Rebuilding the School for Peace

We are happy to report that we have achieved commitments for the funding necessary to rebuild the School for Peace complex. Seventeen different foundations and organizations have committed to assist us in this crucial project, including, of course, many of our dearest friends and supporters. Much work lies ahead of us, but we have already cleared away the burnt rubble and are currently in the process of choosing between several architects to take on the task of designing the new building and moving it toward construction.

Clearing the rubble at the School for Peace

A small team from the village building committee, the Communications and Development office, and the School for Peace will oversee the process to ensure both the proper transfer of funds and the building of a new structure that will meet the unique needs of the School for Peace.

Wahat al-Salam Neve Shalom, an Example of Living in Peace

Even as we came out of the Covid restrictions, our region erupted in May in rocket fire, the bombing of Gaza and rioting in our cities. In Wahat al-Salam Neve Shalom, we occupied a unique position. On the one hand, we ran to shelters and calmed our children when sirens blared. On the other, we received reports from Gaza and the Palestinian citizens of Lod and Ramle, and these varied widely from those aired on the mainstream media in Israel. We found ourselves faced with a double task – explaining the occurrences from our point of view and putting ourselves forward as an example Arabs and Jews living together in an intentional, egalitarian way.

Samah Salaime, Head of Communications and Development, and Dr. Roi Silberberg, Director of the School for Peace, were interviewed in the European media, including BBC Radio 4, and Salaime appeared several times in the Hebrew news media. Rita Boulos, Chairperson of the Municipal Society, was also interviewed, and she wrote a long, thoughtful article for Haaretz Daily expressing the views of those who prefer to live in peace with one another.

Ending the School Year

One of the most difficult days of the year is the day in which Jews remember their fallen soldiers and Palestinians remember the land that was taken from them in 1948 – Remembrance Day and Catastrophe Day.

Nakba (l) and Holocaust Remembrance Day ceremonies

The school day in the primary school started with an assembly of all the classes, and then each group had their own ceremony, led by the sixth graders. Afterward the children had discussions in the classrooms with their teachers – one Arab, one Jewish – and finally, they came together again in an activity that reinforced the idea that despite the hardships, peace is possible.

The teachers also held an event for the incoming first grade class in which they created stations – language, math, art, music and movement – to introduce the kids to the school, their teaching staff and group; as well as to get an initial evaluation of these kids before the year starts.

Fortunately, the children in the primary school were able to finish the year with parties for each grade, culminating in an event for the graduating sixth graders. Due to corona restrictions, however, each grade had its party separately, and parents only participated in some of the parties, sometimes only when it was time to bring in the food.

The first graders prepared a presentation for their parents and teachers, with two songs in Hebrew, one in Arabic. Their party was held at the pool in Kibbutz Nachshon.

The second graders had their party at the school, and they also prepared a presentation in which they played music, sang and danced.

The sixth-grade classes wrote and performed skits – The year of Zoom

The third graders’ party was held at the Nachshon pool; while the fourth graders had a slumber party at the school. Their teachers prepared activities for them and they finished up at the village pool. The fifth graders put on a musical performance, and then they had a treasure hunt in the evening that sent them searching all over the village.

The sixth grade graduating classes put on a play in front of their parents and the school teaching staff, which they had been busy writing and rehearsing for the entire previous month. One group’s skit made fun of the Zoom classes, as they gave silly excuses for not attending lessons. In another, Jews and Arabs argued about who can claim humus and felafel – a skit that became a way of talking about the ethnic violence in the mixed cities the previous month. In another, they fantasized about where they would be in the future. The evening ended with music, song and dance.

Say Goodbye, Say Hello

In May, Samah Salaime organized a well-received Zoom event for the Friends Associations with Carmella, the primary school principal, Reem, the vice principal, and several parents of children in the school. The topic was the corona crisis: how they learned to teach by Zoom, and how they were able to work toward their objective of creating a cohesive group of bilingual children from different addresses and environments, while giving remote lessons through an unfamiliar medium.

(l-r) Carmella Ferber and Neama Abo Dalu

The primary school is saying goodbye to Carmella Ferber, who has been its principal for the past seven years.

During this time, she served as the primary school principal, Carmella increased the student population so as to create two classes for each grade. She brought in children from villages and cities all over the area, and she worked to right the balance between Jews and Arabs, between boys and girls.

Under her leadership, a successful music program was instituted in all the grades, and a modern library and computer center was built for the school.

The crowning achievement of her term was the publishing of the curriculum “HOTAM, Education, Culture, Tradition” for grades 1-6. Encompassing the issues taught in the primary school  ̶  humanistic and universal values as well as each group’s national and religious holidays  ̶   the curriculum presents the material in an age-appropriate manner and ensures that the subject will be taught in a uniform way in all classes throughout the year.

