Tel Aviv (Agenzia Fides) – “We are living in traumatic times of war. Everyone at our School for Peace is shocked and saddened by the incomprehensible atrocities committed by Hamas and the lethal and vengeful response that Israel is preparing in Gaza. Moreover, the war serves as an excuse to deliberately commit further atrocities, as Palestinian citizens of Israel are massively silenced and persecuted, and army-backed violence by Jewish settlers is increasing in the West Bank. The vicious cycle of violence, terror and punishment lacerates the soul”, writes Roi Silberberg, an Israeli Jewish citizen, Director of the “School for Peace” in the village of “Neve Shalom-Wahat al Salam”, literally “Oasis of Peace”, created in 1972 by the Dominican Bruno Hussar, on the hills between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, to offer an example of coexistence between the two peoples in the Holy Land.
About sixty Israeli and Palestinian families live together in the village and send their children to a common primary school. The “School for Peace” is a place where people share feelings, fears, dreams, meet each other, study, follow a training course and learn a “methodology” and pedagogy for encountering the other. Founded in 1979 as a centre for lifelong learning, Roi Silberberg recalls its purpose, which was “to promote more human relations, based on peace and justice”, recalling that “it was the first educational institution in Israel with a new approach, aimed at reconciliation and mutual recognition between Israelis and Palestinians”.
As of 7 October, ‘Neve Shalom-Wahat al Salam’, and the ‘School for Peace’ also suffered a shock. The pain of the new flare-up of violence shook the foundations of that experience. “Under conditions of stress and uncertainty, a natural response might be to remain silent and wait passively for events to unfold. But talking means thinking, and in such catastrophic times it is important to think together. We see it as our responsibility to facilitate sincere, if difficult, reflection and dialogue in this disastrous time in history.
Only through engagement can we recognize each other’s pain and remain in human contact, both within ourselves and beyond national borders. In a climate of polarization, dehumanisation and seeing the other as an enemy, our mission today is to educate to see the other as a human being”, he says. “Even if we are just a drop in a turbulent sea, we continue to fight for an egalitarian, just and democratic society, using the tools we have developed over the years, counting on the hard-won trust of the School for Peace, with Jewish organisations and with Palestinians who have followed our paths of dialogue and training over the years”.
In dark times when “even peacemakers are looked upon with suspicion or hostility”, he notes, at the School for Peace they have rolled up their sleeves, involving adults and children: “Since the beginning of the war, we have organized online dialogue sessions for our already active bi-national groups. And we have responded to the request of our village residents to conduct dialogue sessions on the war and its impact on their daily lives, in traditionally ‘mixed’ spaces nationwide”, such as schools, hospitals, and workplaces where Jewish Israelis and Arab-Palestinians live side by side”, he notes. In addition, he continues, “we launched our new dialogue programme between Palestinians and Israelis living in Europe and led several consultation sessions with various higher education and healthcare institutions”. There was testimony of coexistence offered to the media and collaboration with other human rights organizations in Israel that “call for respect for civilians on both sides”.
“The School for Peace,” the Director emphasizes, “is committed to building peace through educational activities, even in the darkest moments. There is no way to foresee the consequences of these events in our society, but we are working to assess the effects on Jewish-Palestinian relations, in order to define our present and future commitment, relying on the people, Israelis, Palestinians and those from other nations, who have followed our courses and had an experience in our village. These people – 40,000 in 40 years of activity – are called to be promoters and witnesses of peace and reconciliation”.
On the agony being experienced by the Palestinian population in Gaza, subjected to bombings, cut off from all communication and entrusted only to humanitarian aid, Roi Silberberg expresses all the concern of Neve Shalom-Wahat al Salam: “Palestinian civilians have told us that they will not abandon their homes. And when the territory turns into a battlefield for the Israeli army’s offensive, even if only 10 per cent of the population of Gaza confirmed this choice, it would be a massacre of 200,000 civilians, women and children and the elderly. It would be a real massacre. We must say this and be aware of it. In this tragic situation, we must strive to defuse hatred. Let us try to light our torches in the darkness around us and be a model of peace, equality and justice”. (PA) (Agenzia Fides, 30/10/2023)