Ahmad Hijazi, Secretary of NS/WAS 1995 ? 1997:
"No Alternative to Optimism"

(Interview by Howard Shippin, September, 1997)

How do you find Neve Shalom/Wahat al-Salam today as compared to its position two years ago, when you began as Secretary?

I have no doubt that NS/WAS is in a completely different position, both in relation to itself and to the outside. If we look at the problems we faced two years ago and the questions before us today, we can see a clear development. In relation to the outside, we are taken more seriously. Even the State authorities are beginning to inquire about what we are doing. We are beginning to be a focus of interest.

In its existence as a binational community, NS/WAS raises hard questions for this country: How should Israel as a Jewish State relate to its minorities? Should there be limits to democracy? These are essential questions that concern the nature of our society, yet people usually avoid them. It is easier to deal with external questions, such as relations with the Palestinians on the outside, or with the Arab countries.

A community like NS/WAS has to deal directly with these questions in its daily life, even if on a small scale. But doing so in this microcosm has implications that affect the macrocosm. We came here with aspirations, as well as the psychological burden of our upbringing, and we are trying to adjust to this new situation. We cannot change the macrocosm, but perhaps we can create here something with which both our peoples can live.

How do we go about this?

We can try to adopt a different attitude towards the existing reality. Today in this country there are a million Arabs and four million Jews - and there are others too, who are neither Jewish nor Arab. This is the reality. The question is, what kind of coexistence do we want? One in which we turn our backs upon one-another, or do we want something different? We can try to arrive at an understanding which - though you can never satisfy everyone - we can all live with.

Today, when NS/WAS seeks to expand, people on the outside tend to be a little scared. Till now they could dismiss us as a small group of utopian dreamers. It may be true - but let us put it to the test ? let us extend our model on a larger scale. I think we have a responsibility to make this attempt. If we succeed, skeptics will be able to observe, visit and learn from our experience.

What are the challenges facing NS/WAS?

The major challenge comes from the developers who seek to attach to the village new ?neighborhoods? many times our own size. This would mean the end of NS/WAS as a binational community. Everything we are doing here, in every branch of our activities, is based on this experiment in coexistence. Though we may manage to maintain the independence of our educational institutions, these are nurtured by their being based in NS/WAS. Because the educational work takes place here, participants are able to see a practical example of coexistence in action - and this makes all the difference.

If one or the other of the proposed developments attach themselves to us, it means the end of this experiment. We will become a small neighborhood in a larger city, just as you have Arab neighborhoods or mixed neighborhoods in Jaffa, Acre, Lod, etc. [Note, for more on the land issue, please see here

Is the fact that these plans are going ahead a sign of indifference or hostility towards us by the State authorities?

It is impossible to generalize. We have friends among the authorities, and there are others who identify themselves with these development initiatives. The government itself offers very little active support.

When we published a petition in the newspapers to protest this situation, we discovered, by the positive feedback, that we have wide public support. The petition itself was signed by many very high caliber people, who are known in Israel and throughout the world. The problem, as always, is how to translate popular support into political influence.

How do you see NS/WAS five years from now?

I have no alternative to optimism. The other option is to believe that NS/WAS will disappear. I am not betting my money on this option. I see the village continuing to exist, develop and grow. If things happen at a reasonable pace, in the coming five years we will purchase the land from the Monastery. With the land in our ownership we will have more control over our projects and will begin to realize some of our dreams. We will be able to expand the village and its institutions to their true potential.

Do you believe we will preserve our uniqueness and originality as a larger community?

Certainly; the village and all its institutions will continue to be jointly run and managed on an equal basis by Arabs and Jews. We will participate together in the social life and decision-making of the Community. As long as our institutions and our society are based on this model of joint participation and we remain an integrated society, we will remain true to the ideas on which NS/WAS was established - I don?t see any reason to believe that this will change.

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