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Skidmore College

Skidmore hosts Combatants for Peace

February 20, 2024
by James Helicke

Skidmore College hosted Israeli and Palestinian peace activists from the organization Combatants for Peace (CfP), who shared stories of their personal transformation, their reconciliation efforts, and the exceptional challenges of their work amid spiraling violence in the region since October.    
Sulaiman Khatib, co-founder and international relations director of CfP, and Iris Gur, the group’s Israeli community director, spoke to a full house in Skidmore’s Gannett Auditorium on Feb. 13 as part of a partnership with American Friends of Combatants for Peace and MLK Saratoga. Skidmore College is the only institution of higher learning to host CfP during the group’s February tour of the eastern United States.  
The group, nominated twice for the Nobel Peace Prize, was established by former combatants who laid down their weapons and joined forces to nonviolently work towards realizing their vision of "a future of freedom and peace with equal rights and self-determination for all."

Hollyday Hammond of MLK Saratoga speaks during the Feb. 13 event in Gannett Auditorium, calling Combatants for Peace a “tether to sanity and hope” in recent months.

Hollyday Hammond of MLK Saratoga speaks during the Feb. 13 event in Gannett Auditorium, calling Combatants for Peace a “tether to sanity and hope” in recent months.

Gur, who grew up as the daughter of a Holocaust survivor and an Israeli military officer, described how her worldviews expanded after her own daughter was imprisoned for refusing to serve in the Israeli army.

“Until seven years ago, I didn't say aloud the word occupation. ... We didn’t say Palestinian; they were Arabs,” she said. “This was the narrative that I was educated by, not only at home but also at school. This is the narrative that most of the Israelis are growing up with.”  
“I was 52 years old when I met a Palestinian for the first time in my life,” Gur continued. “I just couldn’t imagine that I would have a Palestinian friend. It’s something that just didn’t seem logical to me.”  
Khatib, who co-founded CfP, spoke of how his attitudes toward Israelis — and the role of violence in achieving peace — changed while serving a decade in an Israeli military prison.  
“I came to the conclusion, through a long journey, that there is no military solution for our cause,” Khatib said, noting that the Israeli military officers who co-founded Combatants for Peace also arrived at a similar conclusion. “It’s much easier for any human being to be in one end of a tunnel — with one narrative, us and them, that we’re the victims — this is very easy. I’ve been there."

But to move slowly, to open your heart and your emotions to a conflicting narrative, with supposedly the enemy ... this was a journey that I went through that took a long time.”
Sulaiman Khatib
co-founder and international relations director, Combatants for Peace

Khatib and Gur noted the extreme difficulty — logistically and emotionally — of working together since the attack launched by Hamas on Oct. 7 and Israel's subsequent invasion of Gaza. While they recognized power imbalances, both stressed the importance of acknowledging the pain and trauma experienced by everyone.   
Said Gur: “If you want to help us, don't choose sides. We are not in a contest over who is suffering more."

If you want to be part of the community of Combatants for Peace, don’t choose sides; choose peace.”  
Iris Gur
Israeli community director, Combatants for Peace

The event is part of a series of educational programming hosted by Skidmore on the Israeli-Palestinian issue during the current academic year. Faculty members are offering additional courses as well. The CfP programming also reflects the College’s broader efforts to prepare students to become active participants in the practice of civic democracy
“Our job is to bring many perspectives to campus to help educate our students and our community. We do not endorse any particular position, nor do we seek uniformity of position, but rather multiple perspectives, multiple views, and, in particular, the modeling of civil discourse,” President Marc C. Conner told the audience. “I am very proud of our community — of how it has embraced those principles of civil discourse. Tonight is another example of that.” 
Skidmore partnered with MLK Saratoga, a local volunteer-based nonprofit organization that shares the late Martin Luther King Jr.’s vision of peace and justice with the community, to bring CfP to campus.    
“Since Oct. 7, I have felt so upset, distraught, despondent at times. And the only thing that keeps me going is connecting and building community,” reflected Hollyday Hammond of MLK Saratoga, who called CfP a “tether to sanity and hope” in recent months.  
“When we dehumanize others, we are dehumanizing ourselves. We chip away our own humanity,” she said, paraphrasing the words of Martin Luther King Jr.

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