these israelis and palestinians are still working for peace just quietly

Positions have hardened on both sides in the face of the Gaza war, but some activists refuse to give up hope. They let us sit in on one of their meetings.

For almost 20 years, Combatants For Peace has called for non-violence and an “end to Israel’s occupation of Palestine.” But after Oct. 7, some attendees are more hesitant to speak out about their activism. Times reporters attended one of their sessions.

On a sunny January day, dozens of Israelis and Palestinians crowded into a small house in a town outside Bethlehem as their compatriots fought in the Gaza Strip, to talk about a subject that has become nearly taboo in their cities and towns:

How to build a lasting peace.

“This thing is not appropriate in the community we live in,” said Aya Sbeih, a Palestinian member of the group that was meeting in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, Combatants for Peace. “So I keep it a secret.”

Many peace groups have been struggling since Hamas’s Oct. 7 attack and Israel’s military campaign in Gaza, which have hardened the positions of many Israelis and Palestinians. But some activists, including those in Combatants for Peace, have quietly started to resume their work.

Ms. Sbeih, a member of the group for seven years, said she had come to several recent meetings with newfound doubts about peace activism, at least in the current climate. And some attendees said they now feel uncomfortable speaking publicly about their work. But Ms. Sbeih said the meetings “always give me hope that something will happen.”

Founded by former fighters from both sides of the conflict, Combatants for Peace drew a range of people to its January meeting, including young students just returned from reserve duty in Gaza and longtime peace activists. Some said they were fed up with despair and wanted to latch onto a glimmer of hope.

But they face intense opposition in their communities, where grief and anger dominate over the Oct. 7 attacks, which Israeli officials say killed about 1,200 people, and over Israel’s military campaign in Gaza, which has killed more than 27,000 people, according to Gazan health officials.

Since the war began, support has increased “for hard-line positions of violence, and you can see that in both Israeli and Palestinian society,” said John Lyndon, the executive director of the Alliance for Middle East Peace, an organization of peace groups.

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