by Bob Cooke
Pax Christi Metro D.C.-Baltimore co-coordinator
After a week of very good–but very intense–listening and interacting with Palestinian peacemakers and learning about the huge obstacles they face, Sunday evening offered a glimpse of hope of what can be for both Arabs and Jews living in the area.
Neve Shalom (Oasis of Peace in Hebrew) is located in Doar Na Shimson in Israel. It is a 40 year old intentional community made up of Israeli Jews, Muslims and Christians who want to live in peace and harmony with each other.
On land given to them by their Trappist monk neighbors, they started as an inter-religious dialogue group, who decided to put their talk into action by living together. Over the past 40-plus years, they have developed primary and pre-schools for their children as well as for over 200 children from neighboring Arab and Jewish communities.
Their School for Peace was established in 1979 for the purpose of conducting outreach educational work for a humane and egalitarian society. Encounter workshops on the Israeli/Palestine situation for Jewish and Arab youth and adults, facilitator training courses, and empowerment courses for Jewish and Arab women are only a few of the many offerings of the School of Peace.
In addition, the Oasis of Peace has a spirituality center in honor of Bruno Hussar, their Trappist founder, a youth club, humanitarian aid, a volunteer program and hospitality at their own hotel, which has a large outside swimming pool among many other accommodations, to name a few of their outreach efforts.
The good news is that this place has flourished despite no help–and significant opposition–from the Israeli government. The bad news is that many other groups have been inspired by the great work of Neve Shalom to try to duplicate their work, but none have succeeded. Our host indicated that the main reason for this is that Israel controls almost all of the land and unlike other community groups, it will not give any of its land to groups like Neve Shalom to let other Arabs and Jews live together.
Another reason for its success is its many international partners in 12 countries around the world, including the United States.
While our group was very happy to see such a fine success story of Arab-Jewish relationships in Israel, we were also very saddened to know that Israeli policies at home make this a truly unique experience. We can only hope and pray that the people and government of Israel will one day be open to co-existence between all Arabs and Jews both within its pre-1967 borders and in the occupied territories.