A Village in the Heart of the Hurricane

A Village in the Heart of the Hurricane

In all of Israel, there is only one village where Israelis of Jewish and of Palestinian heritage live together: Neve Shalom/ Wahat al Salaam.

Phyllis & I spent time there several years ago, for a Jewish-renewal Purim gathering / celebration it hosted.

We were very much impressed by the village — especially by its schools, which are bilingual/ bicultural.

I am glad to share this report of how Neve Shalom/ Wahat al Salaam responded to the Israeli-Palestinian crisis.

Shalom, AW

October 11: Emergency Conference in Neve Shalom/Wahat al-Salam

NSWAS convened an emergency conference today to consider the current crisis in Jewish Arab relations. Approximately 200 people attended from many organizations involved in social change in Israel. The conference, for which the New Israel Fund promised support, was intended especially to consider concrete actions that would respond to the crisis. The conference was also attended by teams of reporters from television and newspapers around the world, including Spanish television (Antenna 3), French television (Canal +), German Public Radio, and the Dutch newspaper De Telegraaf.

Translated excerpts from the words of the various speakers are included below. These have not been verified with the speakers and apologies are made in advance for any inaccuracies that may have crept in.

Opening Words by Ahmad Hijazi
"To all those who desire peace, to all those who have a conscience, to all those for whom the lives of human beings are dear? A moment before all of us fall into the abyss, a moment before another war claims thousands of casualties, a moment before all codes of behavior between State and citizens collapse totally, a moment before all is sacrificed in fire and blood and columns of smoke, we decided to cry out in hope that this will penetrate the imperviousness around us.

We knew, and nevertheless, were surprised that this day would come. But we did not imagine that it would come so quickly and that it would be so cruel and barbaric?

The last bloody confrontation was written on the wall. It is a result of a heightening of awareness in Arab society of oppression and insufferable humiliation. This is a process that leads to a demand for equality, life with honour, partnership and affiliation.

It is not possible to halt this process of awareness with bullets. Instead, the policy makers need to open their eyes, recognize the Palestinian minority in Israel, and establish relations that are based on mutuality and honour between the two people. The Arabs have much to say and their voice needs to be heard.

We hope that wisdom and justice will win in the end, even if other pitfalls lie ahead."

Ahmad remarked upon the excellent attendance from a broad range of organizations. He also apologized on the absence of representatives from many Arab organizations from the north of the country, who were busy today with a special meeting to consider the reactions of the Arab society to the crisis.

Anwar Daoud, speaking for NSWAS Anwar began with words in remembrance of the many persons who have lost their lives in the last two weeks. He said that those involved in the killing must be held accountable. He said that in NSWAS we could not continue with "business as usual" as long as the killing continues. He said that it is not permissible that a nation would deal with its citizens in this way. He demanded that the government should stop the killing and also that government would not begin another war. He said the only way to prevent bloodletting is to return to the negotiation table. He asked that the nation would finally allow Arab citizens to play a part in the decision-making and participate in the nation's negotiations.

Michel Warshowski (Alternative Information Center)
"The government is still busy making excuses for its actions. For activists, too, it usually takes a few days to come forward and begin to act. Today, we have to wake up and see what things are not acceptable to us. Before the current events, many people wanted to believe the problems were behind us and that we could get on with our lives. Now we have to see how, all along everything was not okay. The current crisis constitutes an emergency order for all of us to return to action. We have to wake up the public from their fatigue or indifference. We have to say we will not accept killing and pogroms in any circumstances. Finally, the Israeli Jewish public is beginning to take to the streets, and we should coordinate our activities well. I don't suggest uniting all these activities but we have to build new ways of communication between us, so that planned activities do not interfere with one another.

In conclusion, we should realize the necessity to work as a movement, for we will require more than a short campaign, where we can engage in a few activities and than get on with our lives."

Jeff Halper (Committee against Housing Demolitions)
Jeff spoke of three levels of organization:

"In terms of action we need to think not in terms of another roof organization, but in terms of coordination between our organizations. Today, in the working groups, we should work together to coordinate our activities. We should form committees and develop a strategy towards media. It is important to see which are our strategic priorities, and how we can reach the media. Today there is no centralization. We should build a network so that we can reach people for activities. We should form various levels of forums - area wise and local. The organizations do not get together today.

