War and Peace

Former Israeli and Palestinian warriors find a new cause to fight for: peace


| September 14, 2006


The recent violence between Hezbollah and Israel seems like another mile marker on the path to hopelessness, but as Dragonfire's Sara Toth reports, some have seized the debacle as a chance to stand up for peace. When former Israeli soldier Itamar Shapira was jailed in August for refusing to fight in Lebanon, a rally outside the prison revealed a subculture in support of his decision. Among the pacifist protesters were members of Combatants for Peace, a new anti-war group made up of former warriors. Shapira is a member of the 60-strong organization of peace converts from both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Though they once fought in the frontlines of a decades-long conflict, each 'combatant' has concluded that violence cannot resolve the Israeli-Palestinian clash over land and power. The group's mission statement reflects its transcendent attitude: 'After brandishing weapons for so many years, and having seen one another only through weapons' sights, we have decided to put down our guns and to fight for peace.'

As for Combatants for Peace's concrete positions, Toth explains that the group advocates an end to Israel's occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip. The territories would then become a Palestinian state with a capital in East Jerusalem.

Israeli member Elik Elhanan says that the group's impact has remained limited, partly because young men and women feel that they will be perceived as weak if they refuse to fight. Yonathan Shapira, Itamar's older brother, points out another major obstacle: 'This wall' -- the controversial barrier Israel is erecting -- 'will eventually stop every kind of meeting.'

Nevertheless, the group is finding ways to spread its anti-war message. Yonathan Shapira and Palestinian Bassam Aramin are set to speak at a number of US universities this October. As Aramin tells Toth, 'with speech, you can change the most extreme mind even more than you can with weapons and power.' -- Suzanne Lindgren

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