Even in the ‘Oasis of Peace’ — where Arabs and Jews are neighbors — residents struggle to talk about the Israel-Hamas war 

“Oasis of Peace” (Wahat al-Salam in Arabic and Neve Shalom in Hebrew) is an intentional, cooperative community about halfway between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. It sits on the Green Line, which delineates Israel and the occupied West Bank, where Arab and Jewish neighbors live next door to each other. But fostering a dialogue between everyone amid the Israel-Hamas war has been a struggle.

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Samah Salaimeh and her family moved to the Oasis of Peace, an intentional, cooperative community that sits on the Green Line, which delineates Israel and the occupied West Bank, about halfway between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, in 2000, after the start of the second intifada

“So, in many ways, this was perfect timing to take my family and to find a place here and [leave] the burning Jerusalem behind,” Salaimeh said. 

The community — known as Wahat al-Salam in Arabic and Neve Shalom in Hebrew — was founded by Father Bruno Hussar in 1972. 

Unlike in most of the rest of the country, in the Oasis of Peace, Arab and Jewish neighbors live next door to each other; there are signs on buildings in both Arabic and Hebrew; and there’s a bilingual, bicultural school on site. But there are also difficult conversations, uncomfortable moments and struggles — especially since the Israel-Hamas war began on Oct. 7.

“We have a family member in Wahat al-Salam — Neve Shalom — she lost 70 people — 70 family members,” said Salaimeh, who is the village’s co-director of its education institutions. 

A sign on the road directs people to the Oasis of Peace, called Wahat al-Salam in Arabic and Neve Shalom in Hebrew.Sarah Ventre/The World

Eldad Joffe, chair of the village council, started his term on Oct. 7. Amid the tumult, he said that within a week, the village started organizing meetings for community members to discuss what was happening.

“Fear, anger, disappointment, concern. You know, all those feelings. That’s what hit us,” Joffe said. “At the beginning, we met Jews separately, and Palestinians separately, to ventilate, to talk, to try and understand — what are we going through?” 

Joffe said that the community had two of those meetings in the first week, and then, for the third meeting, everyone gathered together. He said that community members have met eight times in the last eight months. 

Lush farmland just outside of the Oasis of Peace.Sarah Ventre/The World

“It didn’t create a separation. It didn’t split us apart. But it was hard for us to talk.”

Joffe said it was hard because, at the beginning, there was a sense that Palestinian community members couldn’t identify with the feelings of Jewish community members. Then, as the war progressed, there was a feeling that Jews couldn’t identify with the feelings of Palestinians. 

Tzuf Ben Ishay was raised in this village.

The village has a number of communal gathering spaces for residents and visitors alike.Sarah Ventre/The World

“We have, in the past few months, gone through the process of bereavement and reconciliation in our own village. That each side that lost so much during Oct. 7th and in Gaza after Oct. 7th, they both came together and expressed their grief, their pain, their unbearable loss and suffering,” Tzuf Ben Ishay said. 

The White Dove is a communal space and event hall in the village.Sarah Ventre/The World

Even though the community’s mindset about peace is unique, and its residents are self-selected, Tzuf Ben Ishay’s mom, Ariela Ben Ishay, said it can still be hard. 

“People think it might be just an easy thing to talk about it, to give flowers to each other. They have a very idealistic view of what it is to have chosen to live together. But they should expect to have it be complex. They should expect to have conflictual issues and to know that these discussions … are going to be difficult conversations,” Ariela Ben Ishay said. 

A garden in the Oasis of Peace.Sarah Ventre/The World

But many residents of the Oasis of Peace say it’s never been more important to have those conversations.

“We already know where this path leads. This land bore both of us,” Tzuf Ben Ishay said. “And if we don’t know how to treat ourselves and each other well, it will swallow us together.”

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