Jews and Palestinians in Neve Shalom-Wahat al Salam united against the war between Gaza and Tel Aviv
by Rita Boulos *

“We are horrified that innocent people [. . .] pay the price of these political, educational and moral failures,” says Rita Boulos, head of a village where families of both peoples live together on an equal footing, in a Holy Land swept once again by the winds of war,

Tel Aviv (AsiaNews) – Neve Shalom-Wahat al Salam is a village where Jewish and Arab residents have lived in peace and real equality for almost 50 years. Yet no more than 10 kilometres from their homes, in the Israeli cities of Lod/Lydda and Ramle/Ramla, violence has broken out between Jews and Arabs.

Dominican Father Bruno Hussar began Neve Shalom-Wahat al Salam (Oasis of Peace) in 1972 as an example of the possible coexistence between the two peoples that live in the Holy Land. Rita Boulos, the current chairperson of the municipal society that governs the village, provides an eyewitness account of the ongoing conflict dividing Israelis.

Neve Shalom-Wahat al Salam is a bilingual village, located in Israel not far from Latrun Abbey. For Father Hussar, a great prophetic voice for reconciliation between Arabs and Jews who died in 1996, Arab and Jewish families had to be equal in number and share every decision.

This is not an isolated place, far from conflict, but both Arabs and Jews try to run it together. The highlight of this experience is the school, also attended by children from nearby villages. It follows the same philosophy of peaceful coexistence between the two peoples, starting with sharing the land and responsibilities.

However, fear has come to Neve Shalom-Wahat al Salam as well; fear of war and questions about the latter’s true causes. For Rita Boulos, the current crisis is due to the “political, educational and moral failures” of the leaders of the two peoples who let tensions simmer so that they “are bound to erupt”. In the end, her village, she notes, “will continue to fulfil our role of educating for peace”.

Our educational institutions are closed today. This is by government ordinance; all areas that have been affected in the recent missile attacks, up to the northern suburbs of Tel Aviv were required to close.

In the village, we have not been directly affected otherwise. Although we have heard sirens from some nearby towns, the siren in the village has not sounded thus far, meaning that we have not been in direct danger as yet.

This does not mean that we are unafraid, because all of us have loved ones in the places that have been affected. For example, my mother, sister, brother and other close family live in the shared Arab-Jewish city of Lydda/Lod/Lid, one of the worst affected towns. The city has suffered both civil disturbances, in which one Palestinian Israeli citizen was shot dead, and, last night a direct hit from a missile from Gaza killed a father and daughter there.

Besides the immediate sorrow and fear for our loved ones, everyone in our village is angry and saddened by yet another outbreak of violence. All of our work is intended to awaken the hope for a better, more equal, peaceful and safe future for Jews and Palestinians, wherever they live. Every new outbreak in violence provides living testimony that we are very far from such a future. It shows the anger and desperation of people living in an intolerable situation. It shows the lack of concern and lack of political will for change by the leaders. It highlights the racism and hatred that are prevalent on the ground.

We are horrified that innocent people, like those three victims in Lydda, are so often the ones that pay the price of these political, educational and moral failures. The biased and one-sided way in which the events are reported only increases the level of violence and wish for revenge.

Last night, as we heard the explosions and watched from our balconies the missiles fall on Lydda, Ramle, and all the central region, I had to tell my three-year-old granddaughter that these were only fireworks. The children at our primary school are too old for such stories; but they are too young to understand. In the school, the teachers led careful discussions so that they could express their feelings.

Our regional council which has a small minority of Palestinian villages, asked representatives from all its localities to sign a statement calling for calm between its Jewish and Arab citizens, and we signed it too, despite misgivings.

In the background of the current conflagration, there is a felt danger that relations between Jewish and Palestinian citizens within Israel itself will break down further, as we have seen in Jerusalem, in Lydda, and other places.

A lot will depend on the restraint shown not only by citizens, but on the part of the police and security forces, which have been acting with insensitivity and heavy-handedness. Yesterday, for example, while people were sitting to mourn the death of the young Lydda resident who had been shot by a religious settler, the police dispersed the mourners with smoke and stun grenades.

The current violence is only the latest result of prolonged and simmering tensions that, without a political and integral solution, were bound to erupt. Yet we condemn the violence from both sides. 

To our friends around the world, our message is first to call for an immediate halt to the violence. Although it is apparently the Israeli side that wishes to continue with its campaign, international pressure needs to be applied wherever necessary in order to bring about a ceasefire.

A ceasefire will prevent the immediate loss of life and the suffering of many innocent people. It will not prevent the next round of violence, or the steady deterioration towards a chronically untenable situation where neither Palestinians nor Israelis will be able to live here in peace and security.

In Wahat al Salam-Neve Shalom we will continue to fulfil our role of educating for peace, and providing an example of an alternative shared and equal society between Jewish and Palestinian citizens.

Finally, we pray that Muslims can enjoy a peaceful and blessed Eid al-Fitr, and Jews and Christians can enjoy a peaceful and joyful Shavuoth/Pentecost holiday.

*Mayor of the village of Neve Shalom-Wahat al Salam