I Wage Peace.Org
We do not need to agree on everthing to work for peace and justice

Combatants for Peace Personal Stories

These condensed life narratives share some of the personal experiences and evolving opinions of peacemakers and members of Combatants For Peace, and were not written to document the official positions of the Combatants For Peace.

Combatants for Peace is a bi-national peace activist movement of former Israeli and Palestinian combatants who were once part of the cycle of violence and who decided to lay down weapons and to work together towards peace and coexistence in non-violent ways. In the last few years we have organised hundreds of joint activities, house-meetings and lectures, in Israel and Palestine. At these events we call for an end to the occupation and violence and to mutual recognition, dialogue and partnership between the two sides.

It is common practice at bi-national meetings of Combatants For Peace for the members to share their personal experience of the conflict, their once surrendered posture to the paradigm of violence, and their transformation to the awakened reality of bi-national non-violent action. In bi-national meetings, they do not focus on “correcting” the narrative experience of their “enemy,” but on understanding the lives of their peace partners so they can build the personal connections critical for moving forward. When hearing the combatant’s stories, we hope you will listen as a peacemaker. This may feel uncomfortable or extremely upsetting, but by listening and not “correcting,” you will find the truth in the saying that “We do not need to agree on everything to work together for Justice and Peace.”

Uri Benassa

Uri is the Israeli Director of Combatants For Peace, and is a member of the management and the steering committee of the movement. He is also an active member of the Nablus – Tel Aviv group of the movement. Uri was an officer in the Israeli Army, ranked Captain. Uri is also the a member of the steering committee of IPI, Israeli Peace Initiative, acting to influence the Israeli government to adopt the Arab Peace Initiative as the basis for regional peace agreement between Israel Palestine and the Arab world. He is a high-tech entrepreneur, business coach and lives in Ramat Hasharon.

I was born immediately after WW2, my parents had fled Holland, in heroic escape, leaving behind their parent's brothers and sisters, and joined the free Dutch army in the UK, fought the Nazis and took part in freeing Holland. They were both Zionists and Idealistic, and shortly after the end of the war have immigrated to Israel. My father who was a medical doctor came over to the Negev and has established a medical system for the Bedouins in the Negev. He has devoted his life to this project. So I grew up in a very humanistic family and Zionistic family. I was 18 in 1967 and have celebrated together with most Israelis the great victory. We traveled and toured the big new country freely, the relations with the westbank Arabs, were friendly and we scrolled through the markets, toured the country ,made business and were not aware to the problems that may arise

I joined the army in 1967 volunteered to an elite group and did my best to serve my country. I enrolled in the officer's course. At that time the attrition war on the Suez canal has started, and I served in Sinai doing my job. Few years later the 1973 war has burst, and I was drafted and rushed to Sinai to fight the Egyptian army, I felt and still believe that I serve my country as I should.I started my studying as an electronic Engineer, got married and served at the reserve army. After some years at the 80th, my unit was sent to the Gaza strip. It was before the first Intifada, but the relations between the population and Israelis started to be tense and It was my first time to encounter the realities of occupation face to face.

At nights, we raided Palestinian houses in the refugee camp, in search of wanted people, turning the houses upside down and arresting people mostly youngsters. I could not overlook the great distress and helplessness on the faces of the people and the great humiliation they felt when we entered their houses. I was especially shocked by the horrible conditions the Palestinians of the refugee camp lived in. During daytime, we used to impose curfews, install road blocks, chase suspects and so on. I felt horrible, we didn’t treat Palestians as human beings, some soldiers have beaten youngsters waiting for their investigation. I was trying to change things and act more human to the population but was not successful. I asked to leave the unit, and joined a more "peaceful" task being a communication office for foreign forces (UN etc). This firsthand encounter with the realities of occupation and its consequences served as a catalyst for a shift in my views. I realized that occupation is not only land but also and mainly people, and that our job at the end of the day was to deny the basic human rights of these people in order to maintain this occupation.