Taking over as principal is Neama Abo Dalu. Neama has 16 years’ experience working as an educator and guidance counselor in the Yad B’yad (hand in hand) bilingual school in Jerusalem. Over the course of her time there, she worked with children from the 7th grade to the upper levels, and she sees joining a school for younger children as a natural continuation of her work. As a teacher, she underwent intensive training in teaching multicultural, bilingual material, and she has gained valuable experience in working within a system based on these factors. As a guidance counselor, she worked to nurture students and discover the unique potential of each, to help them on the scholastic, social, personal identity and emotional levels.

More importantly to the parents of children in the primary school and the selection committee, Neama sent all three of her children to the bilingual school out of a belief in the value of education that is multicultural, humanitarian and equalitarian for individuals and for society as a whole.

“All my life, I have believed in shared living, built on honest relationships that arise from values of respect, empathy and dialogue,” says Abo Dalu. “I believe these values are important to all education, and they are crucial to our school.

“I stress the importance of personal relations, listening and being sensitive to cultural differences. I have always enjoyed good relations with students, parents and teachers, Jews and Arabs alike. Those who have come to me with various dilemmas have valued my opinions. I think my educational vision is strongly aligned with that of the Wahat al-Salam Neve Shalom primary school.” 

Multicultural Happening

On June 18, the school hosted a multicultural happening for families of students and prospective students. The event was organized by Nir Sharon, Director of Educational Institutions and Youth Club, together with the parents’ group and teachers from the school. Participants enjoyed science and art workshops and food stands, as well as a bilingual play presented by the Elmina children’s theater of Jaffa. Further entertainment was provided by Saz – a rapper from Lod. “After the events of May, we wanted to give the community of students something extra. We wanted to reinforce the idea that our shared life works – that this school is still a unique oasis of mutual respect and understanding in the country,” says Sharon. “The event was a huge success,” he adds. 

HOTAM booth at the multicultural event

Sharon was involved in the group that recommended the new school principal, Neama Abo Dalu, to the Ministry of Education, and he is now working closely with her to develop new projects for the coming year.

Saz and a primary school student

New Partnerships: The School for Peace

The violence in May shocked many people into action, and the School for Peace has been involved in promoting peaceful actions and activities. Some of its graduates were involved in organizing peaceful demonstrations and emergency actions to prevent violence and protect their communities, and they received SFP support. In the city of Lod, which was one of the foci of ethnic violence, the SFP staff has been facilitating meetings organized by alumni, and one is also facilitating a group of community leaders in Jaffa, many of them SFP graduates as well. The staff members are working with a core group of alumni to create a think tank on improving relations between Jews and Palestinians.

SFP alumni were involved in organizing peaceful demonstrations

In fact, the SFP has become recognized for its expertise in working with organizations to enable members of both groups to cooperate on an equal footing, and many have approached the SFP for guidance and assistance following the May conflicts. These include Tel Aviv University, Hebrew University, Ichilov Hospital and more.

Two new courses began at the School for Peace in June: one for Palestinian and Jewish lawyers, the other for environmental activists. The participants include several influential individuals, parliamentary aides, experienced human rights attorneys and department heads in established NGOs. In addition, the SFP has begun forging new partnerships. With Zochrot, an NGO that raises awareness of the tragedy that befell the Palestinian community in 1948, the SFP will teach a “Change Agents” course for tour guides. The Abraham Initiatives has joined the effort in enrolling municipal workers from Israel’s mixed cities for a “Leaders in Mixed Cities” program. Finally, the SFP is currently offering, for the first time, an English language course for staff and activists to give them the tools to express themselves to audiences abroad.

In June, two SFP courses came to an end. One of them, for performing artists, was offered for the first time this year. The projects for this course, which have yet to be presented, include, for some, participation in a theatrical protest event to take place in the Bedouin village of al-Arakib, which has been destroyed dozens of times by the state. The course participants will present their final projects at an event hosted by the SFP in August. The second was a lawyers’ course, one of the SFP’s most successful offerings.

In June, the SFP hosted a well-attended conference on the responsibilities of the social work system in building Jewish-Palestinian relations.

A conference for social workers was well attended

The SFP has also been providing support within the village, offering a workshop for teachers in the primary school, another one for parents, and one for the sixth graders leaving the school, who will be going on to other educational systems. The staff also held a panel discussion with village high school students on the dilemma of army service, which is mandatory for Jews.

After-school activities

The Nadi after-school club resumed its full complement of activities in April, including the weekly meetings, activities and programs. Lihi Joffe, who runs the programs, reports that the kids were excited and relieved to get back to their normal after-school activities with all of their friends.

