Saturday, September 09, 2006

PR: Jews and Palestinians Beating the Odds: Living, Working, Studying

Jews and Palestinians Beating the Odds: Living, Working, Studying
For Immediate Release: Sept. 8, 2006
Contact: Deanna Armbruster (818) 325-8884

TogetherNeve Shalom/Wahat al-Salam, Israel - As summer turns to fall, and peace organizations in the Middle East try to dust off after a summer of violence, there is one place where resolve is stronger than ever - in Israel's first, and only, village where Arab and Jewish families continue to cooperatively live, work and educate their children. Known as Neve Shalom, in Hebrew or Wahat al-Salam, in Arabic, the "Oasis of Peace" is based on impacting positive change in the region through programs that stress equality and mutual respect.During the summer's violence, the "Oasis of Peace" opened its Guest House and Volunteer House to refugees fleeing Northern Israel; both were filled to capacity. When virtually all other binational dialogue had stopped residents in this unique village continued to share their feelings. "Peace work is activity where the means and the end are intimately joined," said one resident. "It's about preserving a humane view towards people on both sides of the conflict where there is subtle incitement to do the contrary. It implies the building of bridges rather than fences."

A year long pilot program, "Agents of Change," at the School for Peace, continued with its regular schedule, no small feat during a time of war. The program brings together Jews and Palestinians (from both Israel and the West Bank) from four professional sectors (education, health care, civic leaders and media) for conflict management training. Self-initiated cooperative responses to the crisis included two social workers (one Palestinian, one Jewish) leading a session on coping with trauma for a Palestinian NGO in Ramallah, a group of Jewish and Palestinian teachers assisting 12th grade students with getting to their exams on time in the West Bank, and another group of Jewish- and Palestinian-Israelis working together to help open roads and connect electricity to villages in Northern Israel.

The "Oasis of Peace" also saw its second generation reach out and demonstrate the impact being raised in this unique community has on them and their ability to make a difference regarding the conflict surrounding them. Led by Ranin Boulos, age 22, a young Palestinian woman who grew up in the "Oasis of Peace," the youth of the community hosted a summer camp for 10-12 year-old Palestinian children from refugee camps in the West Bank. The young adult villagers served as camp counselors, chaperones and activities organizers for the week long camp. The experience had a profound impact on the campers, as well as on the Palestinian and Jewish young adults from Neve Shalom/Wahat al-Salam who were engaged in running the program.

Ranin explains, "I didn't think these kids would have this much impact on me. We got really, really attached to these kids." She also spoke about the change she saw in the youth attending the camp. "Now, they have hope. They came here and saw that there are different people.they even started learning a few words in Hebrew. They loved our village, and the impact of the village on these kids was very clear. Now they realize that things can be different. Whey they grow up, they will realize.They have these memories."

This week, the Arab-Jewish Primary School at Neve Shalom/Wahat al-Salam, which was the first bilingual school in Israel, opened with nearly 200 Jewish and Arab students from pre-Kindergarten through the 8th grade. A large majority of these students (nearly 90%) come from more than 26 villages, towns and cities outside of the "Oasis of Peace," including Ramle, Lod and Jerusalem. Despite, a violent and tense summer, Arab and Jewish parents of these students demonstrate the importance of cross-cultural interactions and of a peace education system that underscores the identity of both its Jewish and Arab students while teaching them to respect the identity of others. Class sizes at the bilingual, binational Primary School at the "Oasis of Peace" are smaller than typical classrooms in Israel and students learn from two teachers - one Jewish and one Arab - who teach in their native tongue.

Raida, a Palestinian village resident and mother of two sons that attend the school, explains that in both the village and the Primary School "there is a sharing and cooperation, a goal that everybody wants to get to -Arabs and Jews - so that together we build a better future for our children, and when they get older, they will know what to do with it."

Likewise, one of her Jewish neighbors, Hezy, who also teaches at the school, describes what he sees as its key strengths. "Children share the beauty of the festivals of the three religions - Muslim, Judaism and Christianity. They also engage in informal activities together - dance, art, yoga, archery, music, etc. These activities are important because most of the children are coming from small villages and towns. They don't have a place to hang out after school, and it's a good opportunity for them to meet in an informal system.They will take this to their lives as grown men and make them better persons."

Building trust and understanding between Palestinians and Jews was a difficult task well before the violent events of this past summer, but one community has found that dialogue, education and mutual respect can sustain positive Jewish-Palestinian relations, even during the worst of times.##

American Friends of Neve Shalom/Wahat Al-Salam12925 Riverside Drive, 3rd Floor Sherman Oaks, CA 91423Tel. 818-325-8884, Fax 856-325-8983Email