People FOR Peace ~ Neve Shalom/Wahat al-Salam
Equidistant between Jerusalem and Tel-Aviv-Jaffa, there is a village of Jews and Palestinian Arabs living together in a community based on mutual acceptance, respect and cooperation. Neve Shalom ~ Wahat al-Salam (NS-WAS), which means “Oasis of Peace” in Hebrew and Arabic, is democratically governed and owned by its members, and is not affiliated with any political party or movement. Created more than 30 years ago on land originally leased from the adjacent Latrun Monastery, NS-WAS has been at the avant-garde of Jewish-Palestinian relations, setting a unique and long-lasting example for constructive cooperation and peacebuilding.
The work of the community stems from its cross-cultural founding in the 1970s by Father Bruno Hussar who envisioned a place where Jews, Muslims, and Christians would live together and learn to listen to, understand, respect, and trust one another. By 2010, 60 families came to reside in the village – equal numbers of Jewish and Arab citizens of Israel – while another 500 families remained on a waiting list.
NS-WAS gives practical expression to its vision through four educational institutions that have paved the way for conflict resolution in Israel:
Children’s Educational System
The idea of creating an educational framework that would express NS-WAS’s ideals of coexistence and equality was born with the community’s first children. It began in the form of a binational nursery that was quickly followed by a kindergarten and a primary school, and developed into the first Jewish-Palestinian bilingual educational program in the country. There is an equal participation of Jews and Palestinians in administration and teaching, and a natural ongoing framework that provides day-to-day meeting between the children of the two peoples. Hebrew and Arabic is spoken to all the children, and each child’s identity, culture, and traditions are nurtured while knowledge and respectful familiarity with the culture and traditions of the other is imparted. There is an atmosphere of openness and tolerance that encourages understanding, acceptance and appreciation. Today, the system extends through junior high school levels and enrolls more than 250 children, 90% of which come from surrounding Arab and Jewish communities.
The School for Peace
Established in 1979 for the purpose of conducting outreach educational work, the School for Peace (SFP) assimilates the principles upon which the community was founded by engaging in encounter work between Arabs and Jews. The workshops and courses offered are informed by the vision of a humane, egalitarian and just society, and are geared towards bringing groups in conflict together and turning people into agents of change in their communities. Some 45,000 young people have attended SFP encounters, and more than 300 adults have received training in conflict management skills, many of whom are now active in other organizations for social change. The school has won local and international recognition for its achievements, and publications describing SPF’s unique working methods are available in Arabic, Hebrew, and English.
Doumia~Sakinah - The Pluralistic Spiritual Center in memory of Bruno Hussar
The Pluralistic Spiritual Center offers a framework for encounter activities, study and reflection based on the values of equality, justice, and reconciliation. Drawing inspiration from the resources and spiritual traditions of the Middle East and the world at large, the Center has become a central point for interfaith dialogue in Israel and has taught hundreds of people about the religious “other”. Programs focus on inter-religious and inter-cultural dialogue and the advancement of peace.
Nadi al Shabibah ~ Moadon Noar – Youth Club
The objectives of the Youth Club are to foster and sustain interpersonal connections, to encourage voluntary community involvement, increase awareness on issues of Palestinian-Jewish relations and social justice, promote values of mutual acceptance and respect, and to generate individual and social responsibility towards the community and the larger society.
The village’s young people, upon finishing the bilingual primary school, travel outside NS-WAS as they pursue educational and personal interests. The Youth Club provides the structure for them to stay connected and continue to take part in the life of the community while also training them to take on leadership roles and initiate binational activities.
In addition to its educational institutions, the “Oasis of Peace” operates a humanitarian aid and a volunteer program, and, blessed with a superbly scenic location, has facilities for hospitality and conferences. Moral and financial support for the work and ongoing development of the community is provided by a network of Friends’ Associations in various countries. For more information, please visit the Neve Shalom ~ Wahat al-Salam website.