The highlight of the year for the ever-popular theater classes, which take place weekly, was the final performance, held in June. The whole village was invited to attend. The youngest class put on a circus act, while the middle group made a movie involving a treasure hunt that ended up on the performance stage. The oldest group chose a half-hour drama that explored ideas of authority and when to disobey authority and think for yourself. Yasmine Agmon, who grew up in Wahat al-Salam Neve Shalom, teaches the groups and helps the kids put on their performances.

The children's theater group

During the fighting in May, the Nadi staff organized several discussions for the older three groups (from fourth grade through high school). These focused both on the emotions of the children and, later, on geopolitics. The discussions were held outdoors, on lawns or by the pool, with food, to relieve fear and tension.

In June, groups of kids were invited to the art gallery for an art project with Dyana.

Currently, the Nadi is starting its summer programs, including a range of activities both within the village and outside of it.

Pluralistic Spiritual Community Center Hosts Leaders of Three Religions

On April 6-7, the Pluralistic Spiritual Center hosted leaders of the three religions to kick off its series of interfaith meetings. This series is the flagship project of the Center, and the staff and participants were pleased to hold the two-day event in person. The leaders stayed in the village hotel. The program was conducted in collaboration with Rabbis for Human Rights.

Religious leaders at the Spiritual Center in April

At the end of April, the Spiritual Center hosted the members of the community for a sundown meal during Ramadan. Following the meal, the women, men and children of the village joined in a drumming circle.

May 5, we celebrated the launch of a book published by a member of the village, Prof. Michael Karayanni.  “A Multicultural Entrapment: Religion and State Among the Palestinian-Arabs in Israel” (Cambridge University Press, 2021). Dr. Karayanni was there, and the panel discussion included Rabbi Dr. Daniel Hartmann and Adv. Shirin Batshon. The hall was filled with village members who came to honor Karayanni.

Evening on life under the citizenship law

“Dani Karavan,” a biographical film about the internationally acclaimed Israeli sculptor, was shown in a special screening on June 6. The film was made shortly before Karavan passed away, in May. Karavan was a friend of Wahat al-Salam Neve Shalom.

On July 18, the Spiritual Center hosted a discussion on Palestinian life in Israel under the citizenship law. The speakers included village member Adi Lustigman, an attorney who deals with issues of immigration, residency permits and status; Knesset member Osama Saadi; Sumaya Abu Zer, an activist for women’s rights in Lod with a personal story to tell; and Asmahan Jabali of the forum of families harmed by the citizenship law. Hosting the evening was human rights lawyer Neta Omer-Schiff.  

The second interfaith meeting

The Oasis Art Gallery Planning New Exhibits

On April 29, the Gallery hosted 10 Palestinian and Jewish artists from around the country. Some were new to the village and its educational work. The participants held a brainstorming session, and the outcome will hopefully be new artworks to be displayed in the hotel outdoor area.

During the Covid lockdowns, the gallery courtyard became an alternate space for artists’ workshops. The result is that the courtyard has become a beautiful space, graced by small statues and installations that are a sort of permanent exhibit, open for viewing even when the gallery is closed.

Dyana, the gallery curator, is reaching out. In May, she was invited to meet with the artists Assaf Rahat and Ohad Shaaltiel in Assaf’s studio. The two artists visited the Oasis Art Gallery in the beginning of July, and the three discussed ideas for creating a program to bring Arab and Jewish children together through art.

Several exhibitions are planned for the coming months:

“Moving Ahead!” – an exhibition exploring popular, social and political freedom of expression and movement in the shadow of the Occupation. The exhibition opened on August 1, and will be on display until October.

“Climate Change: Global and Local” – this exhibition is in the early planning stages and is scheduled to open in November until the end of January 2022.

Children in the Gallery courtyard

A new studio has been opened at the gallery: “Promoting Intercultural Encounters Through Art.” The idea to open this studio has been a long-time dream, and it will be realized in a space formerly used as a storage room for the primary school. The studio will be open to all sorts of artists – local and international.

In addition, the gallery will host creative workshops together with professional artists and teachers, as well as artistic encounters in which groups from diverse backgrounds and ages will be invited to take advantage of the village’s wonderful natural location to come together and, through the medium of art, explore their personal and collective identities, and their perspectives of the other.

“They Want to Know How We Live Together”

For now, the groups visiting Wahat al-Salam Neve Shalom are nearly all Israeli, but they come by the busload, several times a week, and they all ask the same question, says Rita Boulos, who meets each and every one. “How do people of three religions and multiple ethnic groups all live together?

Rita Boulos

“There can be up to 400 visitors in a day,” she adds. And she spends about an hour with each, talking to them about the village and what it means to build a whole community from disparate cultures and ethnic groups. Many of these visitors are educators – for example, a recent group was composed of Arab and Jewish ecology teachers. To her surprise, she has found that Mizrachi Jews whose families originated in North Africa, Yemen and Iraq often discover pride in their Arab roots after hearing her speak, and they suddenly feel a connection – exactly the sort of connection she is hoping to inspire.

