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Art as a Language of Communication

For the second year in a row, Diana Shalufi Rizek and Dafna Karta-Schwartz conducted a weeklong encounter workshop between Palestinians (from the Palestinian Autonomy and East Jerusalem) and Israelis entitled 'Art as a Language of Communication.' The workshop took place in Neve Shalom/Wahat Al-Salam (NS/WAS) between August 9th and 15th, 1998.

As before, the principal funding came from the Norwegian People to People Foundation - which works to create and strengthen contacts between Israelis and Palestinians.

Seventeen participants took part in the project this year. From the Palestinian side came nine participants, including seven men and two women from Gaza, Nablus, Ramallah and E. Jerusalem. From the Israeli side came eight participants, including two men and six women from Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and Kibbutz Har'el.

The program was constructed so as to enable an intensive encounter in creativity and experience. The participants worked with various art media, including clay, arabesques, mosaic, cement and penned calligraphy, The workshop program also included music, dance, storytelling, 'dialogue through painting,' healing and meditation, all of which were conductive to producing a rich many-leveled encounter.

'Art as a language of communication' (the project's name) perfectly describes the aim and process of this encounter, where the process of creation was at least as important as the result. Art, beyond its aesthetic function, enabled the participants to communicate on a level that transcended the political dimensions of the conflict. Each day we were able to witness how the participants peeled off another layer of hesitation, suspicion and fear, and used the released energy to build bridges of trust and support. Each day another wall crumbled to make way for group cohesiveness and bonds of friendship.

Art1.jpg (75266 bytes)During the project, everyone put their efforts into finding each person's creativity and inner beauty. The dialogue came simply and naturally as part of the creative process, and encompassed the relations between the participants and between the individual and the group, in the plenum or in sub-groups of gender and nationality. Another important dimension of the workshop was to open a channel for inner-dialogue, where each person could meet his/her own fears and hesitations, dreams and aspirations. The group process was based on listening and support, enabling a very human encounter that was free and warm.

Experience from the last encounter shows that contacts created between the workshop participants often continue after it, and endure the vicissitudes of the continuing conflict between the two peoples. So that the workshop will do more than benefit the participants themselves, we try to select participants who are active in their own communities, and who will be interested to spread the ideas and the understanding they acquire among their circles of friends and professional colleagues.

As we knew from the previous workshop, organizing a meeting of this kind between Israelis and Palestinian participants requires patient and persistent efforts on behalf of the organizers. Many days and much energy were invested in obtaining permits for the Palestinian participants and artists. Until the last moment it was not clear who would be able to come - and when. The Palestinian artist from Ramallah barely managed to arrive. Last-minute cancellations on both sides brought tensions and lowered our spirits and level of confidence.

The first days of the workshop were made difficult since the participants needed time to let go of their fears and unrealistic expectations, to get used to the framework and to be comfortable enough to share their feelings in the group.

Feedback from the participants:

Israelis:

'An extraordinary experience. I am very grateful for the opportunity.'

'A wonderful idea. Well done! The Messiah is on the way!'

'Excellent. I would definitely recommend it to others.'

'I wish there were more encounters like this one. This is the real peace for me.'

Dafna (Jewish workshop coordinator: 'Each workshop awakens in me joy and hope, and strengthens my faith in this way of working. This year I met especially wonderful people, and I am happy to have made new friends among the Palestinian participants. To every one who helped us in realizing the workshop, thank you!

Palestinians:

'A strong, even overwhelming experience'

'The workshop enabled me to deal with issues and subjects with openness and without fear.'

'I longed for my friends - not because I missed them so much - but because of what they were missing by not being in the workshop'.

'A very useful encounter. I have learned new methods of dialogue; methods I did not know before.'

The Encounter Schedule:

Sunday: the participants worked in clay under the guidance of the artist Tzipi Zohar from NS/WAS.

Monday: Work on arabesques with Ramallah artist Nasri Dabet. In the evening, there was a concert entitled 'Sounds of Earth and Nature' with Galilee musician Niko Levi.

Tuesday: the participants made statues from pottery, mosaic and cement, under the guidance of the artist Israel Rabinovitz. In the afternoon, Abdessalam Najjar of NS/WAS introduced Arab calligraphy. In the evening there was a storytelling performance by Shai Schwartz, a storyteller from NS/WAS, followed by a session of peace dances with Akbar Manulson of the USA.

Wednesday: Diana Shalufi Rizek conducted a session of dialogue-through-painting. Following this, the participants worked again with Arabic calligraphy. In the evening, Dafna Karta-Schwartz led a session of meditation and healing.

