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Group Combats for PeacePalestinian Suleiman Al-Hamri (left) and Israeli Shimon Katz are members of Combatants for Peace and have become friends, despite their backgrounds. (Photo by Derek Liu for The Daily Bruin)

Group Combats for Peace

The Thursday night discussion was part of a month-long tour sparked by the killing of the 10-year-old daughter of Bassam Aramin, one of the founders of Combatants for Peace.

We were targets to one another, but I decided to work together with the Israelis who believed in peace.

This article was first published in The Daily Bruin.

By Seda Terzyan, Daily Bruin contributor

Suleiman Al-Hamri, a Palestinian, and Shimon Katz, an Israeli, spoke together and shared their personal stories of nonviolent revelation during a discussion Thursday night at UCLA.

The discussion was sponsored by Combatants for Peace, an Israeli-Palestinian nonprofit organization aimed at bringing an end to the violence that plagues their people and establishing a Palestinian state alongside Israel, according to its Web site. [This talk was co-sponsored by UCLA Centers for Near Eastern Studies and Jewish Studies and Hillel at UCLA.]

The Thursday night discussion was one of the speakers' many appearances across the United States in a month-long tour, which was sparked by the recent killing of the 10-year-old daughter of Bassam Aramin, one of the founders of Combatants for Peace.

"Our mission is to end the bloodshed that has been going on for decades," said Al-Hamri, a former member of a Palestinian resistance group. "History has proven that violence is not the answer."

About 200 former Palestinian and Israeli combatants make up the organization, which prides itself on creating a dialogue, according to its Web site.

Al-Hamri said Combatants for Peace is an example of how Israelis and Palestinians can come together for their mutual benefit.

"(Some) Israelis are having nightmares because they are ordered to kill Palestinians," Al-Hamri said.

Looking over to Katz, he added, "Now we are friends."

The organization states that both sides must believe in the possibility of peace, and through equal negotiations the Combatants for Peace propose creating a two-state solution.

"Israelis have done many bad things to Palestinians and Palestinians have done many bad things to the Israelis," said Katz, a former Israeli defense soldier. "We are stuck in this situation and need to be productive."

Katz, who said the fighting is counterproductive for Israel, now refuses to pick up a weapon and fight in what he referred to as the occupied regions. He said that after serving in the Israeli army as a counter-terror officer, he traveled to India and experienced a moral revelation after reading the teachings of the Dalai Lama and Mahatma Gandhi.

He said he realized nothing could be accomplished with violence, and when he found out about Combatants for Peace he knew he should join.

"We all sat together, ate together, and shared our stories," Katz said. "We all want to live in peace and security and not to suffer anymore."

Al-Hamri described how he was raised in the West Bank and joined a Palestinian resistance movement, which ultimately resulted in his first arrest and a year in Israeli prison. When he was released, he tried to go back to his public school in the West Bank but was unable to re-enter because of Israeli law, he said.

Al-Hamri said he got an education from a Catholic private school and received a scholarship to study law in Iraq, but after Israeli law prevented his attendance because he had been in prison, he joined the Palestinian resistance. After a lifetime of violence, Al-Hamri met an Israeli defense soldier who believed Palestinians had a right to secure a state of their own.

"We were targets to one another, but I decided to work together with the Israelis who believed in peace," Al-Hamri said.

Though this organization preaches peace and understanding, it is not free from opposition and disagreement.

"Their mission is very broad and needs to be more specific about its goals," Pouneh Behin, a fourth-year French student who attended the event said. "What exactly do they mean by creating a two-state solution?"

But Rabbi Chaim Seidler-Feller, director of Hillel at UCLA, said there is a strong symbolic value in Israeli and Palestinian soldiers renouncing violence in the Middle East.

"Their motivation is to give people a sense of hope," he said.

The Combatants for Peace do not oppose their respective national values, according to their Web site.

Palestinians have the right to fight for freedom and Israel has the right to maintain security and become prosperous. What they oppose are the violent and ineffective tactics of reaching those goals that they say have only caused the flourishing of cemeteries on both sides.

Center for Near Eastern Studies