“If peace is happening in that village in Israel, it can happen anywhere,” Grace Feuerverger said during an intriguing presentation in Calgary less than two weeks ago. The Peace Education Commission of the International Peace Research Association (IPRA) hosted numerous interesting papers during the conference, but Feuerverger’s talk at a panel session on Sunday, July 2, was especially relevant to the study of societies that are trying to be peaceful.

Feuerverger’s speech, “Building Bridges to Peace: an Ethnographic Journey in a Jewish-Palestinian Village in Israel,” described a cooperative village where Jews and Palestinians live harmoniously together. Neve Shalom/Wahat Al-Salam (“Oasis of Peace” in Hebrew and Arabic) was founded in 1972, inspired by the vision of a Dominican priest named Bruno Hussar.

Born to Jewish parents and converted to Catholicism, Hussar learned about discrimination between Christians and Jews and between Jews and Arabs first hand when he moved to Israel in 1953. As a result, he devoted the rest of his life to peace and reconciliation. He told the author, “I know in my heart that a place where Arabs and Jews could really face one another in day-to-day living would transform their fears and hatreds.”

Grace FeuervergerFeuerverger (pictured) focused her talk on her research—a study of the successes of the Jewish/Arab schools in the village. She pointed out the perhaps obvious fact that kids in the classroom are indistinguishable as Jews or Palestinians. Her wonderful photos, including a memorable one of four sunny-faced school kids with their arms around each other, emphasized that point. Obvious or not, such facts should be repeated frequently.

The village elementary school is fully bi-lingual, though its function goes far beyond one of children learning the language of “the other.” The teachers and parents are key actors in transforming values in the school and the village, from hostility and competition into collaboration and dialogue. These adults, some of whom live outside the village, are “imagining a new way of life, inventing a new educational story by creating a [new] curriculum … Theirs is a quest for authenticity in search of a peaceful future for their children,” Feuerverger believes.

The cover of her book about the village, Oasis of Dreams: Teaching and Learning Peace in a Jewish-Palestinian Village in Israel, features a color drawing by a third grade boy in the village school. It shows the Palestinian and Israeli flags with human arms sticking out, shaking hands. She feels that that reaching out spirit to the other side epitomizes the spirit of the community.

She first arrived in the village in 1991 at the point when the village school was just opening up to children from nearby communities. She was able to observe the religious holidays of 1991-1992 there, and saw the kids put on a play for their parents, both from the village and from nearby communities. The parents from the other villages got to meet one another on a peaceful basis for the first time.

The kids have been particularly open in wanting to deal with the specters that haunt them all. They brought up the holocaust for discussion. When one Palestinian boy stated that they were all being punished for what the Nazis did to the Jews, he made a strong impact on everyone.

Feuerverger indicated that the Palestinian and Jewish parents in the village have relatively few problems with one another. The village has quite effective conflict resolution strategies in place to deal with disputes when they arise.

But the parents who live outside the village have more problems to contend with, especially from their fellow villagers. Why are you dealing with the enemy? However, those parents are learning from their experiences with the elementary school in Neve Shalom/Wahat Al-Salam to become more bold, to assert that they are doing the best they can for their kids by sending them to the school.

Feuerverger concluded by reading from the Introduction to her book: “The building and sharing of peaceful coexistence in Neve Shalon/Wahat Al-Salam is the means of coming one step closer to repairing the broken shards of humanity. It is one step closer to returning to the wholeness of being. This is what true human spirit and caring is all about.”

This fascinating paper was originally scheduled for a panel session on Saturday, July 1, which was also supposed to have included a paper on “How Coyas and Mapuches Raise Their Children Peacefully.” But that session was cancelled and the relocation of that other paper was not clear. It might have been as relevant to the study of peaceful societies as Feuerverger’s.

In the future, one might hope IPRA will find an effective way of communicating the day to day, hour to hour, changes in schedules that are normal to many conferences. A large bulletin board for announcements and schedule changes, a common feature of other conferences, would have been most helpful. Otherwise, the 21st IPRA conference in Calgary included many outstanding moments.

(The last of three reports on the 2006 IPRA conference in Calgary.)