Secondly, the organizations need to work out new relations between each other, so that they do not work alone. Knowledge and expertise should be shared, and we should see how we can reach financial resources together.

Thirdly, we need to sit down to reevaluate our platform. I think today that the public is in a state of shock. We should try to help the public understand what has happened. If, as recent polls show, 74% of Jewish Israelis see the Arabs are traitors, this is a sign of failure on our part. We need to go beyond the grass roots level and acquire access to higher financial resources.

Shuli Dichter, Sikui
"After what has happened now, the previous model of coexistence has been broken, and this is good, because it will allow for the creation of something new. When the State fires on its citizens, this is a matter of human rights, rather than of citizens' rights. It will take time before we can come to consider citizens rights. Today, we need a change in the dialogue between Jews and Arabs.

Already there are many Jews and Arabs who want to get back together (as though nothing has happened). There are Arabs who come to the Jews and tell them not to worry, that everything will be all right again. Our effort must be to make sure that people do not relax and fall back into the old pattern. And we should think of long-term, rather than one-time actions."

Gila Swirsky, Bat Shalom
Gila brought several practical points suggested by women of the organization.

Among them:

To reactivate the "Women the Black."

To take part in the "Political Cafe" each Friday, of Bat Shalom.

To take part in a 24 hour vigil at the Hadar Square, in Jerusalem.

To organize long and short term activities in the streets.

Palestinians on both sides of the Green Line should know there is an alternative voice from the Jewish side.

There should be more efficient work with the Media.

There should be an improvement in political education activities.

We should overcome fears and cross the Green Line - the Palestinian side is waiting for us to make contact. We should also keep telephone communication.

The tradition of the Sukat ha shalom (Peace Tabernacle) should be kept up. This year, one will be established at the Megiddo Junction.

Gabi Lask, for Peace Now
"I have just returned from a meeting at the Orient House, and conclude that both sides wish to stop the violence. The Israeli police have other ways to stop the violence than by using live ammunition. We call on Israeli government to organize a pubic committee. It is not acceptable, in our view, that Jewish citizens should launch an attack on Arab Nazareth, and this results in the killing of two Arabs.

A delegation from Peace Now went to Nazareth today to convey condolences to the families of Arab casualties. Today we must form an action plan. When a Jew calls out "Death to the Arabs" he means it. We must see what we can do to change this attitude. I call upon everyone here today to emerge with a joint plan for activities.

Dafna Izraeli, for New Israel Fund
Dafna explained the New Israel Fund's support for the day's activities, as part of the Fund's efforts, for many year's standing to create a more equal society.

Sigi Ben Ari, NSWAS
Described the motorcade activity planned for Saturday (since cancelled, due to the opposition of the police). In addition, she said we should come out in support of a local and an international committee to look into the situation of the killing of Palestinians.

Discussion Groups
Discussion groups discussed the following subjects:

1. The motorcade activity.

2. Coordination between the organizations.

3. Educational activities.

4. Women's' activities.

5. Demonstration.

6. Open forum for new ideas.

Practical ideas that emerged from the committees were presented by the committees or by Ahmad. It was agreed that Jeff Halper, would take upon himself the organization of a coordinating body, whereby information about future activities would be passed on to representatives of the organizations represented, as well as to individuals. Contact information was exchanged for this purpose.

October 9: NSWAS consolidates to confront the escalation in the Conflict

NSWAS has convened two assembly meetings for its members to discuss the situation of crisis that has developed in the relations between the two peoples. The first was held on Saturday, September 30, in the first days of the crisis. In the discussion it was understood that although we might not agree on all of the issues, there were enough that we could unite around in order to initiate actions as a community, rather than on an individual basis.

It was decided to begin with a demonstration at the Nachshon Junction the next day (see separate story).

On October 7 a second meeting was held, which had a large attendance of village members. They expressed their feelings about the situation and brought creative ideas for action. It was decided to initiate a campaign, beginning with a meeting for as many representatives as possible from organizations working for peace and social change. The meeting was scheduled for Wednesday, October 11 (see text of invitation). The organizations Gush Shalom, Sikui and Al-Ahali agreed to be signatory to the invitation. At the meeting we will share with the participants some proposals that we have for action, including visits to Arab villages and the families of members who were casualties, and processions of vehicles. NSWAS will also take part in activities programmed by the Di-LeKibush (End the Occupation) organization.