Rita’s outreach extends to the village, as well, and she has been hosting events in the Visitors’ Center for new members and residents, to give them a taste of the history and stories of the founding of Wahat al-Salam Neve Shalom.

In her position as Chairperson of the Municipal Society, Rita is working to improve the relations between the Society and the association for the educational institutions. For example, the Society recently gave one of its buildings to the nursery school, which had previously been in an old prefab. And she has been giving talks about the village in the School for Peace courses, so that participants can get to know something about this special place where they have come to learn how to advance peace. Although the Society and the Association are two separate legal entities, they are part of a whole for her, and she is constantly reminded of the generous support of the Friends of Wahat al-Salam Neve Shalom. “We could not do what we do without them,” she says. She has her fingers crossed for the projected visits from members of the friends’ associations in October, and she is already drawing up plans for those visits.

A group of 450 teens from the “Kfar Hayarok” school was hosted in the visitors’ center

Rabiah Barhum recently took over the post of managing director of the Wahat al-Salam Neve Shalom hotel. Barhum had begun to work in the hotel at the reception desk as a young woman, and she worked her way up to a marketing position before going off to studies and top managerial positions in hotels in Jerusalem.

Rabiah Barhum (green dress) is proud of the mixed Arab-Jewish team she has put together

The village hotel was closed when Covid restrictions hit, and the staff laid off. Barhum is taking over just as things are beginning to open up. She is putting together a staff of old and new hires, and she is reaching out to bring groups – not just to the hotel, but to the village – to see and hear about Wahat al-Salam Neve Shalom with their own eyes and ears. Included are Birthright groups of college-aged Jewish Americans. “It’s important that they get our perspective, as well,” she says.

“There is a soul and a story to this place. Even though it is very small – only 40 rooms – I feel as though I have returned home. And the people who come – groups, yoga students, course participants, families coming to swim in the pool for the weekend – they feel that special atmosphere too.

“In many ways, we are the face of the village. No less than the courses offered here, we represent the idea and the message of Arab-Jewish peace and equality, and everyone who comes here, even if they only wanted a weekend in a pastoral setting or a dip in the pool, experiences Arabs and Jews working together naturally.”

Barhum says that she is instilling this feeling in the hotel staff, and she is proud of the mixed Arab-Jewish group she has assembled. Her plans for the future of the hotel include a marketing campaign to help reach near full capacity, utilizing the underused public spaces of the village to bring in more day groups, opening a restaurant and installing solar water heating and lighting that will mesh with the harmonious, spiritual vibe of the place.

“I had already fallen in love with the hotel,” she says. “It has become my passion.”

Emergency Medical Aid to Gaza

Emergency Medical Aid

In the beginning of June, the American Friends of Neve Shalom – Wahat al-Salam provided emergency funding for in-kind purchases of medicines and supplies for Gaza hospitals. This is an ongoing effort that has been supported over the years by many of our Friends Associations, most notably those in Germany. Donations were collected from members of the village, as well. The purchased goods were delivered through the checkpoint to the Gaza Health Department for distribution to Gaza hospitals – mainly al-Shifa Hospital and al-Nassar Paediatric Hospital. Village member Dr. Raid Haj Yehia, who volunteers for the NGO Physicians for Human Rights, described the dire situation in an online conference with the international friends of Neve Shalom Wahat al-Salam. During the 11 days of hostilities, four of Gaza’s government hospitals were damaged, along with an additional two hospitals run by NGOs and several other health facilities. Among medical personnel, Dr Moein Ahmad al-Aloul (66), a leading Gaza neurologist, and Dr Ayman Abu al-Auf, the Al-Shifa Hospital’s head of internal medicine and director of Gaza’s COVID-19 response, were killed.

Looking Forward to September

Although “normalcy” is still not a given, there are hopeful signs that classes in the primary school will be held in the school without interruption and that we can begin the school year with new energy and joy in working together. We are also finding new hope in the resilience and commitment to peace that we have seen in our village and institutions over the past year, and these will carry us into the future. Finally, we are hopeful that the new waves of the coronavirus and travel restrictions will ease, enabling our good friends to meet up face-to-face in our oasis of peace.

For nearly a year, our fundraising efforts have focused on rebuilding the School for Peace. We are now in the process of setting new priorities that will enable us to move forward in all of our efforts – educational, spiritual and institutional. As ever, the Friends Associations are standing by our side, partnering with us in our work for peace. We are eternally grateful for this support and partnership, and we hope to strengthen those ties over the coming year.