Wahat al-Salam - Neve Shalom
Half of its income comes from donations from the eleven International Friends’ Associations around the world. Grants are also received from foundations and international organisations such as the European Union. Some funding is available from the Israeli government and the village collects local taxes from its residents.
The community of WAS-NS consists of four separate legal entities: Neve Shalom Corporation Ltd, Neve Shalom Cooperative Village Ltd, Neve Shalom Wahat al-Salam International, the Association of Friends of the Educational Institutions of Neve Shalom. The General Secretary (Mayor) and the Secretariat are employed to manage these entities. The General Secretary and the Secretariat are elected annually.
People who wish to join the village are screened by a committee, which recommends suitable candidates to the plenum. Acceptance to the community requires that a majority of the members will be in favour. The process is similar today as in earlier years.
Very few people who have been accepted as village members have chosen to leave. If they have left this has usually been connected with practical matters such as employment and commuting distance, or normal domestic issues such as divorce.
WAS-NS has to deal with issues that arise in any small community and, in addition, those of an ethnically diverse framework whose two peoples are in a state of unresolved national conflict. Since in joining WAS-NS its members are not expected to adopt a new ideology or change their identity, but only to live together as separate peoples, their successes and failures throw some light upon the chances for coexistence in the wider society. Typical issues that have arisen concern the relative weight given to one or another culture, language and differing behavioural norms in the fabric of Israeli society.
Issues also revolve around the imposition of inequalities, rules and trends by the wider society upon the village. An obvious example is that Jews are recruited into the army where they are exposed to danger and possibly active service against Arabs. Another is the fact that Arabs are subject to subtle and less subtle forms of discrimination in the wider society.
The lowering of optimism regarding chances for an equitable coexistence since September 2000 (see footnote) has had a subtle influence upon the village. For example, there is a questioning of the degree to which WAS-NS’s own form of coexistence is successful.
Since the majority of the village members are either secular or regard religious belief as a personal matter, religion is seen more in terms of being a component of one’s cultural identity. The School and Kindergarten offer a framework for celebration or commemoration of holidays and national days. Sometimes too the adults initiate activities connected with holidays to which they invite their neighbours and friends of both sides.
The village tries to approach national holidays in a way that is sensitive to the feelings of the two peoples: one which has a sense of having created a new nation out of the ashes of the Holocaust, and the other which feels that its land has been stolen and its culture devalued and denigrated. Commemoration of national days takes place every year at the school. Sometimes the Pluralistic Spiritual Centre arranges events that deal with national days, both for WAS-NS members and the general public, and individual village members organise activities too.
None have taken up residence. Orthodox Jews often attend activities in the village, or use its facilities such as the hotel and swimming pool.
It was recognized as a village by the Ministry of the Interior in 1985.
The village does not take special security precautions. Guards are employed where required by national law, such as at the School, and at the swimming pool. Members of the village take turns in watching over the village at night (mainly to discourage burglars). Overall there is a relaxed atmosphere in the community and people probably feel a lesser sense of personal danger while in the village than do most of the people in the region.
The standard term used in Israel and accepted by the international press is "Israeli Arabs". We consciously avoid it in our literature, because this is not how Palestinians in the community usually describe themselves (and we believe they are entitled to define themselves as they choose).
They say that to use "Israeli Arab" blurs their national identity. They say the word "Arab" hides national divisions among the Arabs (i.e., supporting the mantra of some right-wing Israelis, according to which "there are 22 Arab states, and the Palestinians ought to go live in one of them".)
The term "Arab" is similar to the word "European", i.e. it can be used in addition to nationality (I may be French or German, but can also describe myself as European). There is a Palestinian national culture (even if Palestinians do not enjoy national sovereignty: think of Basques, Welsh, Inuit, etc.) On the other hand, there are Israeli Jews who can say, with some justification, "I am a Palestinian. Before 1948, I even possessed a Palestinian passport." So we say "Palestinian Arabs" to make it clear.
Arabs living in Israel often differentiate between their nationality and their citizenship. They say their nationality is "Palestinian Arab" but their citizenship is "Israeli". This has a parallel on the Jewish side, since there is, or was till recently, a clause in the Israeli identity card for "nationality". In the case of a Jewish immigrant from Britain, the Israeli ID card would describe "nationality" as "Jewish" (even if the immigrant retains British citizenship). If the immigrant is not Jewish, the ID card would describe nationality as "British" (even if the immigrant has chosen to relinquish British citizenship). So we use "Palestinian Arabs of Israeli citizenship" in order to account for the mentioned differentiation.
