by Joel Berman
My most recent journey to Israel and the West Bank with The Compassionate Listening Project was one of stark contradictions. Although the Israelis and Palestinians we met presented a broad range of perspectives ranging from far right to ultra-left, most of them agreed on one thing – that the two-state solution is moribund, if not dead. While some still believe in its necessity, none expressed a belief in its near-term viability. I came home filled with fear that within my lifetime, Israel will either cease to be democratic or cease to be Jewish. As the arc of bad news has accelerated, my hope for a just and sustainable peace between Israelis and Palestinians has plummeted.
Yet I did come home with hope because, as always, we met amazing, heroic people on both sides of the conflict who are working together to create small-scale victories on the ground. Two such people are Osama, a Palestinian Muslim, and Ella, an Israeli Jew. Members of Combatants for Peace, they spoke to us at a Christian guest house in Jerusalem’s Old City.
Ella, a former member of the IDF who had formerly fought and feared all Arabs, now would trust Osama with her life. “When I met Palestinian Combatants and listened to their stories, the enemy – the terrorists – immediately became human in my eyes.”
Osama came to the recognition that his lifelong “othering” of Jewish Israelis was weakening his soul. Motivated to create a different reality for his children, he made the courageous decision to meet the enemy, and like Ella, immediately recognized the common humanity and mutual aspirations that he shares with Israelis.
What alchemy allowed such mutual transformation? Nothing more or less than the willingness to listen to the stories of “the other” – a simple, radical act that’s all too rare in this hotly contested holy land of the three Abrahamic faiths.
Combatants for Peace was founded In 2006 when Israeli and Palestinian former combatants, people who had taken an active role in the conflict, laid down their weapons and joined forces to break the cycle of violence. The organization works to both transform and resolve the conflict by ending the occupation, resisting all forms of violence between the two sides, and building a peaceful future for both peoples.
On Tuesday, February 26th from 7 to 8:30 pm, two Combatants, one Israeli and one Palestinian, will share their personal stories of transformation from violence to nonviolence. The presentation will be at Friends Forever International, One Morgan Way, Durham, NH 03824 (603-397-5301). The program will include a short clip of the award-winning documentary: Disturbing the Peace. This presentation is free and open to the public. Please RSVP by Wednesday, February 25th to Katiemae at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Joel Berman is a retired physician and a member of Concord’s Temple Beth Jacob. His views are his alone and don’t necessarily represent those of his fellow congregants.