Wednesday, 20 August 2014

Seminar on Neve Shalom – Wahat al-Salam and the School for Peace

Nava (in the middle) with some of the participants at the seminar
Against the back drop of the world currently focussed on the situation in Palestine, on Thursday the 14 August Nava Sonnenschein, Director of School for Peace (SFP) at Neve Shalom – Wahat al-Salam (NSWAS) in Israel/Palestine visited the University of Johannesburg. In a most timely lecture, Nava shared her experiences of life in Neve Shalom – Wahat al-Salam, a peaceful community, and the only one of its kind, where Jews and Palestinian Arab citizens of Israel/Palestine live together harmoniously and collaboratively. Home to about 60 families, (and growing) this village provides a model of possibility for peaceful co-existence amidst the surrounding violence and devastation.

Nava also shared insights about the School for Peace (SFP), also the first educational institution of its kind, which offers workshops, training programs and special projects, to a range of Jewish and Palestinians participants. The school is aimed at advancing personal change as well as fostering broader commitments towards agency and activism, particular in areas where the most impact can be made, such as within environmental and social development sectors, schools and the media. The SFP develops participants’ awareness of the conflict and their role in it, enabling them to take responsibility to change the present relations between Jews and Palestinians. In emotionally charged and often painful dialogic workshops, equal numbers of Palestinian’s and Jews are engaged with facilitators from both sides. These engagements are characterised by mutual vulnerability, multilingual sharing of experiences aimed at creating the possibilities of new and different narratives for change. Opportunities for sharing stereotypes, fears and demonisations of “the other” are engaged with, in attempts to transform understandings of each other. Drawing on theoretical frameworks such as social identity theory, development theory of racial and ethnic identity, research on whiteness and post-colonial theories, the approach taken by the SFP has been evaluated, researched and studied and opportunities to extend the approach are underway internationally.

The community are currently working towards the establishment of a Peace College that will provide an accredited Master’s degree in Conflict Resolution with the University of Massachusetts Boston.  Set to begin in the fall of 2015 in USA the college will be named after the late Ahmad Hijazi who was the much loved and respected Director of SFP between 2008 and 2012.   Since it was established, 60,000 Jews and Palestinians have participated in School for Peace programs and more than 1000 facilitators have been trained to lead workshops, many of whom are also involved in social advocacy within the sectors where they work and live. SFP collaborates with community and social organisations, NGOs and other institutions and has impacted on many participants, with sometimes life changing consequences.

The discussion that ensued after the lecture raised important considerations for social justice educators, activists and scholars in the South African context. There are clearly lessons to be learned from the experiences shared by Nava which offers up new visions of hope, possibility and imagination for what is possible in any conflict-ridden spaces so as to advance our common humanity. Perhaps a deepened discussion and a problematizing of discourse is necessary (such as what counts as “conflict” and what “egalitarian” implies). How the SFP’s methodology is potentially applicable in our context or even in other arenas outside of education (for example within the SA mining sector, with all its complexities) requires more thought. Some consideration for how issues of history, power and access impact upon participation in such endeavours as the SFP, particularly after participants have been through such  learning experiences, could also be very useful.  Nava’s visit and insights certainly highlighted important questions and issues for further dialogue.

More information on the School for Peace can be found at

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