years, and I spent 10 years and five months in Israeli jails.
BETWEEN THE LINES: Khatib said after his release from prison he gradually came in contact with both Israeli and Palestinian former fighters, who saw violence as a dead end.
SULAIMAN KHATIB: They came to the result at the end of the day, from both sides, that there are no military solutions for the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. This is simply our experience with the conflict, and we personally paid a price for that conflict. We started also bringing more members from both sides and we started holding big meetings every month for 50 ex-fighters from both sides – also secret, underground – because we don’t know the reaction from both sides. Our goal, simply and frankly, to end the occupation, the Israeli occupation, with non-violence way and to end the violence between both sides.
BETWEEN THE LINES: Yonatan Shapira fulfilled a boyhood dream of becoming a pilot in the Israeli Air Force, but found he was flying missions over occupied Palestinian territory.
YONATAN SHAPIRA: What happened to me in this story is that I understood that I am part of this circle of violence and I didn’t want to be anymore part of this circle. But at the beginning I was waiting for someone else – someone stronger, smarter, that looks better or speaks better than me – but nothing happened. And once you understand that it must be you that starts something, it gives you a lot of power, a lot of courage. And what I started to do is go from one pilot to another, and checking who is willing to participate with me in an initiative of writing a refusal letter that would be published in Israel so everyone can see it and everyone can know that there are Israeli pilots, Israeli officers, who refuse to participate in this circle of mutual violence that will lead us to self-destruction. We ended up three years ago on the eve of Rosh Hashanah, the new Jewish year, with 27 pilots from different squadrons, and we published this letter in which we declared that we refused to take any more part in the
Since then many things happened, and I will try to make it short now. But the idea of making the first step and refuse to participate in things that you believe are illegal and immoral, is just the first step. The second step is after you refuse to enter the occupied territories with your gun, now go there without your gun, and listen, look, talk and meet the people that you were fighting before – maybe you can find something in common. And that’s how everything started. My older brother Zohal was also a commando soldier, an elite commando soldier. He also refused and organized a petition of commando soldiers, and he was the first to approach Sulaiman’s friend in Bethlehem. And that’s how everything started with Combatants for Peace.
I will end up just with breaking news. Avigdor Lieberman, who is a new member now in the Israeli government, he is one of the deputies of the prime minister. He is the new strategic threat minister in the Israeli government. And this guy, this guy is a racist, fascist person, and in a way it’s terrible. It’s terrible to see him in the government; it’s terrible what the government is doing; it’s terrible what your government is doing. It’s terrible what many governments are doing. But maybe there is one advantage here: the advantage is that the façade of the Israeli government now will be more like the inside. Khatib and Shapira will be touring college campuses in the Northeast, Midwest and West Coast through Nov. 3rd.
For more information, visit the group's website at
Melinda Tuhus is a producer for Between The Lines, which can
be heard on more than 40 radio stations and in RealAudio
and MP3 on our website at
http://www.btlonline.org. This interview excerpt was
featured on the award-winning, syndicated weekly radio
newsmagazine, Between The Lines for the week ending Nov. 3,
2006. This Between The Lines Q&A was compiled by Melinda
Tuhus and Anna Manzo.