COMBATANTS FOR PEACE TOUCH HEARTS, BRIDGE DIFFERENCES
Palestinian former fighter Bassam Aramin and Israeli former soldier Yaniv Reshef, members of the Jerusalem-based Combatants for Peace, spoke to a packed audience in Concord last night ending their tour of Durham, Keene, Manchester and Concord NH. Their Courage of Conscience Speaking Tour brings them to seven U.S. states to engage American audiences and members of Congress in a tangible nonviolent initiative to stop the brutality in Israel/Palestine.
Later this month they will be speak to the U.N. press corps in New York and to Congressional leaders including Senator Shaheen in Washington, D.C.
Concord's audience included participants from high school students to seniors. Some of the hardest questions came from the young Jewish college students in the audience who pushed for answers to how they can promote peace in the State of Israel as U.S. citizens. Reshef pointed to the dominant role of the U.S. in provision of military equipment. Aramin reinforced the special relationship between the U.S. and Israel, saying that "Israel is the fifty first star in the American flag."
A unique feature of their tour is the involvement of Lee, NH resident Andrea Leblanc. Leblanc, a resident of Lee, NH, a member of September Eleventh Families for Peaceful Tomorrows, whose husband was killed on Sept. 11, 2001 by the second plane that was flown into the World Trade Center, has personally organized the Combatants for Peace national tour.
The program was filmed by Concord Community Television for airing later on cable TV in Concord and around NH.
Bassam Aramin lost his ten-year old daughter, Abir, to an Israeli soldier's rubber bullet; Yaniv Reshef lives in the range of rockets launched from Gaza. Their movement, Combatants for Peace, numbers over 600 former Israeli soldiers and former Palestinian fighters, who have pledged to abandon violence and work together
using creative nonviolent tools to build justice and peace - and playgrounds in memory of Abir Aramin.
"What happens to audiences on this tour has really surprised me," said Andrea LeBlanc, a member of September Eleventh Families for Peaceful Tomorrows, whose husband was killed on Sept. 11, 2001 on the second plane that was flown into the World Trade Center. "Even places known to be strongly divided over Israel and Palestine are deeply moved when Bassam and Yaniv speak. These former combatants are giving them a way to hear one another."
Mr. Aramin is a former Fatah fighter, who at age 17 served seven years in an Israeli jail for planning an attack against Israeli soldiers - and has renounced violence. In 2007, in the days after his daughter was hit by the rubber-coated bullet of an Israeli occupying soldier, the Israeli members of Combatants for Peace stayed round the clock with his family at the hospital. Mr. Aramin was a co-founder of Combatants for Peace in 2005 and chose to continue with his commitment to nonviolence even after the death of his daughter. Mr. Reshef was an infantry soldier in a sabotage unit of the Israeli Army - and is no longer taking part in the occupation His home in Israel is just19 km from Gaza in an agricultural community that suffers frequent missile attacks. Mr. Reshef recently organized Combatants for Peace meetings in the Israeli city of Sderot so that townspeople could hear from his Palestinian and Israeli partners first hand.
"Israel, Palestine, America even - we are like a shirt woven together but now with many holes," said Yaniv Reshef. "Our job, your job too, is to sew one of the holes together - that is what it means to make peace."
"We ask Americans to take responsibility for the weapons they sell to Israel and Palestine," said Bassam Aramin, "and instead of weapons that sew destruction, invest in helping us with the hard work of building peace and justice."
The Courage of Conscience Speaking Tour, which runs from February 28 - March 28th, began in Boston and continues on to New Hampshire, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey and the Washington DC area. Aramin and Reshef are being awarded the Courage of Conscience Award on March 13th at the Peace Abbey, in Sherborn MA. They are raising funds to build Abir's Garden: a Safe Place to Grow, a playground project in memory of Bassam's daughter Abir, to be built by the Combatants for Peace at the Si'ir School for Girls in the West Bank, where Abir's cousins go to school.
Combatants for Peace is a group of Israeli and Palestinian individuals who were actively involved in the cycle of violence in our area. The Israelis served as combat soldiers in the Israel Defense Forces and the Palestinians were involved in acts of violence in the name of Palestinian liberation. They all used weapons against one another, and looked at each other only through weapon sights; however today they cooperate and commit themselves to the following: (a) They no longer believe that the conflict can be resolved through violence; (b) They believe that the blood bath will not end unless we act together to terminate the occupation and stop all forms of violence; (c) They call for the establishment of a Palestinian State, alongside the State of Israel. The two states can exist in peace and security one by the other; and (d) They will use only non violent means to achieve our goals and call for both societies to end violence. www.CombatantsforPeace.org
Courage of Conscience Tour Sponsors:
The Rebuilding Allianceis a 501c3 American nonprofit that rebuilds war torn communities and works to make them safe. In 2002, they began rebuilding Palestinian homes in East Jerusalem in partnership with local NGOs and have expanded to building homes, schools, and playgrounds in Gaza, and the West Bank, bringing Israelis and Palestinians together wherever possible. When Abir Aramin was killed, her parents sought a way to help her bereaved classmates, so the Rebuilding Alliance formed "Abir's Garden: A Safe Place to Grow" with Combatants for Peace to build a playground at Abir's school, and now another. Please help make it safe by calling your representative to urge that those responsible for Abir's death be brought to justice.www.RebuildingAlliance.org
September Eleventh Families for Peaceful Tomorrowsisan organizationof family members of those killed on September 11th who have united to turn their grief into action for peace. By developing and advocating nonviolent options and actions in the pursuit of justice, they hope to break the cycles of violence engendered by war and terrorism. Acknowledging their common experience with all people affected by violence throughout the world, they work to create a safer and more peaceful world for everyone.www.peacefultomorrows.org/
The Peace Abbeyis dedicated to creating innovative models for society that empower individuals, communities & religious organizations on the paths of nonviolence, peacemaking, and cruelty-free living. They offer a variety of programs and resources that teach, inspire and encourage one to speak out and act on issues of peace and social justice. Faith in action is the cornerstone of their fellowship and activist pacifism is their creed.The Peace Abbey will be presenting the Courage of Conscience Award to Combatants for Peace, which is given to honor courageous individual works and humanitarian causesthat promote the causes of peace, justice, and nonviolence.Past recipients include the Dalai Lama, Dr. Paul Farmer and Maya Angelou. www.peaceabbey.org/
New Hampshire Council of Churches