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Visit by Hillary Clinton, Sarah Netanyahu

Sunday 13 December 1998

On the morning of Sunday, December 13, 1998, NSWAS was honored with a visit by US First Lady Mrs. Hillary Rodham Clinton accompanied by Mrs. Sarah Netanyahu. The two ladies and their entourage stayed in the village for an hour and fifteen minutes, meeting with many members of the community and particularly with children.

The visit to NSWAS was the first engagement undertaken by Mrs.. Clinton during her and the President’s three day visit to Israel and the Palestinian Autonomy. During her visit to the region, Mrs.. Clinton placed an emphasis on highlighting programs that “protect the interest of children and families by providing quality health care and education, encouraging the economic empowerment of women, and promoting peace and cooperation.” (from her official press release). Her visit to NSWAS came as a result of prompting by our supporters in the USA. Apparently impressed by reports sent back by her advance team, Mrs. Clinton lengthened her visit from an intended 25 minutes to 70 minutes, and then stayed even longer. According to her organizers, “Mrs.. Clinton wanted her visit to be substantive and give a comprehensive understanding of the village.”

In order to best use the available time, it was decided in conjunction with her advance team to present the various departments by a visual display with accompanying explanation. Accordingly, a miniature exhibition was set up in the hall of the White Dove restaurant.

It was here, at around 11:15 a.m., that the tour began. As the motorcade stopped outside, the guests were greeted by children of the school, who held pictures of peace symbols and sang a well-known peace song. Mrs. Clinton and Mrs. Netanyahu were welcomed by the community’s secretary, Rayek Rizek. Then, on their way to the White Dove, the children presented them with bouquets. In return, Mrs.. Netanyahu presented the village with a colorful poster of Jerusalem, drawn by children from around the world.

Once inside the ladies were welcomed by five people of the village (the number of handshakes being strictly controlled by Mrs.. Clinton’s advance team and the security) and three from outside: Matei Yehuda Regional Council Chairman Mr. Meyer Wiesel, Knesset Member Anat Ma’or (a member of the Israel Friends of NSWAS), and Jaudah Ibrahim, a friend from Abu Ghosh, who agreed to personally sponsor the entire cost of preparations for the visit. Then, aided by the visual displays, members of the community introduced the visitors to their various projects. Mrs. Clinton and Mrs. Netanyahu both showed a lively interest and asked many pointed questions. Before leaving the hall they signed our visitors’ book. Mrs. Clinton wrote: “Thank you for sharing your commitment to peace with us and may God bless your work” Mrs. Netanyahu wrote: “To the residents and children of Neve Shalom, may your example of true coexistence be taken by all of us, so that we may all live in this land in peace and harmony.”

Inscription in visitors’ book

Leaving the White Dove, Mrs. Clinton and Mrs. Netanyahu walked with everyone up to the kindergarten, where the young children and their teachers were awaiting her, while engaged in art work around the subject of the three religious festivals that open this month: Hanukah, Ramadan and Christmas. At a central table, Mrs. Clinton lit the first candle of Hanukah, a lantern for Ramadan and the lights of a miniature Christmas tree. The ladies showed obvious delight in the event and spoke happily with the children. On leaving the kindergarten, Mrs. Clinton stopped to shake hands with parents and onlookers as she made her way to the steps of the primary school, where the school children were gathered to greet her and sing in Hebrew and Arabic, “A time of peace.” After the song, Rayek Rizek read a speech of welcome to Mrs. Clinton. Mrs. Netanyahu followed this with a few words expressing her happiness to visit the village and her belief that what she had seen represented all of our dreams for peace. Mrs. Clinton spoke at length. Besides mentioning the commitment of the leaders to peace, she stressed the importance of the efforts made by ordinary people towards achieving peace. She said, “you can’t just sign an agreement and by a signature change attitudes and values and beliefs and experiences, since peace actually begins in our homes, in communities like this, and in our hearts. It has to be nurtured both in and among human beings and then proceed on to children - and that is precisely what you are doing here.” (Mrs. Clinton’s full speech can be found here). In conclusion, she said she had been tremendously impressed with all she had seen and heard and thanked everyone in the community for their dedication and their work. Concluding the visit, Mrs. Clinton invited the children to gather close to her and, in the name of the school, two children presented her and Mrs. Netanyahu with gifts of artwork they had made.

The ensuring of media coverage of the event was handled by the American advance team, who worked with Daoud Boulos and Abdessalam Najjar from the village. The visit was broadcast live on Israel television and coverage was also made by American, Israeli and third country media. By the afternoon we had heard from many friends (In Israel and abroad) who had seen the broadcast or heard reports in the news. Even before the event, the news media had also taken a lively interest in the preparations being made by the village (the visit followed a week of intensive preparations by every department, with the constant accompaniment of Mrs. Clinton’s advance team).

Media articles

Washington Post
New York Times
Daily Telegraph
Jerusalem Post

Welcoming address by Mayor Rayek Rizek

Mrs. Clinton,

Every one of us here is aware of the importance of your visit and of its great value for the recognition of this unique community and its educational work. Even the youngest child understands that this is a very important and happy day for us all. So it is on behalf of everybody that I thank you for including Neve Shalom /Wahat al-Salam in your very tight schedule.

We have tried to show you within an hour the work that has been going on here for more than twenty years. Our Founder, Fr. Bruno Hussar, dreamed to establish a community where Jews and Palestinians would live together in a spirit of understanding and good will. We have worked to meet this goal, while never compromising our independence by affiliating ourselves to any political party or movement.

You have now seen for yourself the educational work we are doing with the children - educating the future generation to enjoy the things they have in common and to respect and understand their differences. These children are unlikely to want to create a life of conflict between each other in the future. You have also heard how our School for Peace reaches out to students, teachers, professionals and academics – more than 2,000 a year - to conduct encounter work and confront the complex conflict between the two peoples. Its work has been found relevant in other areas of the world that are troubled by ethnic conflicts.

Mrs. Clinton, we are inspired by your own work for the cause of children. In spite of criticism, you have resolutely pursued the causes you believe in, and I think this is something we have in common. In your book, It takes a Village, you have expressed ideas and ideals which coincide very much with our own, so I think you will appreciate how difficult it is to realize all of one’s aspirations, and how necessary it is to receive support and official cooperation along the way.

Mrs. Netanyahu, we want you to know how much we appreciate also your presence here today. It is no secret that the interest of the world in NSWAS has never been matched by a similar degree of interest here. We hope you will go away convinced that the value of this community and its work transcends politics or ideology. By accompanying Mrs. Clinton today we believe that you have demonstrated an understanding of the tremendous amount of work which has to be done - which can be done - in this country, to encourage the thousands of Arabs and Jews who share our ideals and are working to establish peace.

Here in NSWAS we are doing as much as we can for peace education with our limited resources, but if this work is to continue and expand, funding must be forthcoming, both from the educational authorities and from private sources.

I hope we have given you ladies an enjoyable hour and, at the same time, have imprinted on your minds some indelible facts about the possibility of making cooperation a normal and attainable norm of day-to-day existence.

Mrs. Clinton and Mrs. Netanyahu, please accept our most sincere thanks for your charming and gracious visit. We will remember it with a great deal of pride for a very long time.

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