Neve Shalom/Wahad al-Salam
It’s been a hectic first week of my research trip in Israel: I arrived with Jerry, my research assistant and cultural guide, Sunday just before noon. We grabbed a rental car and drove to Neve Shalom/Wahat-al Salam, where we stayed for four nights at a guest house at this unique community. After dropping our bags, we got an introduction to Neve Shalom/Wahad al-Salam from Abdessalam Najjar, one of the earliest residents. The community was founded about 30 years ago, just off the Tel-Aviv/Jerusalem highway, as a place where Arabs and Jews could live in peaceful co-existence, while also running programs that encourage dialogue to help others do the same. Today, there is a long waitlist of other Arab and Jewish residents of Israel keen to take up residence. (Space on the limited amount of land, donated in a covenant by the nearby Latrun Monastery, is the main issue holding back expansion.) Abdesssalam admitted that his community is far from typical in his country; in fact, the government likes to use Neve Shalom in its feel-good press relations while giving no financial or other support to the community itself. Rather, it’s something of an isolated island of middle-class professionals who have managed to find a way of living with the conflict that divides this country while not ignoring it. It’s also a beautiful neighbourhood in an idyllic rural setting where the coastal plains start to rise toward the hills of Jerusalem—a soothing setting to sleep off some jet-lag while still running around and doing interviews.
Next, we had tea at Kibbutz Revadim (where Jerry’s sister, a ceramics artist lives), and spoke with Uri Pinkerfeld, a founder as well as an activist who acts to protect Palestinian olive groves from destruction by settlers. He told us about the early history of the kibbutz, which was originally near Jerusalem but captured and then relocated during and after the War of 1948, and the process of privatization that it underwent, after careful consideration by its members. This “change” was less traumatic at Revadim, which wasn’t in as deep financial crisis as many kibbutzim.