Former enemies join forces to end the Israeli occupation

Von Sarah Aziza, Wagingnonviolence, November 10, 2016. “We were born and live under Israeli occupation,” an
Arabic-speaking voice opens the film “Disturbing the Peace,” his
somber narration overlaying scrolling footage of the barrier wall that
separates the West Bank from Israel. “We are ready to do anything to get our
freedom — even this.”
“Disturbing the
Peace” begins with familiar, bleak histories of the Holocaust, the 1948 
and the ensuing wars over the Holy Land. The film presents this history through
the alternating narratives of Israeli Jews and Palestinians, framing the decades
of violence through the dual lens of Zionist and Arab experiences. While the
film touches on political events, the film focuses on the “on the ground”
effects from the Yom Kippur war to the Intifada, glimpsing the personal losses
suffered on each side.
Yet, while the audience is given
insight into both Palestinian and Israeli worldviews, the film’s narrators are,
at first, bewildered by each other. Absent a civilian dialogue, eruptions of
violence are used to justify crackdowns from the Israeli forces and inspire
attacks from the Palestinian resistance. “I really didn’t understand,” says one
former Israeli soldier, describing the chaos he faced as an IDF soldier during
the Intifada, “why do they hate us so much?”
“Disturbing the
Peace” turns on this question. The film chronicles the awakening of both
Israeli soldiers and Palestinian political prisoners to ideas of nonviolent
resistance. Sulaiman Khatib, in prison after attacking an Israeli soldier,
describes being shaken after viewing a film about the Holocaust. After this,
Khatib began reading about leaders like Nelson Mandela and Gandhi, drawing
inspiration from their legacies. Shifa al-Qudsi,
a would-be suicide bomber, is also moved after an encounter with a jailer who
lost her brother in an attack by a suicide attack. “I expected her to be angry
with me for her pain,” recalls al-Qudsi, “But she said, ‘I am not angry with
you. Blood brings blood.’” After this, says al-Qudsi, “I began to think a lot.
I thought … maybe goodness is possible.”
On the Israeli side, too, the
recognition of the “other” comes softly, but forcefully. Chen Alon describes
detaining a Palestinian at a checkpoint, then finding himself moved at the
sight of the sick children in the backseat. A father himself, Alon says, he
began to realize that his enemies were not so different from him after all. “I
was looking at these children and I felt that something is extremely wrong in
the situation. I realized there was a split, of me as a father … and me as a
soldier. I knew that I could not live with this split anymore.”
These revelations
lead these characters to search for their own forms of nonviolent resistance.
In the case of the Israelis, this began by conscientious objection to the
mandatory IDF service, a decision that drew contempt from
their families as well as the Israeli government and media. For their
Palestinian counterparts, choosing nonviolence meant abandoning armed
resistance and making the controversial decision to engage with Israeli
partners. In both groups, a sense of mistrust loomed large.
Eventually, the
activists come face-to-face in a tense meeting in the West Bank. Recognizing
their shared commitment to oppose the occupation, in 2006 the group founded a
collaborative they called “Combatants for
.” The group draws on nonviolent tactics from abroad, such as Theater of the Oppressed,
wherein Israelis and Palestinians “rehearse the transformation of the reality …
which wants to keep us separate,” explains Alon. The participants also create
works of art in paper mache, which they carry with them during dramatic actions
at the Israeli barrier wall. The film glimpses large, bilingual gatherings of
Israelis and Palestinians, during which members participate in dialogues and
sit side-by-side listening to presentations on nonviolent resistance. At times,
blocked by checkpoints and walls, members use Skype to “meet” and organize.
The film touches on
the question of “normalization,”
the objection that cooperation between “oppressed” and “oppressors” may obscure
the inherent power imbalance between the two groups. While leaders like Omar
Barghouti of the BDS movement has
disavowed such efforts, the participants of Combatants for Peace believe they
are able to work together while remaining conscious of the disproportionate
power of the Israeli regime. “We don’t need to pretend that Israelis and
Palestinians are in equal circumstances,” Khatib tells a group of participants,
“but I hope together we can be stronger than the reality we are living in.”
The message of the Combatants for
Peace is strongly in favor of a political solution for the conflict, even as
many of the members remain outspoken about their nationalism. Officially, the
group endorses a two-state solution, while highlighting the need to end the
occupation. The group is tested through assaults on Gaza and failed
negotiations between their respective leaders, but holds firm to their
nonviolent message. “There is no military solution,” argues Khatib, in Hebrew,
to an Israeli audience. “War is not our fate.” Later, in Arabic, Jamel Qassas
reiterates: “There is no answer but peace, there is no path but peace.”
“Disturbing the
Peace” will premier in
New York City on November 11 at the Lincoln Plaza. Members of Combatants for
Peace will also join partners from the Veterans for Peace, Code Pink, and other
organizations on the same day as part of the Peace Contingent in
the city’s Veterans Day Parade. Members of these groups have issued an open
call to people in the area to join them in the march at 1:30. (The expected
meeting point is East 27th St between Madison and Park, but participants should
check the Facebook page for
location updates.)