Israeli, Palestinian speakers spread message of peace
AMHERST — Nonviolence proved to be a popular message Tuesday night when around 200 Valley residents packed the sanctuary at the Jewish Community of Amherst to hear four former Israeli and Palestinian combatants speak on why they advocate peaceful methods for solving the conflict.
Adi Greenfeld, a former Israeli soldier and currently an Israeli coordinator of Combatants for Peace, said she was moved by the turnout.
“It’s always nice to be reminded that we’re not alone in doing this,” she said.
Combatants for Peace was started by former fighters from both Israel and the Palestinian territories who now advocate for a nonviolent resolution to the conflict. The event was organized by the Karuna Center for Peacebuilding in Amherst.
Paula Green, founder of the Karuna Center for Peacebuilding, said she organized the event because she felt the community would benefit from hearing the speakers’ personal stories of how they turned away from violence. Before the speakers began, she clarified that the event was not meant to be political.
“See if you can listen without your mind moving in to debate or rebuttal,” Green told the crowd.
Greenfeld, who served her two years in the Israeli army as a clarinet player, told her story of having grown up in a relatively liberal family in Israel, but never coming into contact with many Palestinians in her youth.
As a result, she said she did not feel she learned to humanize the people on the other side of the conflict until she left home and began working alongside Palestinians at her job at a café in Jerusalem.
“Realizing I’d been dehumanizing people all my life felt like violence in itself,” said Greenfeld, 26, the youngest of the four speakers. “I did not feel like my hands were clean anymore.”
She said she began working toward differentiating herself from the violence being committed in Israel’s name, such as the 2008 invasion of Gaza.
Speaking through a translator, Khdair Najjar, the Palestinian coordinator for the group, said he was thrust into the conflict when he was arrested and tortured at the age of 13 after being accused of throwing stones at soldiers. At that time, he said, he had no political interests. In prison, he came in contact with other young men who educated him on the conflict, and after he was released began acting out against the Israeli occupation.
He said he came to the realization that there was no violent solution to the conflict after the last time he was arrested, in 1990.
“I am sorry for any drop of blood — whether for Israelis or for Palestinians — that has been shed,” he said at the end of his speech.
The other speakers were former Israeli Army Captain Erez Krispin, and former Palestinian combatant Mohammmed Owedah.
Rabbi Benjamin Weiner said that while the conflict presents a difficult conversation for the Jewish community, the event was ideal in that it brought speakers from both sides of the conflict. There is a “double-ended” effort to balance Israeli pride with recognition of the aspirations and humanity of the Palestinians, he said.
Community members found the messages of the speakers hopeful.
“In my experience, violence is really never a solution,” said Al Miller, of Montague, a Vietnam veteran. “Some of my cynicism had to give way to the ideas of hope that we really can meet each other and find our common ground.”