Recent media contacts:
Anwar Daoud appeared as the main guest on a two-hour Voice of Israel Arabic program titled "Coexistence ? Where now?" on Friday, October 6. Michal Zak, Nihaya Daoud and their children appeared on a children's TV program "In Hani's Room", on Sunday October 8. Also on Sunday a reporter from USA Today visited the village and interviewed residents. Other journalists have programmed visits for the coming days.

October 9: How the NSWAS School is coping with the situation

The situation of the School is closely linked to the broader realities in the region, and yet the school operates quite differently from almost any other framework, in that it strives to create a situation of equality in its Jewish ? Arab staff and student body.

The current crisis necessitated deep discussion among the teachers, and a meeting was arranged for this purpose. In the meeting, the teachers expressed hard feelings and much consternation. However, the staff felt they could work together to help the children cope with the situation. They formulated activities to be initiated that would help the children deal with their feelings and understanding of the realities on the outside.

As a result, talks and creative work were initiated in the classroom, suited to the age-level and needs of the children. The children described their feelings and experiences, and what they had been hearing from parents and the news. Yasmin, who teaches creative thinking, described how her classes had worked with the idea of two kingdoms; one in which there was the ideal of harmony, and the other in which there was the ideal of war and conflict. The children produced drawings representing the two kingdoms. They found they felt much more at ease drawing the harmonious country.

Some of the children said that they didn't understand the difference between Palestinians who live in Israel and those that live in Palestine. A Palestinian girl described how a Jewish friend had called her and expressed hurt because Palestinians had thrown stones at her car.

Another angle of the crisis is its effect upon the parents. After the Yom Kippur holiday, at a meeting of the parents' committee, joint activities for the parents and teaching staff will be proposed. These may take the form of facilitated uninational meetings (to allow an easier expression of feelings), followed by binational meetings.

Staff members of the NSWAS School have been in contact with those of the Jewish-Arab schools in Misgav and Jerusalem (where there have been many more violent incidents) to discuss feelings and offer assistance. These conversations proved to be good and mutually supportive. In conclusion, there is a feeling that the School is currently able to deal with the crisis. Just as our staff, pupils and parents are working together to confront a very difficult situation, we hope that others in the region will repair their battered relations and struggle to create a society based on peace, justice, and mutual respect.

October 6: NSWAS and over sixty other organizations in Israel published the following statement in the HaAretz newspaper:


We, Palestinian and Jewish organizations for social change and human rights in the State of Israel, stand united in grieving the death of those who were killed in recent days.

We denounce the shooting, and the brutal behavior of the Israeli police towards demonstrating Palestinian citizens of Israel.

We demand that the Israeli Government will prohibit forthwith the use of arms against citizens.

We request that the Israeli Government will recognize that the policy of oppression and discrimination practiced towards Palestinian citizens over many years, constitutes a central factor in the outbreak of violence, and that it will act to change this policy.

We make the following demands upon the Government:

1. To investigate the actions of the police in the recent events and immediately take any steps that are called for.

3. To stop the discrimination against Palestinian citizens of Israel in all areas of life -including education, healthcare, land allocation, housing and employment -and to make them full partners in national decision making.

We call for a renewal of democratic dialogue between citizens and leaders in Israel - Jews and Palestinians - in order that we can come to live together in conditions of fairness and mutual respect.

October 1: Fifty Arab and Jewish adults and children and volunteers from NSWAS went to the Nachshon Junction Sunday to demonstrate against the violence that erupted after Ariel Sharon's visit to the area of the Temple Mount and the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem. They gave out papers to passing motorists with the words: "Today a disaster is occurring. Children and adults are being murdered in the Territories, a short distance from here. The killing must stop immediately!!!" Posters protested the violence and appealed for a removal of settlers and the army from Gaza and the West Bank.

Demonstrators at the busy junction were joined by people from the area who spontaneously got out of their cars to join them. On the other hand, various drivers jeered, spat, and threatened violence. But all in all this demonstration, unlike others that ended more tragically today, went peacefully.