I went on in my life, raising a nice family, participating in the never ending race for status, money and carrier. Few years ago after I have returned to Israel from a post in Europe, I have seen in the same week 2 documentary movies, one was called " In the eye of the storm" telling the story of the relations that have developed between the Israeli Rami Elhanan whose 12 year old daughter, Smadar, was killed in an explosion of suicide bomber in the center of Jerusalem ,and the Palestinian Bassam Araimn whose 11 year old daughter, Abir, was killed by a rubber bullet shot at her by an Israeli soldier, while walking from school home. Both were members of Combatants For Peace. In the same week I saw also the movie called "5 broken Cameras" telling the story of the Palestinian villagers of Bi llin fighting together with Israelis and others to move the fence built in such a way that it cuts them of their land. I felt as if somebody has hit me in my belly. I suddenly realized that I did not live up to my values. Letting my country keeping people under occupation, denying their basic human rights, While I sit in the comport of my house, talking and maybe go to a demonstration once a year.

I immediately called Combatants For Peace and offered to join the movement, Very soon thereafter I have met Palestinians on an eye to eye level, people like me but living under occupation. I am now fully active in Combatants For Peace, and fill that I live to my values. I meet Palestinian regularly, we work and act together nonviolently, to help end the occupation, fight the miss justice they face, and create the basis for future common life on this land and create a future of freedom and peace for Palestinians & Israelis.

Sulaiman Khatib

Khadir Sulaiman Khatib is co-founder and co-director of Combatants for Peace.  He comes from a Palestinian nationalistic family from the village of Hizma, near Jerusalem. Sulaiman is a committed advocate for peace in the Middle East and an active member of various programs and projects that promote a peaceful solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.  Sulaiman’s work allows him draw upon his own personal story and background, to connect with youth on peace building projects. He is an elected member of the Peace NGO’s Committee, an umbrella organization for Israeli and Palestinian NGOs working for peace. Sulaiman is a co-founder of al-Quds for Democracy and Dialogue Organization and the People’s Peace Fund.  He lives in Ramallah, Palestine.

I am Suliman al-Khatib from the village of Hizme in north-east Jerusalem. I was raised in a family which was badly affected by the occupation and fought it, according to the outlook that the only possible solution is a military one.I joined the “Fatah” movement at the age of 12, and was involved in various actions, such as throwing stones, writing slogans, preparing Molotov Cocktails. This was in 1986, before the first Intifada. As Chen pointed out, it is very possible that people who are sitting here today were harmed by my actions. At the age of 14, I stabbed Israeli soldiers with a friend of mine. We were arrested. I was sentenced to 15 years in jail and my friend to 18 years.

For the first two years, I was in the children’s section in the Hebron jail, where the management and staff were extremely tough. Settlers from Kiryat Arba were among the jail staff, which made the situation more difficult and enhanced the suffering. There were many problems in this jail. For example, often there was a lack of drinking water, and of course there was not enough water for showers. Hitting prisoners, spraying tear gas into prison cells, and stripping prisoners were daily occurrences.

Later on I was transferred to the Janad jail, near Shechem, where I worked in the Jail’s library. This provided me with an opportunity to read a lot, also about the history of the Jewish people. In fact I acquired my entire education and constructed my worldview in jail. I never went to university, but I did attend the learning groups in jail every day. This is when I started having new thoughts about the conflict and the means for resolving it.In 1997, after 10 years and 5 months in jail, I was freed. The Beer Sheva jail was my last prison.

In spite of numerous difficulties, such as the separation wall, the curfews, the settlements and more, some of us, who are here today, have established the Abu Sukar Center for Peace. We believe that combatants, who personally paid a price for their active involvement in the conflict, are the ones who can significantly change the situation.

