From Washington Post, December 7, 2002
Students Conflicted On Mideast Peace
By Bill Broadway
The work of two communities dedicated to teaching peace and reconciliation among Jewish, Muslims and Christians in violence-riven Israel was praised this week at an awards dinner at St. Albans School in Northwest Washington.
But drawings displayed at the ceremony from one recipient of the 2002 Peacemaker Award -- the Arab Evangelical Episcopal School in Ramallah -- revealed deep levels of anger and frustration at the reality "of what they encounter in the street," said Carol J. Schwobel, administrator for the Commission on Peace of the Episcopal Diocese of Washington.
The school, kindergarten through grade 12, was established in 1954 to serve Muslim and Christian families in Ramallah and surrounding villages and has been "an anchor and beacon of hope and stability," Schwobel said. But the frequent presence of Israeli soldiers in the West Bank town, and sometimes in the school itself, has made it difficult for children to feel much promise for their lives, Schwobel said.
So when asked to depict their hope for peace in Israel, many students responded with images of violence and despair, often in blood-red ink: a bomber and tanks attacking their school, a wounded civilian being placed in an ambulance, two nooses, a tank shooting a dove carrying an olive branch.
Samira Nasser, the school's headmistress, did not want those images published in The Washington Post because most are signed and she feared reprisals against the students or their families.
She even hesitated to forward them to the peace commission, which gives the Peacemaker Award and had requested drawings for display at the Wednesday night awards dinner.
In an interview, Nasser said she decided to send them so that people who work with the peace commission could see that despite the school's efforts, "students are still afraid because every day they see such things." Many are confused when they hear a message of patience and understanding but at the same time see that their fathers have no jobs, their uncles are in prison or they are kept from school because of the soldiers' presence, she said.
But Nasser said she was proud to send many drawings that "show the fruits of what we are teaching" -- reflected in images of doves, flowers, smiling faces and globes accompanying the phrase "Peace on Earth."
The children "are gradually understanding what we are doing," said Nasser, a dual citizen of the United States and Israel.
Those more cheerful drawings were more consistent in tone with contributions from students at the primary school in Neve Shalom/Wahat al-Salam, a community near Tel Aviv made up of 50 Palestinian families and 50 Israeli families.
The village, founded 30 years ago by a Dominican priest and nominated five times for the Nobel Peace Prize, was the second recipient of this year's Peacemaker Award. Neve Shalom/Wahat al-Salam, "Oasis of Peace" in Hebrew and Arabic, is "the only place in Israel where Jews and Palestinians . . . choose to live and educate their children as equals," according to the commission.
Neve Shalom/Wahat al-Salam also operates the School for Peace, an organization that holds workshops on conflict resolution for Palestinian and Jewish teenagers and adults in various parts of Israel.
Schwobel called the village "a model community of what can be done" when people of different faiths and cultural backgrounds "live among one another and dialogue with each other about their neighbors' pains."
She said that the drawings from Neve Shalom students, done in brighter and more varied colors, smiling faces, sunshine and hearts, reveal less stress and greater hope for the future.
The mixed themes in the artwork from the two schools suggest that "we have a lot of work to do," Schwobel said.
Previous recipients of the Peacemaker Award include CARE, the international relief and development organization working in 60 countries; former senator George J. Mitchell, past chairman of peace negotiations in Northern Ireland; the Rev. Desmond Tutu, former archbishop of South Africa; and Marian Wright Edelman, founder and president of the Children's Defense Fund in Washington.