Thursday: A meeting of dialogue and meditation was delivered by Aziz Kristoff, a spiritual teacher. In the evening the participants worked with a singing-listening-praying process featuring sound and movement, conducted by musician Shai Or.

Friday: Shai Or continued to work with the participants, and focussed on preparations for kabbalat -shabat (the Jewish ceremony at the onset of the Sabbath day). The participants also continued the 'dialogue through painting' work with Diana Shalufi-Rizek. The day continued with preparation of the final exhibit. In the evening, the participants were invited for dinner at Diana's house.

Saturday: Culminating sessions, including the presentation of feedback and exchange of views. Guests were invited to view the final exhibit prepared by the participants. In the evening, guests and participants were invited for refreshments and a double concert by two musical groups ' The 'Shuf Al-Ayam' Arab ensemble from Haifa, who sang traditional and contemporary Arab vocal music, and the Jewish ethnic music group 'Tzlilei Admat Yerushalaim.'After the performance everyone gathered for a final get-together in Dafna's house.

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A description of last year's encounter

On August 3-9, 1997 a groundbreaking art encounter with the above name took place in NS/WAS. For the joint group of Israelis and Palestinians who attended, this was a rare opportunity to meet together for a week of artistic experience and creativity.

The encounter was organized and facilitated by NS/WAS members Dafna Karte-Schwartz and Diana Shalufi-Rizek, with the generous support of the People to People Organization. The hotel staff, the public relations office and others in the village all worked to make the workshop a success.

Art2.jpg (53918 bytes)After a careful selection process, twenty people were invited to take part in the art week. These included ten Palestinians (all from Gaza, the West Bank and E. Jerusalem) and ten Israeli Jews. Then, a few days before the workshop, tragedy struck: two Palestinian suicide bombers blew themselves up in the Jerusalem market, killing many people. Israel in turn clamped down with a complete and protracted closure of its territory to non-resident Palestinians, depriving thousands of people of their livelihood. In this painful emotional atmosphere, against the background of the faltering peace process, it was very difficult to decide whether or not to go ahead with the workshop. The closure also meant that many of the Palestinians would be unable to attend.

Eventually, Dafna and Diana decided that they must continue with the workshop after all, come what may. 'Because,' as Diana says: 'we are very much aware that the conflict is still ferocious and no one knows what the future may bring.' Only on Sunday morning, on the day the workshop was to begin, were they able to know who would really come. They breathed a sigh of relief when five Palestinians and eight Israelis, arrived on the scene. The workshop was underway.

The art encounter was taught by three Israeli and two Palestinian artists (the closure also prevented one Palestinian artist from coming). These were: Yaakov Ben-Shalom (Stained glass work) Suleiman Mansur (mosaic work), Israel Rabinovitz (clay sculpture and painting), Dahoud Hayek (plaster of paris sculpture) and Nona Lila-Meged (selection of art media). Each artist worked with the group for one whole day. On Saturday, August 9, all the artists came for a joint artistic happening and celebration, which closed this thrilling and moving week. Despite difficult beginnings, the workshop had proved to be a huge success. We hope this will only serve as a precedent for many others in the future!

These are some of the things the organizers and participants had to say about the workshop:

Dafna (organizer/facilitator): The workshop was a very moving experience for us all. The artistic work opened up lines of verbal and non-verbal communication, and facilitated personal growth, creativity and expressions of warmth and love between people, Palestinians and Israelis. Diana (organizer/facilitator): I worked for many years in facilitating groups who live in conflict and in developing models for this work. Still, I cannot remember such a touching event as I experienced in this workshop. Art is a magical, wonderful tool of communication, which facilitates cultural contact with a strong and positive human touch. It penetrates the very soul of a person and fills it with feelings for justice. This person will begin to see the other as his equal, with the new vision he has acquired while they were creating art together - a vision that differences between people only add to and enrich our lives. Fadea (Palestinian participant): 'The beautiful thing that happened is our meeting, as Palestinians and Israelis, in a place that made it possible to know the language and the love that is in our hearts, and to know the arts...' Ayelet (Jewish participant): 'a learning experience which opens the mind to places usually closed. It is a marvelous idea to build such a group. I do believe art could be a language that can reach everyone, on a deep level...' Hala (Palestinian participant): '...I enjoyed the activities very much. I was able to express our culture in modern ways. I couldn't believe I could create the way I did...' Tzipi (Jewish participant): 'I ask that you keep up this important work. A thousand thanks! It was a moving and learning week...' Nazeh (Palestinian participant): 'In my soul there is a new feeling that I never felt before. So many times a person thinks he knows it all, and suddenly he finds out new things...'


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