Ten days ago the impossible become reality. While the world was watching Palestinians and Israelis trading fire and hatred through every possible means, there was a rare moment of cooperation between Israelis and Palestinians who shared a mutual desire to put an end to the violence.
In the midst of the missiles, bombs and devastation that took place in Gaza and the south of Israel, a group of Palestinians and Israelis came together in the Palestinian town of Beit Jalla, near Bethlehem, for a joint march to demand a bilateral ceasefire.
We belong to a group called Combatants for Peace (CFP) formed by former combatants from both sides of the conflict who, after taking part in the cycle of violence, have decided to use the path of non-violence to protest against it. Everyone in our group is a former soldier or combatant and has a history of causing and suffering violence. We tell our stories so that other people can appreciate that there is always the option of turning towards non-violence. Moreover, through our personal stories we offer Palestinians and Israelis the opportunity to hear first-hand how the conflict is viewed by the other side.
What the joint march showed us is that even in the midst of war we can look beyond cultural and physical barriers and see that we are all in the same boat. We are all victims of a conflict that is dominated by the language of violence. During our joint march, we made the point that both sides can talk to each other and more importantly that there are people on both sides who want to live in peace with the “other” and can achieve it through non-violence. Through our actions we demonstrated that the common belief that the other side is unreasonable or inhumane does not hold water.
Seven years earlier we met in the same place to establish CFP. We believed that violence only begets more violence and that the real victors are those who look to the future rather than remain preoccupied with revenge over the past.
About 150 Israelis and Palestinians came to the march on 17 November. The march started simultaneously in areas of the West Bank under Palestinian and Israeli control. Israelis on one side, Palestinians on the other, we met at a crossroads that divides the two areas.
In Hebrew and Arabic we called upon Hamas and Israel to stop their violence. Together we called on the Israeli government to cease the expansion of settlements and enter negotiations with the Palestinian Authority, and on Hamas to stop firing missiles towards Israel. For Israelis to see a Palestinian condemning Hamas’ missiles or for Palestinians to see an Israeli condemning Israel’s bombing of Gaza is exactly the message we seek to spread.
You could clearly see the astonishment on the faces of passers–by as they watched Israelis and Palestinians, holding their respective flags, marching together. When our procession met with Israeli soldiers at the crossroads where they stand guard, you could see the Israeli soldiers and non-CFP Palestinians, who were not used to our demonstrations, preparing themselves for confrontation. Some Palestinians even left, fearing a violent clash. This is, after all, the routine most are used to. Only this time we talked to the soldiers, showing them that there would be no violence.
At first they remained in formation and adopted a cynical attitude. But as time passed, they relaxed realising that we meant what we said.
No doubt there is still a long road to travel but we do not lack in strength and hope. Those in power who choose violence are a great obstacle to negotiations. Needless to say there are many voices against ours.
Now that we have achieved a ceasefire we must make every possible effort to spread the message of cooperation against the Occupation and the conflict, showing our respective societies that the solution will only come when both sides achieve independence and security. This march was only a beginning, but it was an excellent one.