In 1969, Major Wellesley Aaron (grandfather of popular Israeli singer David Broza) and Bruno Hassar, an Egyptian-born Dominican brother with Jewish roots, pooled their wisdom and desire for peace and decided to create an Oasis of Peace on a hermitage Hassar had leased from a Trappist abbey in Latrun. Originally intended by Hussar to be a place where the troubled could go to find solitude and reflection, this tranquil dwelling set on forty hectares of land went on to rewrite history.
Aaron and Hussar saw the potential of the hermitage as place where both Israelis and Palestinians could “expand on the idea of finding peace within as a prelude to bringing peace to the community and the region.”
The Perfect Place for Peace
The Latrun hilltops between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem were no-man’s land between Israeli and Jordanian lines until 1967, when Israel occupied them. Since then, the territory remains under Mateh Yehuda Regional Council jurisdiction.
With love, hope and faith for peace, Aaron and Hussar developed an intentional community at the hermitage, naming it Neve Shalom-Wahat al-Salam, after a passage from the book of Isaiah and meaning Oasis of Peace in Hebrew and Arabic respectively.
An intentional community is a planned residential community designed to have a much higher degree of teamwork than other communities. Members of an intentional community generally hold a common social, political, religious, or spiritual vision.
In 2009, 50 families live at Neve Shalom, and forthcoming expansion aims to house the 300 Jews and Arabs on its waiting list. This binational, bilingual community conducts educational work for peace, equality and understanding that runs on three levels:
- A binational, bilingual (Arabic-Hebrew) children’s educational framework: In 2005, the matriculation exceeded 200 pupils, around 90% of whom came from towns and villages within a 30 kilometre radius of Neve Shalom – Wahat al-Salam. The primary school, the largest unit within the framework was founded in 1984 as Israel’s first binational school, and is today recognized and partially supported by the state.
- The School for Peace is a unique educational institution offering Jewish-Arab encounter programs in the spirit of Neve Shalom – Wahat al-Salam Founded in 1979, the SFP has conducted workshops, seminars and courses 45,000 Israel and Palestinian young people and adults The School for Peace also trains facilitators in conflict-group encounter skills.
- The Pluralistic Spiritual Centre in Memory of Bruno Hussar (known as “Doumia ~ Sakinah”) is a venue and framework for spiritual reflection on issues at the heart of the Middle East conflict and the ongoing desire and search for its resolution. The centre hosts public activities and seminars.
Neve Shalom – Wahat al-Salam also includes a small guesthouse, which offers programmes designed to acquaint local or foreign groups with the village and its cultural context.
Spreading the Word
On June 22, 2006, Pink Floyd’s Roger Waters played a live concert at the village for more than 50,000 fans.
Inspired by the success of Neve Shalom – Wahat al-Salam in 2007, two Israeli educators, one Arab and one Jewish set up the first of four Hand in Hand schools where Jewish and Palestinian citizens of Israel can study together in peace.
Today over 800 students study at the four Hand in Hand schools in Jerusalem, the Galilee Region, Wadi Ara, and Beer Sheva.
“Do not get equal with one who has done you wrong, or keep hard feelings against the children of your people, but have love for your neighbour as for yourself.” - Leviticus, 19:18
“Believers are brothers – spread reconciliation among your brothers.” – The Koran