There’s certainly no shortage of initiatives for Israelis and Palestinians to participate in together. Marches for peace, interfaith soccer leagues, environmental initiatives, charity projects, and so many other projects give us glimmers of hope when the political situation gets tiring. Even with all the negative news out there, ordinary people still get together to break bread, learn about one another, and do their small part to build a better world.
However, when the topic of living together side by side every single day is breached, many of the same people who otherwise co-exist peacefully can become skeptical. Too many years of war and bloodshed, the naysayers say, makes achieving such an ideal nearly impossible to achieve.
We’re happy to report that their skepticism couldn’t be further from the truth!
We didn’t have to look far to find instances of Israelis and Palestinians living together in true cooperation, peace and harmony. These powerful and important examples are admirable illustrations of how Islands of Peace initiatives can also be inspirations for change. One village outside of Jerusalem, and a neighborhood sandwiched between East Jerusalem and West Jerusalem, are living this example every single day.
Neve Shalom (Hebrew), translated to Wahat al-Salam in Arabic and Oasis of Peace in English, is a hardworking group of Jews, Muslims and Christians who have built a true bastion of peace over the past 45 years. Started in the 1970s by an Egyptian Jewish man who converted to Christianity, the village is now hailed by many as an exemplary model for coexistence.
The “School for Peace” in the village offers coursework in conflict resolution, while a hotel boosts the local economy, creates jobs and encourages tourism. A housing complex hosts volunteers from around the world who wish to visit the village and learn from its success.
Neve Shalom’s population clocks in at a bit more than 250 people, but the demand to move in is growing. The village is half Jewish and the other half Palestinian Christians and Muslims; as of this writing, 300 families of all faith backgrounds are on the waiting list to join this inspirational village.
Another inspirational story of coexistence is the “Good Neighbors” project in the Abu Tor neighborhood of Jerusalem. The initiative facilitates conversation and dialogue in a neighborhood where Israelis and Palestinians already live side by side. Although the community was not intentional like Neve Shalom’s, Abu Tor residents still work to live in peace, instead of letting the conflict over Jerusalem tear them apart.
The Jordanian border used to run right through Abu Tor, which is sandwiched right between East Jerusalem and West Jerusalem, but the residents of this little neighborhood are determined to not let borders get in between them. Through the Good Neighbors project, these grassroots, volunteer-based projects bring together Jewish and Palestinian residents through several coexistence initiatives, including Arabic and Hebrew courses, soccer playing, a women’s forum and a community organic garden.
After seeing these real life demonstrations of cooperation, it’s clear that hopes for peace and coexistence should not simply be relegated to prayers and well wishes. When people commit their heads, hearts and bodies to the cause, it can truly work itself out. It’s hard work, and there’s a lot to overcome, but Oasis of Peace and Abu Tor are living, breathing proof that the Islands of Peace can make significant change in the Middle East and inspire the next generation of activists to commit to peace.