-BUILDING A FOUNDATION FOR DIALOGUE, COOPERATION AND PEACE

SPECIAL REPORT

A community nominated five times for the Nobel Peace Prize

By Alan Simons

SEPTEMBER 25, 2008 -About 30minutes drive from Jerusalem and 20 minutes from Tel Aviv, nestled on a hillside, is the village of Neve Shalom/Wahat al-Salam.  In all probability, you’ve never heard of it.  For over 30 years this village, known in English as The Oasis of Peace, has been the only community in Israel where secular Jews and Arabs have chosen to live and educate their children together.

Father Bruno Hussar, the man whose vision led to the founding of the village, was an Egyptian-born Jew who converted to Catholicism and became a priest. He envisioned a place ‘where Jews, Christians and Muslims would live in peace, each faithful to his own faith and traditions, while respecting those of others.’

The village now consists of approximately 65 families, 50/50 Jews and Arabs; a bilingual/bicultural primary school; two democratically elected administrators ; a 41 suite guest house; one small private business selling gifts and sandwiches;  a School for Peace, that specialises in conflict management programmes and a pluralistic spiritual centre.

The community has been nominated five times for the Nobel Peace Prize and awarded numerous peace prizes from organizations in Japan, Germany, the UK, Israel and the USA.  It’s therefore not surprising to be told by Deanna Armbruster, the Executive Director of the American Friends of Neve Shalom/Wahat al-Salam, that there are about 500 families listed on the waiting list who have expressed a wish to live there. “No one has moved out of the village for about 12-13 years,” she added.

Tolerance, understanding and mutual respect

The Primary School serves more than 300 children and draws 90 per cent of its students from over 30 nearby Jewish and Palestinian communities. It is the only educational institution in Israel where Jewish and Palestinian children learn together. Some of the children travel up to 40 kilometres every day at their own expense to attend the school. (Israel’s Ministry of Education currently has declined to fund the cost of transportation for the students). The school’s curriculum is based upon the ideals of dialogue and biculturalism which is taught in Arabic and Hebrew by Arab and Jewish teachers. Two cultures and the three faiths exist side by side. Tolerance, understanding and mutual respect are taught to all students.

Ambassador Samuel W. Lewis, former U.S. Ambassador to Israel has said, “I have watched Neve Shalom/Wahat al-Salam grow from a handful of huts in 1978 into an extraordinary village where Palestinian and Jewish families prove every day that living together in peace and equality is possible.”

The village of Neve Shalom/Wahat al-Salam is proof that Jews and Arabs can indeed work through their differences of culture and politics.

For further information contact Deanna Armbruster, Executive Director, American Friends of Neve Shalom/Wahat al-Salam, 12925 Riverside Drive, 3rd floor, Sherman Oaks, California. Tel: (818) 325-8884.  Email: afnswas@oasisofpeace.orgorwww.oasisofpeace.org

(Photo credit: American Friends of Neve Shalom/Wahat al-Salam)

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