The fact that about thirty communities in the vicinity send some of their children to the School and Kindergarten has led to greater integration into the region and created contacts with and between parents of both sides. In this way, WAS-NS is having a positive affect on relations between Arabs and Jews in the area.
In Israel, many people are acquainted with the existence of the village, and certainly the majority of those who take an interest in Jewish – Arab relations have heard of it, and draw some inspiration from it. In general, the Israeli public tends to remain skeptical about the possibility that Arabs and Jews can ever live and work together successfully in equality. The village and its work are relatively well known abroad, especially among groups and organisations that take an interest in such projects.
Depending upon the degree of sympathy from individuals, groups and organisations, WAS-NS is often seen as a symbol, or at least a barometer, of the possibilities of coexistence in the wider society, and for this reason, there has been considerable media interest in the village.
In Israel and abroad, we often find the village is viewed rather naïvely. Those who are in favour of it may be so for the wrong reasons. There is often the view that our aims are utopian, that we are an island in the conflict, where Jews and Arabs love and respect each other. In reality, our agenda and lifestyle are not utopian and, as in any real community, relations between people here are often far from perfect. Sometimes, the media produces stories that attempt to show that our dreams have been shattered, or that the community has failed in its purpose. However, it is usually the viewpoint of the outside observer, rather than life of the community, which proves to be fragile. In our public relations work, we try to explain that we are not “an island”, and that we are affected by what happens around us just like other Arabs and Jews. The people who live in the village are not “special” or different.
The government tolerates the existence of the village and gives the minimum of support required by its municipal status, etc. Since the village is seen as a challenge to the status quo of relations between Arabs and Jews, officials sometimes look upon it with a degree of suspicion.
There are many organisations working to improve understanding between Palestinians and Jews, and there are bilingual Arabic/Hebrew primary schools that emulate our example. Though there are a number of mixed Arab – Jewish towns (such as Jaffa, Acre and Ramle), WAS-NS remains unique as a community established jointly by Jews and Palestinians, in equal number.
We talk about "living with the conflict", "conflict management", sometimes "conflict transformation". We don’t look at our work as "conflict resolution" because realistically, the conflict requires a political solution. NGOs working at a grass roots level can do much to generate change, but they cannot directly provide a solution to the conflict. In addition, a reconciliation between the two national groups in Israel (our constituency) depends upon the wider solution of the Israeli - Palestinian conflict.
It’s a problematic metaphor because it isn’t very precise. It also implies that the rest of our society are not living in bubbles (building a wall between oneself and one’s enemy may also be described as an attempt to live in a bubble).
There are more comfortable bubbles than WAS-NS which do not entail adapting to living on a day-to-day basis with "the other people". If, on the other hand, "living in a bubble" means detaching oneself from the rest of society, this is not really possible, since each village resident has the usual network of relationships with friends and family outside, and are subject to the same pressures and realities as everyone else in the country.
This is a small country, and the peace camp is a small number of people within it. Naturally we know each other fairly well. WAS-NS is not an organization, but a community. Many of the members take part in the activities of peace and social justice organizations, while the village’s educational branches, particularly the School for Peace and the Pluralistic Spiritual Centre, have active relations with various organizations. Sometimes, since there are organizational egos and competition over funding sources, such relations are not perfectly harmonious but in general they are good.
Most parents send their children to the school. Children with special needs or learning difficulties may attend other schools.
There is an active parents’ association that meets monthly. Activities organised by parents include picnics and outings. Parents also give voluntary classroom assistance.
Professional research is planned and funding is being sought.
Teaching the two languages - Hebrew and Arabic - to the same level is the greatest educational challenge.
In subjects like mathematics, sciences and history, the school follows the regular curriculum of Arab and Jewish schools in Israel. Other subjects are specially adapted to the needs of the school, in particular the two languages and cultures.
Children attain the same standards in core subjects as in mainstream schools. Attainment in the Hebrew and Arabic languages is above average.
History is taught according to the Israeli Ministry of Education curriculum. This means that Year 6 children learn history starting with ancient Greece and Rome. Recent history - the history of the conflict - is dealt with during national days, which provide an opportunity to refer to each side’s different narrative.
Teaching of Arabic is an area that needs constant improvement - it is never enough. There is on-going training for the teachers which includes Arabic lessons for the Jewish teachers, and training for Arab teachers in how to teach Arabic as a second language to the Jewish children.
