‘Combatants for Peace’ will return

BY MIKE SHERWIN, ASSISTANT EDITOR

A former platoon commander in the Israel Defense Forces and a Palestinian who has served time in an Israeli prison will come together for a study and discussion group at a local library.

Yonatan Gur, the former IDF platoon commander, and Palestinian Ra’ed Haddar are representatives from the organization Combatants for Peace, which was founded in 2005 to bring together Israelis and Palestinians who formerly fought each other, in order to promote dialogue and understanding and to find a peaceful resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

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They will take part in the study group on Saturday, Aug. 18 at 2 p.m. at the Schlafly Branch of the St. Louis Public Library, located at the corner of Euclid Avenue and Lindell Boulevard in the Central West End.

Two different members of Combatants for Peace spoke in January a few blocks away at Central Reform Congregation as part of a 22-city tour sponsored by Brit Tzedek v’Shalom. That event drew 400 people, filling the sanctuary of CRC.

This time around, Brit Tzedek’s local chapter set up the study and discussion group after hearing that the Combatants for Peace would already be in St. Louis, taking part as presenters at the 22nd Annual Veterans for Peace Convention, which this year is in St. Louis from Aug. 15-19.

“We discovered that Combatants for Peace had been invited, because some people from that convention had apparently attended the session at CRC, and were very impressed with them,” said Myrna Fichtenbaum, a member of the local Brit Tzedek chapter.

“We asked if there was any block of time that they had at all, and we were advised that on Saturday afternoon, they did have a block of two hours,” she said. “Even though it is Shabbat, we thought that Shabbat is frequently used for study, discussion and concepts, and this seemed to fit perfectly.”

“We really want to have this set up as a Shabbat study discussion, where there will be no discussion of funding or money, and no writing, if people choose, but generally just listen to their stories, which we find very moving and very powerful,” Fichtenbaum said.

Gur was born on a kibbutz in the western Galilee and he served as a platoon commander in the armored corps of the IDF. During his primary and high school years, he was a member of the “Peace Now” youth organization. Gur joined Combatants for Peace in February 2006, and he currently works as a reporter for the Yedioth Aharonot newspaper.

As a high school student Ra’ed Haddar became a member of Fatah during the first Intifada. One of Haddar’s friends was killed by IDF forces, after which he became increasing involved in violent action. After being captured by Israeli authorities, Haddar served three years in an Israeli prison.

Brit Zedek’s chapter coordinator Gloria Gordon said that no matter what happened in their past, the message conveyed by the Combatants for Peace is an important one.

“It may at first sound odd to study with those who have been involved themselves with the cycle of violence,” she said. “But the purpose of this program is to provide people of diverse backgrounds in our community with a chance to experience the thoughtful journey these former combatants have traveled down in their quest for peace.”

Fichtenbaum said hosting Combatants for Peace is a logical fit for Brit Tzedek, an organization which advocates for a negotiated two-state peace settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

“It really fits in beautifully with the goals of Brit Tzedek, because Brit Tzedek is basically a grassroots organization of Jews in the United States who are very unhappy and distressed about the conflict and the senseless deaths,” she said. “We’d like to see shalom finally. We’d like to see peace and we’d like to see communities flourishing without fear.”