Maya Katz

Maya Katz was born in kibbutz Gesher, at the border of the Hashemite kingdom and now lives in Tel-Aviv. Her grandparents came to Israel from Germany and Poland before World War II, and were among the founders of the kibbutz. She was raised in a socialist and Zionist community and served in the IDF. She is a clinical psychologist in private practice and also works at Headspace Clinic for adolescents. In past years she has treated Holocaust survivors and their family members.

Maya joined Combatants for Peace in 2011 and is a member of the Tel-Aviv-Nablus group which works in the rural area south of Nablus. She was the former Israeli coordinator of the group. Maya is also a member of the C4Psteering committee.

In 2015, Maya was producer of the Israeli-Palestinian Memorial Day ceremony, which has been held on the eve of Memorial Day for the last nine consecutive years. This ceremony is the largest annual event held by the Combatants for Peace movement. On this particularly difficult day they call for both sides to acknowledge the pain and the aspirations of those living on the other side of the fence and to strive to prevent the next war. At the ceremony, Israeli and Palestinian bereaved families speak about their personal pain. The Israeli-Palestinian Memorial Day ceremony demonstrates the reality of empathy and mutual respect among peoples and the ceremony demonstrates, however br iefly, the possibility of peace, not on the basis of disregard for or indifference to the pain, but rather with a direct reference to the loss and bereavement on both sides.

Mohammad Owedah

Mohammed was born in the village of Silwan, near the Western Wall and the Temple Mount in Eastern Jerusalem. He lives there ever since and works as a social worker. Mohammed has served in several positions in Combatants for Peace, including, as the Palestinian coordinator of the Jerusalem - Al Kutz group, and is a member of the management forum of the movement.

My name is Mohammed Owedah. I am the firstborn of a family of 6 siblings. I come from the village of Silwan, near the Western Wall and the Temple mount in Jerusalem. Silwan is considered the center of the resistance movement against the occupation in Jerusalem.

During the first Intifada, three of my brothers were arrested several times and my mother was diagnosed with cancer. I would join her to visit my brothers in jail. One day, a day I will never forget, a commander from the Shabak (The Israeli General Secret Service) in Silwan came to our house and told my mother that she would never enjoy any holiday because each holiday he would take one of her children, and so it was - every holiday he would take one of my brothers and put him in prison for a few days. Afterwards he would release him, but the holiday would be ruined.

One day a taskforce of Israeli soldiers took one of my brothers and broke his shoulder. On the way to the hospital with him I felt as if everything had been taken from me. It is so hard to see your brother broken and hurt without anyone admitting to having done it. After a short time these soldiers were attacked and I was accused, together with my friends, of having avenged my brother's attack. I was detained and investigated for 3 months without confessing. When I was in prison I saw children my brothers' age fighting over food and humiliated, 30 kids sleeping in one room without toilets or a shower, kids unable to walk because of all the beatings. I felt that there was no justice and my hatred of the occupation grew.

When I was released for a short time, before returning to prison, I received the good news that I had been accepted to law school but shortly after I was rejected from enrollment because now I was officially an outlaw. So I went to work with my dad to help him after the intifada ruined his business, to help out with his legal bills and to help provide for the family.

Then the Oslo agreements were signed and we believed that we would have our freedom and our own state, then Israel broke the agreements and the right wing rose to power in Israel after prime minister Rabin was assassinated, which led to the second Intifada. I thought all was lost and that we were back to square one. But I didn't want my children to have the life that their father and uncle had. I founded groups in Silwan and Eastern Jerusalem and I called for non-violent resistance against the occupation. I did not have much success because the media was not interested in us. I took this mission upon myself although all my friends told me it was dangerous and that I would be considered a collaborator. Nonetheless, I started to get acquainted with left-winged organizations to see who shared our views. This is how I got to know Combatants for Peace. We started activities and in-house meetings in Silwan and Eastern Jerusalem, things I was proud of and finally people from both sides discovered that they were the same and that not all Jews were soldiers and not all Arabs were terrorists, and that their differences could be summed up to one word - narrative. Still my story is not over and freedom is still a long way away, but it is within reach. Inshallah