Combatants For Peace (CFP) is dedicated to “building a just and peaceful society from the ground-up, through egalitarian community building, grassroots organizing & joint nonviolent civil resistance.” They are a group of ex-combatants who fought on both sides of the Israeli Palestinian Conflict. In spite of their past experiences, they came together with a tremendous leap of faith to meet each other, listen to each others’ stories and ultimately work together for peace. They previously served as officers in the military. Some were arrested for their activities and sent to jail. These combatants had to go through a process of transformation in order to see themselves as partners and not as enemies.
Gili Getz was born in Israel and raised by parents who emigrated from the Soviet Union during the time of the Iron Curtain. As a first generation Sabra, he understood the fears and importance of safety and a Jewish State.
Gili says his political identity was shaped by his coming of age when Yitzhak Rabin was running for Prime Minister of Israel with the hope of peace and resolution to the Israeli Palestinian Conflict. During the Oslo Accords, he was a military photographer, documenting the conflict He had a front row seat to the Occupation, witnessing bus bombings in Israel as well as oppression of Palestinians. He said he didn’t fully understand the system of the Occupation at the time even though he saw it and experienced it.
Gili was introduced to CFP as a member of a delegation for the Center for Jewish Nonviolence, a coalition that included Israeli, Jewish, Palestinian and international peace activists from five organizations. At that time, CFP was helping to launch the Samud Freedom Camp, a direct nonviolent action and civil disobedience to mark the 50th anniversary of the Occupation. This was an elaborate action to reclaim a home for a Palestinian family that was expelled from their home in Area C, over the Green Line.
CFP also helped create the joint Israeli Palestinian Memorial Ceremony, held on one of Israel’s most sacred days, Yom Ha Zikaron (Day of Remembrance). This ceremony is now seen annually by more than a million people. For Gili it is an “embodiment of my fantasy of hope.”
In 2016, the film Disturbing the Peace brought the Occupation issue to international consciousness. The film continues to present opportunities to learn about the conflict from both sides and invites activists into communities to engage in dialogue among people with varied views. The activists share their personal transformation, how they changed their perspective and engaged in the process of learning a different narrative and experience than their own. The greatest challenge for these activists is speaking with their families and communities about why they are engaging with “the enemy.”
When Gili moved to America he engaged with organizations that supported peace efforts through a progressive pro-Israel lens. He was looking for a joint vision of peace. CFP’s focus on direct action appealed to him. Gili joined the Board of American Friends of CFP.
CFP addresses the fears and pains of both societies and works on imagining a different reality. The organization does not gloss over or minimize the imbalance of power. They understand the imbalance of the Occupied and Occupier, and yet attempt to build a joint movement of two equal partners. The effort, says Gili, is unique and fragile.
CFP has created a bi-national theatre group, Theatre of the Oppressed, that uses the power dynamics of the two sides to explore the different roles they play in the land. They switch roles and use theatre as a tool to safely experience the reality of the other. This ultimately creates a dialogue between the actors and the audience creating the opportunity for personal and political transformation. By participating, they get to know one another. It opens the political imagination of what is possible.
On July 12th, CFP will hold its first Joint Nakba Ceremony. This is an opportunity for Israelis to be educated and understand the Palestinian reality. The Palestinians mourn the Disaster of 1948 where many lost their homes and way of life. Nakba for the Palestinians is still ongoing. CFP aims to challenge the system by creating a joint ceremony where they recognize and support the Palestinian national narrative.
CFP started as former combatants and now has expanded to include everyday people with different backgrounds. The Board of American Friends for CFP is currently 50% Palestinian and 50% Jewish. They are challenged to make sure there is an equal partnership between the two sides, despite the uneven power dynamic on the ground. Every job and every committee in the organization includes representation from both sides. CFP culture maintains that if it can’t be done together, it can’t be done.
The day-to-day activism continues. Freedom for both people is a long road and CFP comes to this model with a great deal of difficulty and many questions. Committees, dialogue and political action support their work. Recently, the Israeli military has agreed to stop home invasions for intelligence that works to intimidate the Palestinians. Gili says it is a hopeful sign.
Jews and Arabs are building a grassroots movement to model a political partnership to advance joint interests. That movement has grown tremendously. People are starting to get used to the idea of a joint political effort that it is attracting more participation. Gili says, working together is the only way. There is no other way for peace. Non-violence has become a way of life. It is not just a resistance technique.
“Combatants for Peace envisions a future of peace, equality and freedom,
with self-determination for both Palestinians and Israelis.” To learn more and support the work of CFP, go to their website, https://afcfp.org/. Sign up for the mailing list, follow them on social media and join their events, https://afcfp.org/events/.