Shifa al-Qudsi wanted to wear an explosive belt and blow herself up to kill as many Israelis as possible. Meanwhile, Assaf Yacobovitz sat in a control room pressing buttons and giving orders to drop bombs to kill as many Palestinians as possible. Now Shifa and Assaf are both fighting to find a peaceful solution to the conflict.
It is late at night when Shifa al-Qudsi – a 25-year old single mother from a Palestinian town – gives her small daughter her last kiss. Moments earlier, she told the little girl that mommy is going to blow herself up. And that she will miss her very much but that she has to do it. She opens the door but then her home is suddenly full of soldiers. They arrest her and put her in prison for six years. Her suicide attack has failed.
Assaf Yacobovitz works at the air force of the Israeli army. In the control room, he looks on radar screens and presses buttons. When army pilots ask permission to throw bombs, he says ‘yes’ blindly.
Up till then, Shifa had not had any extreme political ideas, but when her two Palestinian nieces were killed and her daughter started having nightmares and woke up screaming every night, something had snapped. She just had to do something against those “dogs” that occupy their country and murder their children. The suicide bombing has failed, however, causing Shifa to end up in prison. In those prison years, she gradually comes to new insights: she reads a lot about Mahatma Gandhi and Nelson Mandela. When a female Israeli guard tells her that her brother has just been killed by a suicide bomber, but that she does not resent Shifa, Shifa realises: there is kindness in the world as well. Kindness is everywhere.
Assaf is never really concerned with whom or what the bombs actually hit. But, one day, when he gives an order to drop bombs and then sees the television images of what he has done, he is shocked. “Looking from that air-conditioned room at that bloody reality over there, something snapped.” Assaf refuses to fight and leaves the army. He is one of many Israeli soldiers who no longer want to use violence, a decision that does not come easy in Israel: they are despised by politicians, friends and family. They are seen as traitors.
Shifa and Assaf want to go about things differently, and so do many other Palestinians and Israelis. They decide to meet each other in a group: Palestinians and Israelis, together in the same room. To shake hands. To tell each other what they have done. To look each other in the eye. And to try and forgive each other.
The meeting is the beginning of an organisation called Combatants for Peace: a group consisting of former Israeli soldiers and Palestinian fighters, who look beyond their own borders and want to understand each other. People who want to approach and solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in a nonviolent way. They enter into conversations with each other and organise peaceful protests.
Assaf: “When you look with humanity to the other side, you simply cannot kill each other.” Shifa: “We carry the same message: that we want peace.”
Assaf Yacobovitz is a psychologist and lives in Tel Aviv, Israel.
Unfortunately Shifa al-Qudsi is not able to leave Palestine. Jamel Qassas, another well-known member of the Combatants for Peace will represent her.