The School for Peace (SFP) at Neve Shalom – Wahat al-Salam (NSWAS) was established in 1979 as the first educational institution in Israel promoting broad scale change towards peace and more humane, egalitarian and just relations between Palestinians and Jews.
The School for Peace works with Jewish and Palestinian professional groups, women and youth, creating a genuine egalitarian dialogue between the two people. Through workshops, training programs and special projects, 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.
Neve Shalom – Wahat al-Salam is the only community in Israel where Jews and Palestinian Arab citizens of Israel live together in equality and peace. This egalitarian village provides a safe and mutually accepted meeting place for both peoples to feel at home and to draw encouragement from a model of equality and partnership.
Since it was established, 60,000 Jews and Palestinians have participated in School for Peace programs. Besides its work within Israel, the SFP has developed innovative programs that work with Palestinians from the Palestinian Authority. It is one of the few peace organizations now running joint programs with Palestinian partner organizations. The SFP has developed special programs for environmentalists, journalists, and educators from both sides of the border. It is currently establishing a peace college that will provide an accredited Master’s degree in Conflict Resolution with the University of Massachusetts Boston, USA.
The School for Peace Method
The School for Peace has created a world renowned unique approach to working with groups in conflict. Rather than focusing upon interpersonal relations between encounter participants, emphasis is placed upon how the two groups relate to one another.
The Jewish and Palestinian participants meet to explore national and ethnic identity. They examine their interactions in the encounter, which represent a microcosm of relations in the larger society. With the help of Jewish and Arab facilitators, participants come to understand how their group’s preconceived attitudes affect how they relate to “the other”. This results in participants changing their perceptions and helps them take responsibility and action towards change.
The method differs from others as it recognizes the asymmetry in power relationships. It puts the conflict “on the table”, making it clear that participants have come together to address, discuss and negotiate real issues that affect the two people. In later phases, groups work together to identify common concerns and implement joint projects with the goal of creating change towards a more equal and just society.
The SFP’s method is based on research, theory, evaluation and the development of best practices in the field of conflict resolution. The model has been studied by academics from Israel and abroad and hundreds of books and academic articles have been published about it. Staff from the SFP have trained and worked with groups in conflict all over the world including Northern Ireland, Cyprus, Kosovo, South Africa, and Costa Rica.
“The course was a crossroads in my life. It was the first time I was involved with Jewish-Arab relations. Since then I’ve become a peace activist. What remains with me from the course is the experience of ‘putting everything on the table’ – and not worrying about discussing the most complicated issues. The aim in meeting together is to discuss the hardest topics and bring about change in them. The equality at Neve Shalom is undoubtedly what allows this to happen.”
Measures of Success
- Since 1979, more than 60,000 Jews and Palestinians have taken part in workshops and courses conducted by the School for Peace.
- Over 1,000 facilitators trained at the SFP have become leaders in organizations that focus on Jewish-Arab issues, on peace and human rights work, or social change – both in Israel and Palestine.
- The School for Peace’s professional model in working with groups in conflict has become the leading method in the field in Israel and has been applied in conflicts around the world.
- Graduates of courses of the School for Peace state that the courses constituted a formative experience and have made work on the conflict central to their personal and professional lives.
- The School for Peace was the first peace organization in Israel to work with academic institutions and has developed courses in four leading universities and a number of colleges.
- The knowledge developed by the SFP with academics in Israel and around the world has contributed to the literature of conflict resolution and has advanced conflict resolution practice here and abroad.
- Palestinians have attended School for Peace programs during all political periods including those of extreme conflict. They express satisfaction with the equal status given to Jews and Palestinians in this work, with the methods used, and with the ability of SFP courses to promote change.