On September 1 1997, the first day of the school year, we were most happy to welcome former Prime Minister, MK Mr. Shimon Peres. Though Mr. Peres had a long-standing invitation to the village, it finally came about after a visit we paid to him. In August, with the friendly intervention of Mrs. Rut Dayan, a delegation from the village met with Mr. Peres in the offices of the new organization he is busy creating: The Peres Center for Peace. After hearing a report of the Community and its educational work, he said he would like to see it for himself. No day could be more suitable than the first day of the school year.
Mr. Peres was accompanied by his personal assistant, Ms. Efrat Duvduvani, and the Director of the Center, Mr. Avi Gil. They were in the village from 10.45 a.m. to 2 p.m. allowing ample time to introduce them to most of our members and to inform them of our ideals, hopes - and challenges.
The visit took them to the School for Peace, the children's educational facilities, the guest house and the White Dove Restaurant. At Mr. Peres' request he made a special stop also at the house of Daniella and Boaz Kita'in, who lost their son Tom earlier in the year in the helicopter tragedy.
When Mr. Peres entered the Primary School, the assembly hall was packed with children and some of their parents, all singing "A Time of Peace"; a song originally sung by a delegation of Arab and Jewish children in Oslo at the time of the signing of the peace accord. Here, just as before, it was sung in Hebrew and in Arabic.
Mr. Peres spoke with the children, wishing them a happy school year and expressed the hope that, as they grow the village will grow too, and that when they are older they will help secure a lasting peace between all Jews and Arabs. He developed a warm rapport with the children, asking questions which they all clamored to answer. Afterwards the children read messages of thanks and greetings in Arabic and Hebrew. They presented him with two souvenirs of the school: a picture symbolizing peace between the two peoples, and a copy of the 'Song of Peace' video clip produced by the children in video class during the previous year. The clip features Miri Aloni and Samir Shukri. Formal words of appreciation were expressed by the headmaster, Anwar Daoud, and the educational director, Boaz Kita'in. Before leaving the school, Mr. Peres spoke with many of the parents and was kept busy signing autographs. While in the educational facilities, Mr. Peres visited also the Golder-Goodwin Language Center, as well as the preschool.
During the course of his visit, Mr. Peres met and chatted informally with community members, workers, and volunteers from abroad. In the lobby of the hotel, over refreshments, he answered questions and participated in a short discussion. He praised the work of NS/WAS and said that the village represents a wonderful start, an experiment that deserves support in every way that can be found. He concluded by saying 'NS/WAS has ideas which are greater than the village itself and that the aim should be to make the community as big as its ideas.'
Over lunch at The White Dove restaurant, the panoramic view provided an opportunity to point out the areas involved in our struggle against development by outside parties. The problems were discussed in detail, various suggestions were made, and ideas exchanged. There was also the opportunity to consider the possibility for educational cooperation between the Peres Center and the Community's own institutions.
We hope indeed that this visit will signal the beginning of a lasting relationship with Mr. Peres, and the institution he is creating. During his long political service, Shimon Peres, like Yitzhak Rabin, sometimes felt constrained to adopt belligerent or oppressive measures. Perhaps we can find hope in the preference of such leaders to be remembered for their peace efforts.
Before leaving, Mr. Peres wrote in our visitors' book:
"To Neve Shalom/Wahat al-Salam - a special place in Israel; an island of peace that will create a continent of peace."
After such a visit, we can only add to that sentiment by saying "Amen."
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