Parents from outside the community send their children to the school for various reasons. These may be ideological, related to language acquisition, or simply because they like the learning environment of the school. The School offers a creative and informal setting in which children can develop and thrive.
How to deal with the current climate of violence and mistrust;
Cultural differences in staff and pupils;
The tendency towards dominance of the majority culture;
The meaning of equality;
Bilingualism and its financial expression in terms of providing additional teaching hours;
The need to provide original or modify existing teaching materials;
Receiving an adequate level of funding from the state, while maintaining a necessary degree of autonomy.
Teachers present the programme to their classes. In some schools the students select who will go but in most of them the SFP takes those who are interested. The method of selection hasn’t changed but since September 2000 responses have changed according to the political situation at a particular time. This can affect the numbers who enrol.
The structure of the programme hasn’t changed, but dialogue is more painful and requires even more sensitive responses from the facilitators. The main change has been the development of uninational programmes for separate Jewish and Arab groups.
The SFP needs financial stability for maintaining existing projects and developing new ones. It is also particularly important to give training and support to facilitators to enable them to deal with the extremely difficult political situation that they are working in.
Orthodox Jewish schools do not participate in encounters with Arabs. Sometimes, individual participants are religious.
Why does the village’s humanitarian aid programme support needy Palestinians, but not Jews who have suffered from terrorism, rocket attacks, etc?
The HAP programme is a voluntary initiative of individual members of the community, i.e. it is not a programme of the community’s Association of Educational Institutions, which is responsible for the major educational outreach of the community. Donations will not reach the programme unless specifically earmarked for it (see options)
The programme was initiated and is carried out in order to respond to human needs that are not being handled by other agencies. While both Jews and Palestinians suffer from the ongoing conflict, the economic and humanitarian situation on the ground is not symmetrical and the infrastructure of aid-giving existing in the region is more organized on the Jewish Israeli side. For instance, a donor living abroad who wishes to give to a Jewish victim of terrorism can find at her disposal a number of well-maintained charities for that purpose. Our experience is that the same infrastructure does not sufficiently exist towards the Palestinian side, such as for Palestinian villages not far from Wahat al-Salam / Neve Shalom. Aid given to such villages demonstrates good will from the Israeli side of the fence, helps to preserve good relations in times when they are sorely tried, and encourages forces of moderation and reconciliation. Experience from other conflicts around the world has shown that the preservation of good relations at the grassroots level between people on the opposing sides contributes towards an eventual settlement.
Naturally residents of Wahat al-Salam / Neve Shalom individually give also towards Jewish charities - we simply do not help to organize donations publicly or from our web-site.
The School for Peace maintains contacts with Palestinian organisations working for peace. Members of the village have organised voluntarily a campaign for humanitarian assistance and medical relief for Palestinian villagers and townspeople cut off by the closure or who cannot afford to pay for medical consultation or medicines. Many other such contacts exist.
WAS-NS and its institutions operate mainly at a grass roots level. It maintains that despite the value of such efforts, the conflict requires a political solution. The School for Peace believes that the dynamics that occur in the encounter groups reflect the dynamics that occur outside it, (in the macrocosm of Jewish - Palestinian relations). Conclusions derived from this work could make a valuable contribution to higher level negotiations. Central to the approach in the village and its educational work is the idea that the two peoples can coexist successfully when there is acquaintance with and respect for each other’s separate cultures, a sharing of responsibility and authority, and an acknowledgement of each person’s role in the conflict and its resolution.
Just as the existence and welfare of the State of Israel is important to Jews everywhere, even if they may not personally choose to live there, Palestinians living in Israel are acutely concerned about the situation of Palestinians in the Occupied Territories or in exile. In the event that a Palestinian state is established, few Palestinians currently living in Israel would go to live there, but they would feel more confident about their own status in Israel.
As a community of people with different and varied views, rather than a political organisation with a common platform, it is difficult or impossible to make political statements that speak for all of its members. The village accepts the guidelines established in international agreements involving Israel and the Palestinian leadership, and tries to work within this framework towards peace.
This is a question to be resolved at state level negotiations. What has been seen from the political process is that leadership level agreements notwithstanding, decisions are hard to implement without grass roots support. Organisations like WAS-NS help people to grasp that there are alternatives to violence. WAS-NS is contributing to the creation of conditions where it will be possible to make concessions for peace.
Additional questions are welcome and may be added to this document.