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February in NSWAS

Sunday 29 February 2004

It’s springtime in Israel. The almond trees have been in blossom from the beginning of the month, and now the earth is carpeted with yellow and red flowers. During the last weekend of the month, temperatures reached an unseasonal 30 degrees Celsius.

As every year at this time, the primary school and kindergarten celebrated the tree planting holiday – Tu Bi’Shvat in Hebrew, Eid I-Shajara in Arabic. It was not the only holiday, for at the beginning of the month came the Moslem holiday of Eid al-Adha (see report) and then, on the 22nd, came the Moslem new year. For all of these events, the children - both Arabs and Jews - enjoy special activities.

February is also the time that we commemorate the loss of Tom Kitain, who died seven years ago as a soldier in the tragic helicopter accident that took 72 lives. We met for a memorial by his grave at the small village cemetery.

A week later, there was a happier event when we remembered the life of Bruno Hussar who died at the age of 84 in 1996. Besides the short memorial service, Anne Le Meignen also gave a well-attended slide show and account of the early years of the community. Village recalled their experiences with Bruno, and our resident story teller Shai Schwartz told a story in his honour.

Shai, together with young NSWAS resident and drama student Ranin Boulos, and East Jerusalem musician George Sam’an gave a very successful story-telling and musical tour (“Weaving”) in Switzerland in late January and early February.

Ranin’s brother Suliman, meanwhile, traveled to Washington DC with fellow NSWAS member Sagi Frisch, where they spoke before Congress on Capital Hill. Together with other groups active in the Middle East, they gave an extraordinary session for policy makers, in the attempt to persuade them to commit more funding to grassroots peace work.

Another representative of the village, Dorit Shippin will tour Italy with with a Palestinian, Nuha Khouri, as part of the sixth annual Seeds of Peace program of Confronti magazine.

The School for Peace had a particularly busy month, with three youth encounters, three intensive sessions of the Palestinian – Israeli facilitator training course, and a study day for the staff.

In Doumia – Sakinah, the main event was the conference, between February 25 - 26th on “Religion, Social Identity and Education Among Arabs and Jews in Israel”, which was a great success. The well attended conference brought a number of top lecturers in related fields, and also gave the three educational branches of the village the opportunity to present findings from their own work. The conference was sponsored by the GNRC (Global Network of Religions for Children) of the Arigatou Foundation in Japan. A more detailed report will follow.

Another activity currently underway at Doumia Sakinah is the weekly circle of sharing and study which opened in January with 20 participants. The group is studying texts of their three religious traditions. Watch for a more detailed report in the future.

A number of journalists came through the village this month, and two important visitors. On February 18 we were honoured to receive Ambassador Robert Rydberg from Sweden. The ambassador was given a complete tour of the village, including the School for Peace, the school and the kindergarten, where he even had a chance to join in a game with the children. The tour completed with lunch in the dining room. On February 23, we were also honoured to receive the founder and chairman of Y-Care International, Terry Waite, as well as also Y-Care Director Dr. Christopher Beer. Terry Waite is well-known as the heroic hostage negotiator who was himself taken captive in Lebanon between 1987 and 1991. Waite was in the country in order to visit Gaza, however he was denied entry by the Israeli authorities. Already familiar with NSWAS, he was a guest of honour at a benefit concert given by the British Friends of NSWAS in 2003. We hope to maintain contact with him.

A couple of noteworthy events have coincided during this period that are pertinent to the future of the village. First, a latest attempt by developers to create a new building project on our neighbouring hilltop was defeated at the National Building and Planning Commission. The project would have endangered the identity of the village and the independence of its educational work due to the likelihood of later attempts to merge it into a larger municipal entity. Secondly, another step towards the enlargement of NSWAS was passed when the expansion plan was conditionally approved by the Regional Building and Planning Commission. We hope that the remaining bureaucratic steps can be surmounted in the coming months. The plan calls for another 90 residential lots in the village. (More on these two stories here)

In other development news, work continues upon the new school building. The building, which will contain new classrooms and facilities, is essential to permit the growth of the children’s educational branch. This now includes the Junior High School, whose sixteen seventh grade pupils hope to continue next year, while registration has begun for another sixth grade class.

At the same time, work continues upon the new meeting and study building of the pluralistic spiritual centre, the first stage of which should be completed later this year. Important work has also begun upon the widening of the village access road.

The dynamics of the Middle East have not been any happier in this period. The main activity which has occupied the International press has been Israel’s controversial construction of the so-called “security barrier”. On February 14 we traveled to some villages in the West Bank, to see the effects of the barrier upon the lives of villagers (see article “A tale of two buses”).

The humanitarian aid for Palestinians project, meanwhile has also been busy -see http://nswas.com/article224.html. Current efforts include sponsoring kits for ambulance personnel in East Jerusalem, equipping three clinics in the Ramallah district, and bringing a Gaza boy to hospital for surgery. Everyone is encouraged to contribute.

Portfolio

Anne Le Meignen tells the early history of NSWAS Ranin, George and Shai in "Weaving" Suliman and Sagi in Washington Recent SFP encounter Ambassador Rydberg at the school Terry Waite (the tall fellow) in the village The new school building The meeting and study building The security barrier A Jerusalem ambulance The long and winding road up to the village Almond blossoms in the village Bruno Hussar

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