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Jewish Journal

An ‘oasis of peace’ in Israel

by Brad A. Greenberg

September 25, 2007 | 2:24 pm

NEVE SHALOM, ISRAEL—The music blared in Arabic as a knot of women twirled slowly around the bride-to-be. Well-dressed onlookers, some in traditional Muslim head scarves, clapped and swayed.

On this evening of celebration, the fireworks sizzled, sweets beckoned and jubilant guests congratulated the Arab bride’s parents with a double kiss and hearty “Mazel tov!”

Mazel tov
?

“It’s very normal,” said Nava Sonnenschein, one of the Jews clapping at the edge of the dance circle. “For here.”

The usual rules of the Middle East often don’t apply in Neve Shalom, founded in the 1970s as a utopian village on a hilltop in Israel’s midsection. For nearly three decades, its inhabitants have sought to defy the polarizing tugs of politics and nationalism.

Though most Jews and Arabs in Israel are kept apart by segregated communities and long years of mutual mistrust, Neve Shalom and its 250 residents—half Jews, half Arab citizens of Israel—represent a living experiment in integration.

This was the lede of the Column One in today’s LA Times.

Neve Shalom’s residents, mostly left-leaning professionals and academics, have been tested by two Palestinian uprisings, war in Lebanon and a steep deterioration in relations between Jews and Arabs in Israel. At times, the two groups here triumphed over those divisive pressures. At others, they fell prey.

To much of the rest of Israel, Neve Shalom is a harmless if worthy novelty. But Jewish extremists once declared the Jews here traitors and sprinkled nails on the road to pop tires. The village’s Arab residents, who refer to themselves as Palestinian citizens of Israel, often are asked by fellow Arabs if they really believe that Jews can accept them as equals.

Neve Shalom, though, is not a novelty. There are many villages and towns in the north near Lebanon, like Acre (Akko), where Arab Israelis and Jewish Israelis live side by side.

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