Fighting for Peace

As I was being bombarded this week with questions about the UN vote and then Kerry’s speech I received the below email from the General Manager of the Oasis of Peace -Neve Shalom/Wahat al-Salam.

Dear Friends, 
In these difficult and crazy times….the only place where Jews and Arabs are “fighting” to live together is at Wahat al Salam-Neve Shalom.

Last night, at the general meeting of our community, 10 new families were accepted into the village, out of hundreds who had applied. If we only had the room to keep growing we could fill the valley below with men and women, Jews and Arabs who want to live together in peace, sharing the land and decision making as equals.

You are helping us make this happen. In peace and with best wishes for the year to come.

Eyas Shbeta
General Manager
Neve Shalom/Wahat al-Salam

If you are like me reading this email provided a glimmer of light amongst too much despair and frustration. Neve Shalom/Wahat al-Salam (the “Oasis of Peace” in Hebrew and Arabic) is the only deliberate community in Israel where Jews and Palestinians choose to live, work and raise their children in equality and mutual respect. The village is not insular or just a model of co-existence, the village reaches beyond its border with three major institutions: the first ever bilingual primary school in Israel, the School for Peace and an active Pluralistic Spiritual Center.

It is the School for Peace that I want to call you attention to in this precarious moment in time for Israelis and Palestinian. In the last few days of political bickering and sniping I have remained relatively calm. Why? I work with people inside Neve Shalom /Wahat al-Salam everyday. Israelis and Palestinians who have renounced violence, rejected victimhood and have dedicated themselves to move beyond history in the pursuit of peace. They move steadily ahead like a river current over and around rocks and any obstacle. No matter what the UN, Obama, Netanyahu or Trump proclaims their work continues.  They have a message for all of us this week that this is not a time to get stuck in the moment but to do something.

The School for Peace (SFP) at Neve Shalom/Wahat al-Salam has initiated a new program to engage up-and-coming politicians from Israel and across the border in the Palestinian territories to fight for peace and equality. This program is now preparing the next generation of politicians to be peace leaders by building skills, developing trust in the ‘other’, and increasing knowledge of the core issues involved in bringing peace: borders, historical narratives, the status of Jerusalem, refugees, and more.

In partnership with Inmaa, a NGO in the West Bank dedicated to the promotion of justice, rule of law, democracy, and human rights, the program is working now with 120 up-and-coming politicians – Palestinian Israelis, Jewish Israelis, and Palestinians from the emerging Palestinian state, who in the coming ten years will be our future political leaders.

The School for Peace and Inmaa, has investigated where political leaders develop out of, and has used this knowledge to carefully select the participants of this program. In Israel, they have identified five sectors: members of the national executive committees of different parties, student unions, community groups serving Russian Israelis and Jewish Israelis from Arab countries, religious groups, and the media. In Palestine political leadership comes from: members of the national executive committees of different parties, student unions, NGOs, labor unions, and municipal councils. The staff of SFP and Inmaa have strategically selected up-and-coming politicians by using their existing networks to conduct a serious inquiry into potential political leaders from the aforementioned groups.

During this ongoing intensive program, participants will be working with the “other side” to develop a joint vision and gain practical experience in speaking about issues of peace in their communities. The up-and-coming politicians need the capacity to translate the knowledge they will gain into action and to motivate the public that has lost hope in reaching peace. They will achieve this by assessing the discourse and needs of local communities and learning to address them in a way that speaks to their hopes and fears.

At the local level, the thirty projects that will be developed by these one hundred twenty up-and-coming politicians will directly improve the lives of thousands of people in Israel and Palestine. At the national level, the participants will change the dialogue around peace among themselves, within their political parties, and within the broader political sphere by opposing extremism and showing their constituents and national leaders that there is hope for peace. Moreover, their greater understanding of the effect of government policies on individuals will drive them to more carefully consider not only the basic rationale of policies but also their effect on citizens’ day-to-day lives.

These up-and-coming politicians represent the future heads of their communities who will negotiate future peace. Their training, their work, their growing partnership will be active despite what the background noise is in Ramallah, Washington DC or Jerusalem. When the program is completed they will all be entering a political reality that probably will still have far too many leaders that talk to the extremes.

The wrong voices are elevated now and this needs to change. It will change. It must change. We need to fight for peace like we fight a war and gather all possible resources.

The email you read above speaks about people figuratively “fighting” to have the opportunity to live together. Are you going to get stuck in this moment or are you going to fight? We need people ready to fight alongside us and support these programs like the one started for up and coming leaders. I would love to hear from you scott@oasisofpeace.org

About the Author
Scott is the Executive Director for the American Friends of Neve Shalom Wahat al-Salam. During his 25 years as a Jewish communal professional and leader he has always been driven by a passion to repair our broken world and pursue peace. Scott lives in Florida and has worked and lived in Israel.
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