“Only a visionary can see through the darkness to a place where there is sunshine.”
Born in 1911, Father Bruno was a Jew from Egypt who converted to Catholicism and eventually settled in Israel. As he did so, his life’s passion became to encourage peaceful coexistence between Jews and Arabs. Leasing land from a Trappist Monastery in Israel for 25 cents/year, his goal was to build “a small village composed of inhabitants from different communities in the country. Jews, Christians, and Muslims would live there in peace, each one faithful to his own faith and traditions, while respecting those of the others. Each would find in this diversity a source of personal enrichment.”
The first family settled in Neve Shalom/Wahat al-Salam (meaning “Oasis of Peace” in Hebrew and Arabic) in 1978. As the only village in Israel that has been planned and developed jointly by Palestinians and Jews in equal number, it is now home to some 60 Jewish and Palestinian families. A third of the adult members are employed at its educational facilities. Many more families await admittance and, in the coming years, the village anticipates expanding to 150 families. Visited by government leaders globally, Neve Shalom/Wahat al-Salam has become a model for coexistence. The village—a non-profit entity—has been nominated five times for the Nobel Peace Prize and awarded several prestigious peace prizes from organizations in Japan, Italy, Germany, the United Kingdom, Israel, and the United States.
Neve Shalom/Wahat al-Salam is perhaps best known for its pioneering educational initiatives, such as its bi-national, bilingual, and multi-cultural primary school where about 250 children from the village and nearby communities study. The village also features a School for Peace, which provides facilitated encounters between young and adult Jewish and Arab citizens of Israel. Finally, programs at its Pluralistic Spiritual Center explore the religious and spiritual resources of the region and the Center is currently working to establish cross-cultural mediation centers in various mixed Arab-Jewish towns. In its aim to be sensitive to the needs of the broader environment, the community has also responded to local humanitarian crises. For example, following the outbreak of the second Intifada, community members created humanitarian assistance programs that provided food and medical aid for West Bank villages cut off from the cities.
Over 26 years, 600 students have been through Neve Shalom/Wahat al-Salam’s primary school program and its bi-national/bilingual model has since been adopted by other schools in Israel. By serving as a model of mixed Jewish/Arab schools—and developing special curricula for this form of education—the school has contributed to the spread of bilingual education throughout the country. Some 40,000 people have also been trained in its conflict management workshops at the School for Peace, with its graduates now running some of the country’s leading human rights and social change organizations. Recent programs—supported by the United States Agency for International Development and the European Union—have focused on creating a cadre of leaders in civil society, i.e. training professional groups (mental health professionals, lawyers, civil engineers and urban planners) to create opportunities for facilitating conflicts between Jews and Arabs in their respective professions, and to form a critical mass dedicated to institutional change.
Neve Shalom/Wahat al-Salam operates in an environment that is fundamentally different from that of Israeli society. In this context, it has shown the power of a small community of committed people to create effective frameworks for social cohesion. One WAS-NS resident reflects that its success comes from having a solid base of members who have remained committed to the community over the long term. However, the increasing divergence between Palestinian and Jewish sectors of Israeli society still brings many challenges for the community and its members who “continually need to confront the existential questions troubling Israeli society.”
Interview Sources/Additional Links
Howard Shippin, Communications & Development, Neve Shalom/Wahat al-Salam
Deanna Armbruster, Executive Director, American Friends of Neve Shalom/Wahat al-Salam