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During our mid-term orientation for the program in Palestine/Israel, I had the privilege of visiting, what I believe is, the most inspiring and exciting place I have encountered in my stay here until now.

Wahat al Salam Neve Shalom is a village in Israel, about 40 kilometres west of Jerusalem, consisting of about 100 families, of both Palestinian and Jewish Israelis who have chosen to live together as an example of how Jews and Arabs can live with one another in peace and mutual respect without compromising their own identity, be it religious or secular. “Wahat al Salam” is Arabic for Oasis of Peace, the Hebrew equivalent being “Neve Shalom”, hence the name of the village.

The following information about the community is taken from their literature, and some is from what I was told during my visit there about 2 weeks ago.

The village is situated an equal distance between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv and was founded in the 1970’s on land originally leased from the adjacent Latrun Monastery. It is hoped that eventually the village will contain about 140 homes. The village is democratically governed and owned by its members and the community is not affiliated with any political party or movement.

The vision of the community is expressed through various activities and programs that it runs.

Bilingual, Binational Schooling

  1. Equal participation by Jews and Palestinians in the administration and teaching.
  2. Providing a natural ongoing framework that enables the day-to-day meeting between children of the two peoples.
  3. Use of both Hebrew and Arabic in teaching all of the children.
  4. Nurturing each child’s identity by imparting knowledge of his/her culture and tradition while inculcating respectful familiarity with the culture and identity of the other people.

The School for Peace

  1. Encounter workshops on the conflict for Jewish and Palestinian youth in Israel.
  2. Encounter workshops, in-service training and seminars for adult groups, including teachers, journalists, lawyers, social workers and university students.
  3. Encounter workshops between citizens of Israel and Palestine together with Palestinian NGO’s.
  4. Facilitator training courses.
  5. Yearly graduates’ courses in cooperation with 4 Israeli Universities.
  6. Courses for empowerment of Jewish and Arab women.
  7. Training courses (in its working methods) for persons from abroad.
  8. Encounters for raising awareness towards intergroup conflicts within Arab and Jewish society.

Our guide in the village told us a lot about the encounter group sessions in the School for Peace which last for 3 days and all participants stay in the village for this period. The workshops begin with an all group session, with a facilitator, where all participants are encouraged to vent their feelings to the each other about the conflict. These sessions get extremely heated with a lot of screaming and yelling as you could imagine! This sessions pretty much fills the first day and at the end of the session the participants are given their rooms for the night. The facilitator chooses whom bunks with whom so that people are sleeping in the same room with an “adversary”, so to speak! This causes some consternation, but people accept the situation they are presented with. The next day’s session involves a role reversal whereby people must advocate for the exact opposite position that they took the day before. We were told that not all people come out believing the same thing, but everybody comes out a changed person! Of all the workshops that they have conducted of this nature, no one has every left a workshop before its completion. Some 45,000 young people have completed a similar workshop.

Doumia-Sakinah (The Pluralistic Spiritual Centre)

  1. Programs focus on open inter-religious and inter-cultural dialogue and the advancement of peace.

Youth Club – Nadi al-Shabibah Moadon Noar

  1. The objectives of the youth club are to foster and sustain interpersonal connections.
  2. To encourage voluntary community involvement.
  3. To increase awareness on issues of Palestinian-Jewish relations and social justice.

Humanitarian Aid.

  1. Operates a program to provide humanitarian relief (usually but not exclusively medical) for Palestinian villagers affected by the ongoing conflict.

Volunteer Program.

The village has a framework that makes it possible to live and work in the village for a few months in exchange for living expenses. For details about conditions and how to apply, see the following email or website  volunteering@nswas.org or www.nswas.org/rubrique7.html

Hospitality

The village has a hotel with in season swimming pool that is open for guests and participants in the programs.

Visit Programs

For one day visiting groups there is introductory presentations and videos.

Wahat al Salam Neve Shalom has friendship associations in a number of countries but not yet in Australia. I am planning to set up an “Australian Friends of Wahat al Salam Neve Shalom Association” when I get home. If anyone would like to be part of this work to support this wonderful organization which shows to the world an example of how peace is possible in this region, then please contact me via this blog and we can arrange a meeting back in Australia.

CRAIG NIELSEN

DISCLAIMER

I am participating in a program as an Ecumenical Accompanier serving in the World Council of Churches’ Ecumenical Accompaniment Program in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI). The views contained here are personal to me and do not necessarily reflect those of the National Council of Churches Australia or the World Council of Churches. If you would like to publish the information contained here (including posting on a website), or distribute it further, please first contact the EAPPI Communications Officer (eappi.communications@gmail.com) for permission. Thank you.

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