Listen to the interview.
It has been a while since I’ve heard the sound of an old record on the turntable with all of its scratches and ticks and pops, but I think I recently heard its digital equivalent. My Skype connection to Roni Segoly in his home in Israel was noisy and his words thus difficult to understand on occasion—not so much, I hope, that his message gets missed. Our talk in mid-June yielded a recording I wish were better, but through all the noise it was still quite inspiring and I’m happy now to be sharing it with you.
Roni is a member of Combatants For Peace, an activist group based in the Middle East which calls for a peaceful end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict by the creation of two separate states, each with Jerusalem as the capital. The most unique thing about this group, however, is that it consists of former Israeli military and former Palestinian militants who have been there and done that and decided on following a different path—people who are standing up for what they believe in with bravery and fortitude in circumstances that range from difficult to life-threatening and desperate.
Our talk covered the topics of news and success. On the media, Roni explained that the Israeli media—with few exceptions—are broadcasting what the government wants people to hear. They are to some extent a propaganda machine: in step with the official talking points, offering very little criticism. At the same time, limited media exposure has still been enough, along with barrels of elbow grease, to grow CFP from the original couple dozen members in 2005 to around eight hundred today. These descriptions paint Israel as a fascinating halfway point between our own media culture, free and eager to print criticism and investigate every little wrongdoing, and a truly restrictive or even oppressive regime like North Korea and Russia.
And on success, as you might expect, Roni was quick to broadly summarize that CFP is not a success and will not be until the goals on which they were founded are achieved. But he added that in the incremental successes that represent steps along the path, he is proud of the successes of CFP in growing in size, gaining media exposure, and broadcasting their message.
Asked to consider the chances for success in the greater mission, Roni first explained that he considers himself an optimist and feels that the enormous pressure the world is currently exerting on both the Israeli and Palestinian governments has been effective, creating less room for these governments to maneuver. He also thinks a broader base of people are accepting that the two-state solution “because they understand it is the only way.” And in a moment of surprising candor, Roni offered this view of how the conflict will be resolved:
I’m sorry to say but I hope that the Israeli gov’t will just crush, will break under the pressure. I’m not sure what will happen after. I hope it will be good. But I think [all parties] should just keep on pressing and pressing and pressing until they break.
And all of this comes from the mouth of a man clearly dedicated to his cause. After a few years with the group, this husband and father of three tells me he is leaving his comfortable full-time job — a senior position in a high-tech company with a good salary — to become a full-time activist for Combatants and a few other causes. He cites the famous Ghandi quote about “being the change you wish to see in the world” and explains that true success in life entails “the need to fulfill your own mission and do what you believe in.”
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The Combatants For Peace website.
Listen to an NPR interview in 2008 with two of the founders of Combatants For Peace.