Oasis of Peace is Neve Shalom in Hebrew and Wahat al-Salam in Arabic. It is the name of a village in Israel that is 50% Jewish, 50% Arab. It was formed in the late 1970’s by families who wanted to demonstrate that Jews and Arabs could indeed live together in, to use an American term, an integrated fashion. (Jews and Arabs live in Haifa and other towns, but one would never use the term integration to describe their living arrangements.) They also wanted to raise children in schools that did not teach hatred. The village has twice been nominated for the Nobel Prize for Peace.
There are now 60 families in the village; an additional 30 are building homes there. There are plans to add 90 more, and there is a waiting list of approximately 300 families. There are four major institutions that the village has invented, and a fifth now on the way.
The School For Peace is a training center that has brought together over 60,000 Arabs and Jews (primarily high school students) in three- to five- day dialogue groups. The dialogue method used was created by the School For Peace and is unique. In contrast to the many other dialogue groups around the world, the School For Peace process focuses on group identity (and less on individual relationships), and pays special attention to the power relationships among the participants.
The School for Peace has recently completed a three- year Change Agents project, funded by $1,000,000 from USAID, to train young Jewish and Palestinian journalists, environmentalists, and politicians.
The K-6 Primary School is bilingual and bi-cultural. There are two teachers in each classroom, one Arab, one Jew. Students come from the village and from the surrounding towns. A 50-50 balance is maintained.
The spiritual center provides space for conferences and workshops on the role of religion in conflict, and also space for personal reflection.
The Guest House has 39 rooms. It is used as a dorm for the School For Peace workshops and a weekend resort for families from around Israel. Currently in the development stage is a World Peace College. It will offer a graduate degree in conflict resolution. In order to get the World Peace College started, UMass/Boston is opening a satellite campus at Neve Shalom/Wahat al-Salam where, once the Israeli government has approved, it will offer a Masters Degree in Conflict Resolution similar to the one it offers in Boston. The goal of this satellite campus will be in part to prepare the village so that in time it will be able to offer its own masters degree.
The name Oasis of Peace is something of a misnomer. The residents argue endlessly, in community meetings, in committees, in kitchens, sometimes about the conflict, sometimes about the usual stuff of village life. But in 35 years only five families have moved out. The residents of Neve Shalom/Wahat al-Salam are the only real heroes I have ever known: they live — every day — the very difficult life of creating peace and respect — for themselves and for thousands of others — in a region where, on all sides, these are rare and becoming rarer.
Through the American Friends of Neve Shalom/ Wahat al-Salam, a fundraising organization, I have been involved with the village for over 30 years. In early April of this year, Nava Sonnenschein visited the U.S. In 1979, Nava, her husband, and their first child then in gestation, were the second family to move to the village. She later was a founder of the School for Peace, and is now the key person in the village developing the World Peace College. (I am the point person for UMass/Boston in developing the satellite campus.) On April 9 Nava came to TMG to speak with 30 supporters and donors about the latest developments in the village.
If you would like to know more about Neve Shalom/ Wahat al-Salam, you can look at their website or at the website of the American Friends of
Neve Shalom/Wahat al-Salam . Or you can contact me at davidematz@gmail. com. If you are moved to make a financial contribution to the World Peace College, the Primary School, the School for Peace, of the village itself, the American Friends website will make that easy.
This use of our new offices was a first for any function that was not a TMG activity. The space proved well-suited, and, I assume, we will find other similar uses.