A Palestinian and Jew walk into a library … to make the case for peace

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MANCHESTER, NH — Osama Elewat and Netta Hazan, a Palestinian and a Jew, are committed to bringing the message of peace to those who will listen — at times sacrificing friendships, and even straining family relationships, because it means that much.

The two shared personal stories about their time living within the occupied zone and what ultimately brought them to join Combatants for Peace during a presentation at the Manchester City Library on May 1, which included a brief viewing from part of the documentary “Disturbing the Peace” (now available on Netflix.) The event was presented by NH Friends of Combatants for Peace, NH Peace Action Educational Fund, J-Street and the World Affairs Council of NH.

Combatants for Peace was founded in 2006 in Occupied Palestine when participants in the conflict decided to lay down arms in an attempt to halt the violence in the West Bank, which is under active occupation by the state of Israel. After returning from the west banks of Gaza, a group of Palestinians and Jewish combatants began meeting in secret to make the first steps to halt war and promote peace and understanding between the two nations. These meetings were dangerous and entirely illegal, yet stirred a now internationally recognized movement.

The organization  stands under three main pillars:

  1. Dedication to non-violence (in both actions and communications between Palestine and Israel)
  2. Cooperation and Equality with all members of the Combatants for Peace-both Palestinian and Jewish
  3. Dedication to Human Rights to ultimately end the occupation
Osama Elewat/CFP

Elewat began his narrative by sharing memories of his grandparents, and the conditions living in the village of Silwan from a Palestinian perspective. Elewat detailed a harrowing account of schools being occupied by Israeli soldiers and the aftermath of demonstrations that shook the nights. While a curfew was mandated for all residents of the village, protests often continued, erupting with more violence. Elewat explained how his home was stormed by soldiers on one such night, who dragged his father to the streets and beat him and his mother. As he grew older, Elewat and his friends joined the Palestinian forces. Homes were constantly being demolished one by one on a weekly basis, displacing village residents. This resulted in not only the death of many of his friends, but also led him to ultimately decide to choose to personally stop the violence by joining Combatants for Peace.

“I know that we can only heal this situation if we work together. We can only end this conflict and heal the sorrow and pain of both our nations if we work together cooperatively and peacefully. Peace cannot come through war. Freedom will only come when we break out of the chains that bind us: the chains of hatred, of violence, and of revenge. Love truly is the strongest force on this earth. A revolution of love is the only thing that can save us,” Elewat said.

Netta Hazan/CFP

Next, Netta Hazan took the stage. Hazan was raised in a Jewish family and is of Moroccan and Egyptian descent. She began by stating that her experience was not as chaotic as Elewat’s past. She spoke of her dissatisfaction at the requirement of two years of service in the Israeli Army for all citizens at age 18. She had a strong desire to go to university, work and the ability to start her life the way she wanted. Hazan was given the job of being a secretary for the Israeli Army, but attempted to leave midway. She expressed that the only way out was a diagnosis of psychiatric problems-a diagnosis her doctor was willing to give her to escape, but which would have had consequences down the road.

After finishing her two years of secretarial work for the army, Netta went to college and got her Master of Arts in Arabic Studies. She worked in management at a hotel in Jerusalem, where she encountered her first Palestinian friends. She described the stark differences in Palestinian neighborhoods in East Jerusalem vs. the neighborhoods she was familiar with, just five minutes away. Eventually Hazan found a circle of people she would consider family within the Combatants for Peace, and now travels internationally to speak with Osama Elewat, among other members.

“I really believe in dialogue. Today I serve as a mediator and facilitator between Israeli and Palestinian groups. I also teach Arabic and Hebrew in order to help people who have contact with one another. I firmly believe that people first need to meet each other. We are all trapped behind walls: walls dividing our lands and walls dividing our minds…” Hazan said.

Tuesday’s presentation ended with a short Q&A session in which the audience got to ask further personal questions of Hazan and Elewat. The pair emphasized that they were grateful to be able to speak to audiences, as it is illegal for them to speak to youth in schools at home this way.

 “How did joining Combatants for Peace affect your friendships”

“Most of my friends know me, they trust me, they like me,” Elewat responded. “But I lost a lot of my friends through differences in interest. I lost a lot of my friends in other ways and eventually gained new friends here.”

“How was it to tell your families when you made the decision to enter Combatants for Peace?”

“I cannot say they supported it. My mother does support me, but my father supports it less,” Hazan said. “He feels I am wasting my life, that it’s a waste of time and that I could be doing better things with my life.” 

Combatants for Peace, a bi-national, egalitarian, grassroots movement devoted to promoting peace between the Israeli and Palestinians in the West Bank of Palestine kicked off their 2018 New Hampshire Tour on May 1. The event took place at the Manchester City Library. It and was the first of three stops on the calendar this week in the Granite State (May 2 in Concord at the Unitarian Universalist Church, and May 3 at the Portsmouth Public Library).

For more information on the Combatants for Peace visit http://cfpeace.org/