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Arabic: عمل صعب في الشرق الأوسط وما وراءه

French: Israël: Oasis de la Paix

Hebrew: Not Yet

Oasis of Peace - Neve Shalom - Wahat al Salaam

Indeed, Neve Shalom is an Oasis of peace, and its people are dedicated to coexistence of Arabs and Jews. It is a wonderful environment in many ways, because of the many special people there. It would be wonderful if there were more such communities. It would be even better if Israel could be an integrated society.

But we have to ask, why there can only be such communities in Israel. Why can't the Palestinian authority allow, and encourage, such a community on their own territory? Why was there no such community built in the 19 years that Jordan ruled the same land? When we can imagine that really happening, we will much closer to solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and when we see it happening, we will know that peace is a real possibility.

It is not such a theoretical question. Neve Shalom is built on Noman's land near Latrun, occupied by Israel in the Six Day war. Palestinians demand that this land be part of a Palestinian State. Will this be a death sentence for Neve Shalom? 

Indeed, as Deanna wrote, it is necessary to put all the conflict issues on the table.

Ami Isseroff

 

Modelling a way forward (out of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict)

Deanna Armbruster

Oasis of Peace, Israel - In Israel, there is a village where Muslims and Jews live together as neighbors. Both groups endeavor to create an egalitarian, democratic and just society that can be a microcosm for peace in the region. Its lofty name, the "Oasis of Peace" gives the impression that it's some sort of magical, idealistic utopia. It's not. The people living there are challenged daily and deeply by the reality of an intractable, painful and violent conflict.

Oasis of Peace is critiqued as a retreat for inter-married Jewish and Muslim couples. There are fears that it will somehow threaten the 5.4 million Jews in Israel and 4 million Muslims in Israel-Palestine. It won't. Only one couple, living there now for more than 25 years, is mixed he is Muslim, she is Jewish. The other 54 non-mixed families are Jewish, Muslim and Christian; all in this community hold strong convictions about their own identities, but have made a determined effort for more than three decades to live alongside others and impact society in the process.

Much can be learned from Neve Shalom, its Hebrew name, or Wahat al-Salam in Arabic, about inter-faith relations. In its primary school, children study each other's faiths with natural curiosity and a willingness to learn. Students celebrate the holidays and traditions of all: children break the fast together at Ramadan, share a succah at Sukkot, and exchange small gifts at Christmas. And dialogue begins, but never ends, in its Pluralistic Spiritual Center where discussions transcend religion to recognize that this conflict is not Torah vs. Quran vs. Bible. But these are the easy interactions.

The difficulties lie when the issues of the conflict are placed on the table. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a political strife between two national groups about land, resources, security, freedom, equality, power, identity and justice. The context for dialogue must include these issues, recognizing but not limiting the conflict exclusively to inter/intra-religious issues. In response, the village created a School for Peace as a way to build the relationships necessary to create a sustainable peace for the region. Over the years, some 40,000 have come to talk and grapple within these walls.

Seeking a resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict requires a long-term look for the big picture. The ultimate goal should be to create stability for Israelis and Palestinians so they may live securely and freely alongside one another in a spirit of cooperation and mutual respect. To do so, common ground between people must be built, narratives must be shared and acknowledgment of the pain and suffering of the other must be experienced. Israelis and Palestinians, Jews, Muslims and Christians need to show a willingness to recognize the other. It's easier said, than done. Ultimately, it means seeing an enemy as an equal in humanity.

Many politicians, scholars and people doing the day-to-day work of peace building don't believe that any meaningful dialogue between the Muslim world and the West can begin until the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is resolved. In fact, it is a leading domino. But dialogue provides the forum for understanding and for seeking resolutions; resolutions do not come without talking. We must seek to understand the stories, experiences, histories and life practices of other people.

The West needs to learn more about Islam not because it's the faith of 'our enemy' but because, like the children in Neve Shalom/Wahat al-Salam, it's the faith of our neighbours. We need to move beyond Muslims as the 'other,' as strangers, as people who are inherently scary. We paint adversarial facades to create enemies, but we must challenge ourselves to break stereotypes, challenge basic assumptions and raise awareness. Further than faiths, and their many interpretations, the West needs to learn about the economic, political, social and cultural conflicts facing the region. The issues between the West and East are not just those of religion, but of political dynamics, struggles for resources, self-interest, independence and power relations. Relationships become strengthened when we know all parts of each other.

There are another 500 families on a waiting list who want to move to the "Oasis of Peace." This fall, 15 of these families will break ground on their plots and begin to build new homes and new futures. They are coming with loads of goodwill, and little understanding of the great challenges that they will confront. But, they offer the world a ray of hope. The residents of this small village are single-handedly removing obstacles by demonstrating that peace is within the grasp of people who seek it and are willing to sacrifice their bias so that all may share it.


* Deanna Armbruster is the Executive Director of the American Friends of Neve Shalom/Wahat al-Salam and the author of Tears in the Holy Land: Voices from Israel and Palestine. This article was written for the Common Ground News Service (CGNews).


 

 

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