Friday 3 February 2012

Neve Shalom – An Oasis of Peace

Can Jews and Palestinians live in peace? Neve Shalom~Wahat al-Salam, which translates into “Oasis of Peace” in Hebrew and Arabic, shows that it’s not only possible, but it’s happening right now. NS~WAS is a cooperative village where Jews and Palestinian Arabs with Israeli citizenship live together. It has developed a community based on mutual acceptance and respect. Democratically governed and owned by its members, the community is not affiliated with any political party or movement.

Equidistant from Jerusalem and Tel Aviv/Jaffa in Israel, the village was founded in the early ‘70s by Bruno Hussar, a Jewish French man, who was born in Egypt and became a Catholic priest as an adult. He helped build a living bridge between different cultures and religions. Currently more than 50 families have settled in the village, balanced between Jewish and Palestinian ethnic backgrounds, and among people belonging to different religions (Jewish, Muslim, Christian) as well as atheists. The land is leased from the adjacent Latrun Monastery.

NS~WAS gives practical expression to its vision through various branches. The project of creating an educational framework that would express NS~WAS ideals of co-existence and equality. The school was born together with the community’s first children. The idea took shape in the form of a bi-national nursery, quickly followed by a kindergarten and a primary school where the educational system is grounded in a complete Jewish/Palestinian bilingual program. Hebrew and Arabic languages are educational media for all the children. Both Jewish and Palestinian teachers speak exclusively in their mother tongue to all the children. Each child's identity is nurtured by imparting knowledge of his/her culture and tradition while facilitating respect for the culture and tradition of the other people.

After several years of operation, the community’s educational institutions were opened to include children from outside the village. At present, the school and kindergarten have an enrollment of less than 200 children, 90% of which come from surrounding Arab and Jewish communities. Since 1997 the primary school obtained the status of "experimental school" and in 2000 it was fully incorporated into the national school system, as an official extra-regional school, while maintaining all the qualities that make it a unique institution.

The Junior high school, opened since September 2003, remains independent from the state educational system. Although successful as an educational alternative for Arab students, this Junior high school has not yet attracted significant numbers of Jewish children. This perhaps demonstrates the inequalities existing in secondary education for Arab and Jewish children in the area, but it is also important evidence of the challenging educational project exposed to the pressures of a socially and politically strained situation.

The SFP is an autonomous entity. Funding for its activities comes mainly from foundations and Friends of Neve Shalom/Wahat al Salam associations abroad, as well as from fees charged to participants. The SFP is run by an executive board and a managerial staff headed alternately, in rotation, by an Arab director and a Jewish director. The professional staff comprises a roughly equal number of Jewish and Arab facilitators, with academic backgrounds in the humanities and social sciences, and special training in facilitating groups in conflict. Every encounter program is run by Arab and Jewish facilitators on an egalitarian basis, and strives to address the needs of each national group, acknowledging natural limitations in the ability of each to understand the other.

Since the SFP first opened its doors, some 35,000 Jews and Arabs have attended its programs. Some are conducted at the school’s campus at Neve Shalom/Wahat al Salam; others take place elsewhere in Israel, Palestine, the region, and beyond.

The school has four basic assumptions:

1…The beliefs and outlooks on which a person’s identity and behavior are constructed are deep-seated and stable, and generally resistant to change. Our work attempts to expose these outlooks and permit people to grapple with them.
2… The conflict rests on an encounter between two national groups, not between individuals; hence we see the group as having an essential importance, beyond the sum of the individuals comprising it.
3… The group is a microcosm of reality and thus offers an avenue for learning about the society at large.
4…The encounter group is an open entity, linked to and influenced by the larger reality outside.

The facilitation staff is trained in an approach that stresses dialogue, based on these four assumptions. Facilitators try to uncover and delve into the pertinent relations in the society and to deconstruct oppressive structures – and this approach, in and of itself, conveys an enriching experience that exposes participants to an alternative discourse.

1 comment:

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