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Brit Tzedek v'Shalom

Jewish Alliance for Justice and Peace



Old Enemies Team Up With Message

New Haven Register

January 17, 2007


Orange -- Elik Elhanan was a paratrooper for the Israeli Defense Forces when his sister was killed in a Jerusalem suicide bombing a decade ago; Sulaiman Al Hamri, a Palestinian resistance fighter, was in Bethlehem after spending more then four years in an Israeli jail.

But Tuesday both men whose people have struggled against each other for so long shared a stage at the Temple Emanuel of Greater new Haven, and they only had one message: "there has to be another way."

Elhanan, 29, a student at Tel Aviv, and Al Hamri, a 44-year old coordinator for the Palestinian Authority, are members of a group called "Combatants for Peace," and they tried to explain what life is like under the cloud of a decades-long conflict. Both said they see the only solution as an independent Palestinian state.

"I don't believe my sister was killed because of a clash of civilizations, or because Arabs are a murderous breed," said Elhanan, whose 14 year-old sister was killed by a pair of suicide bombers in Jerusalem on Sept. 4, 1997. "She was killed, very simply, because there is an occupation."

Some people in the crowd didn't see it so simply, but an independent Palestinian state is a goal of three-party talks sought by the United States.

Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice announced Monday that Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Omert and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas have both agreed to attend the talks in three to four weeks, a potential breakthrough in the peace process.

Tuesday's presentation was part of a 22-city speaking tour organized by Brit Tzedek v'Shalom, a grassroots group that is dedicated to establishing peace in Israel through an independent Palestinian state. Cynthia Rubin of New Haven, who is a member of Brit Tzedek v'Shalom, said that the goal is to get people amongst themselves, and most importantly lawmakers.

"There seems to be a myth among the non-Jewish community that a large number of Jews blindly support Israel, and that's just not true," she said. "We need Congress to make sure this administration knows we are serious about peace."

Elhanan and Al Hamri, while now united in their cause, couldn't be more different. Al Hamri "inherited the resistance from his grandfather, who fought against the British during the 20s and 30s and has the bullet wounds to prove it.

As a teenager and young man, Al Hamri said he spent over 4 1/2 years in Israeli jails after demonstrating against what he called the military occupation. They would throw rocks, and sometimes Molotov cocktail, at patrols and lay down in front of military vehicles, he said.

Elhanan, who grew up in Jerusalem, said like most Israelis he was are of the conflict but never felt like he was responsible or a part of it. But he said that the death of his sister made him face some larger questions about who killed her, and why.

Al Hamri, who said he become disgusted with the way extremists organized suicide bombings in the 1990s and "managed to push each side away from each other and towards violence," sought out Elhanan and other Israelis in 2005 to form Combatants for Peace.

The group, which includes 10 Palestinians and 10 Israelis, has been working in the West Bank and Israel to try to foster understanding between the two groups. Neither knows whether latest round of talks will do any good, but they are hopeful.

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