Here we will bring you a series of profiles of the residents of the village. They will share their stories, their experiences, and their hopes and dreams for a peaceful future between Israeli Jews and Arab Palestinians.

1.  Rita Boulos

Rita is the Director of the Vistitor’s Centre and has lived in the community since 1989.

My husband and I chose to move to WASNS. Here I felt I could be more than just a mother, I could be political and active. Here my children could grow up speaking Arabic and learn their history without fear. Here I could raise my children without racism.

I am a Palestinian citizen of Israel. I have four children and I have four grandchildren. I am active here. I am working to create change, and bring an end to racism, I feel racism and know people are racist and it hurts me. I want to see change in the political arena and I want justice.

I was born in Lod. My father was politically active in the Palestinian movement that was against taking Palestinian lands. He was arrested many times. This all happened before I was born. My father wrote a book about Lod, which was part of a series about cities before 1948 and afterwards. He didn’t write the book from the perspective of a historian or writer, but as a witness. He worked as a paramedic, saving lives and he wrote what he saw and what he experienced. For years we knew he was writing a book, but it was a secret book which he hid. When he was a pensioner, he felt freer. He wasn’t frightened about being arrested or losing his job and so he published the book in Arabic. People who knew what he had written told him he needed facts to prove what had happened. Years later historic archives were opened to the public by the Israeli government. Benny Morris famously presented a new narrative on 1948 based on his research of these archives. My father’s book refers to Benny Morris’s work as proof that his account is true. One day I hope to get the book published in Hebrew. It is important that Jews learn our narrative about the past.

 I met my husband in Haifa, where I was studying Hebrew and English. We moved to Tel Aviv because of his work and then again to Jerusalem. He worked long hours. We had two children and I was a full time mother. At the beginning of the first intifada I was pregnant with our third child. It was very hard living in Jerusalem at that time. Whilst living in Jerusalem I went with a Jewish friend to a kibbutz swimming pool. The man in charge of entry told us Arabs weren’t welcome. I knew I didn’t want my children growing up in this situation.

My husband and I chose to move to Neve Shalom-Wahat al-Salam. Here I felt I could be more than just a mother, I could be political and active. Here my children could grow up speaking Arabic and learn their history without fear. Here I could raise my children without racism.

We came right at the beginning when there were only eight or nine families living here. There was hardly any running water or electricity and there was nothing. The houses were small. It was not an ideal place to live — not in terms of the physical conditions — but ideologically Neve Shalom-Wahat al-Salamwas amazing.

Slowly, we were able to enlarge our tiny house. We created a garden. Not just for my home but for the surrounding areas as well. When important guests came to visit the village, we would host them because there really was no formal place for them to go. I worked in the village as a secretary. I spoke Hebrew, Arabic and English and all three languages were needed. I didn’t really want to be a secretary but I really wanted to contribute to the community. I had started a course in interior design but I had too much work, and then the Gulf War began. I didn’t finish the course.

Part of my job included welcoming guests and taking them around the village. I also looked after the volunteers. This really was the beginning of the Visitors Center. In 2002, I stopped working as a secretary and became the full time director of the Center. Over the years, the Center grew and grew. At first it was mostly visitors from abroad but, at the end of last year a third of the visitors were Jewish Israelis. There were also some Arabs, but less. My work enables me to teach people that there needs to be change. I don’t believe any solution will come from violence or war.

I’m not the sort of person that goes out drinking coffee. My husband drinks filter coffee. When our children were young, I would be rushing to get them ready for school. As I left for work, my husband would always hand me a cup of filter coffee just as I got to the front door. I’m less busy now, but he still hands me a coffee as I leave for work. This has been going on for 35 years. My second coffee is after work. My husband and I sit together and drink together in the garden.

2. Dorit Shippin

Dorit has lived in the village for 36 years

Over the years I have understood that Neve Shalom-Wahat al-Salam is about more than just the people who are here. Its message is universal and very real. We make mistakes like everyone, but we create a reality that shows it is possible to live together, however difficult that might seem. This has an enormous value. It’s not just talk, it’s what we do.

I was born in 1958 in Givatayim, near Tel Aviv. My parents came to Israel (Mandatory Palestine) in the 1930s, when they were children. My father was from Germany and my mother came from Poland. I am an only child. I grew up very homogeneously, in one place and with no great challenges. When I was 18, I was drafted into the army. I joined the Nachal unit, which focused on establishing new Kibbutzim. The community aspect and living in natural surroundings really appealed to me. I stayed in Kibbutzim in northern and southern Israel during my service. After the army, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do. I went to learn yoga.

I started practicing yoga when I was in high school. I suffered from chronic backache so many athletic activities weren’t good for me. I tried Hatha Yoga and it really helped. I still really enjoy yoga because it enables me to focus on my internal self, on relaxation and personal quiet. I took a course to become a yoga teacher, not because I wanted to be a teacher, but because I wanted to deepen my knowledge and understanding of the practice. It was a month-long residential course.

The yoga organisation with which I had studied had centers around the world, so afterwards I decided to travel and spend time at some of their centres. At the time this was considered quite an unusual choice. I went to England, France and Canada. Then, when I returned to Israel, I worked at a yoga center in Tel Aviv and this is where I met my husband.

My husband and I wanted to open a yoga center and decided to do so in Haifa. At that time there wasn’t one in the city. After the birth of our first child, we decided to move from Haifa and began to think about where we would like to raise a family. We knew we wanted to be part of a community. We looked everywhere for a place that would suit us. In the early 1980s, we came to visit Neve Shalom Wahat al-Salam. It didn’t look much like a village. There were a few temporary homes and lots of greenery. It really was very beautiful but it appeared that there was no place for us. Then, a few months after our first visit, we received a phone call from the community inviting us to join! We were so happy! We loved the idea of people living together from different backgrounds and we loved the concept of peace education, which fitted with our worldview and teachings from yoga. We believe in finding unity in diversity.

Our approach to living here was a little naive because I grew up without knowing Arabs and with no concept of the conflict. Arabs weren’t even spoken about where I was from. I remember the Six Day War and the Yom Kippur War but even with those experiences I still wasn’t exposed to the conflict and the Arab perspective. In the community here I met the reality, not just the idea of Jews and Arabs living together.

After moving to the village I had two more children. All three of them were educated in the bilingual binational primary school here. All my political education on the conflict and my commitment to peace activism came from living here. Slowly I started to understand the conflict. It was hard for me to deal with and to find my place within it.

I attended the first meeting of the School for Peace in which Palestinians from the Occupied Territories were invited to meet Israelis. This was after the first Intifada and the Oslo Accords. Living in Neve Shalom Wahat al -Salam had made me much more aware of the Occupation and I wanted to be a part of a movement that worked towards ending it. I joined Women in Black. I felt that I could not have any personal feelings of peace without also dealing with the conflict and being involved in creating change.

For many years I worked in various roles in the village and while working I also focused my efforts on establishing the Spiritual Center. Its opening enabled me to connect my political activism with spirituality. The Center provides a space for creating peace through respectful learning, deepening the understanding of the other, and sharing each other’s suffering. We need to recognize the pain of both peoples. We don’t speak much about the Nakba in Israeli society. The Spiritual Center gives a space for this narrative which has to be part of the healing process. I ran the Spiritual Center for 10 years.

Today, I’m less politically active than in the past. After my time at the Spiritual Center I decided to focus on teaching yoga, mindfulness and meditation. I am glad to be living here in this community. It’s interesting. You learn all the time.