Sagi Frish is 31-year old, and studies Islamic Middle East History and International Relations at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, where he lives. The Frish family was among the first families to move to the hill and join Bruno Hussar and Anne LeMeignen in 1980. Sagi was one of the first children to be born in Neve Shalom/Wahat al-Salam (NSWAS).
Suliman Boulos, 31 years old, grew up in NSWAS from the age of 10 and went to medical school in Germany. He is currently a second year resident at the Hadassah Hospital in Jerusalem.
How has your experience, being raised in the village and attending a binational Primary School, affected the way you interact with the world?
Sagi: For me, growing up in NSWAS is intertwined with being enrolled at the Primary School. The school had a central place in our lives as children and also in the life of the community. Special programs at the school, such as celebrating holidays of the different religions together, were a central part of the village social life.
The school molded me as the person I am today. It made me more sensitive to the complexities of the reality I live in, where two nations are living together. And it has allowed me to develop my own Israeli-Jewish identity next to learning and becoming familiar with the Palestinian national identity, culture, Arabic language & learning about Islam & Christianity.
In a reality of conflict this unique frame has not only an intercultural richness but as well very important practical aspects. That is because a reality of conflict creates many barriers between you and the "other" such as mistrust, predigests, fears, hatred and despair. Therefore in a reality of conflict it takes great powers to overcome the gaps and to get to know the "other". I think that our school makes this huge effort much simpler, because it allows you to meet the other as a friend from a young age and takes away the feelings of remoteness and fear. Therefore while a reality of conflict is regularly creating barriers our school gives you the tools to overcome them.
Suliman: The impact of growing up in NSWAS was amazing for me, it changed my world from one end to another. Due to this fact I look at the conflict also in a different way than other Arabs living in Israel and of course different from Arabs that living in the West Bank and Gaza.
Of course the school was an important part of this change that happened in my way of thinking and the person I am these days.
I always tell people that only the fact that children can grow up in NSWAS makes a big difference from the outer world, that we only realize after we become adults.
Please elaborate about your experience with the world outside the village, how have the values you have learned in the village been challenged by the dominate Israeli/Palestinian narratives, and in turn, what have you done to spread the peaceful beliefs of the village?
Suliman: For people outside the village its hard to understand the way of our thinking, many people tell me that we are living in a dream and not in reality and that we are far of reaching real peace between the two people. Actually this gives me more confidence that what we believe in and our way of living in NSWAS is the right way. The reason why I say that has a simple explanation, I lived the experience and I know the impact of living in NSWAS on me and how it changed me, so for me I m sure it was the right way no matter what others claim or say. Many times we have to stick to what we believe in, not because we are stubborn, but because we don't think that war is the way, as history showed us to many times.
During my work at the hospital in Jerusalem, I treat all kinds of patients and also religious Jewish patients and not once they told me that they were shocked to meet an Arab like me, a person whom they can talk to without fear. I see such reactions every day at work, and this is one way for me to impact people outside the village. The real change sometimes comes in an indirect way, and also lasts much longer. I am not saying that everything is solved by the fact that I grew up in NSWAS, but it gives me the tools to manage many difficult situations in the outside world.
Sagi: First, let me say that the outside world enters and influences NSWAS. NSWAS is very different but it’s not isolated. Meaning the reality of conflict is felt strongly in NSWAS but the community has the ability to deal with the conflict in a constructive way. I see myself as an Israeli Jew; the village had allowed me to build a positive way for my narrative: I can keep and develop my identity but still give room to the other identity and work together with Palestinians in order to create a better reality.
Most people outside the village see their identity as a protection in a reality of conflict and therefore ignore or hate the other identity. But I know it doesn’t contradict, meaning when you respect, get to know and give room to the other identity it doesn't make your identity weaker. The other way around it opens for it extra ways to develop and flourish. This is what I bring from my background in NSWAS; when we base our reality on equality, democratic decisions, getting to know the other and engaging in dialogue we can live together and act together while keeping and developing our identity.
How has being raised in the village shaped both your personal beliefs and your beliefs about conflict resolution?
Sagi: Growing up in NSWAS means not only believing in beautiful ideals but trying to apply these principles in daily life. This is a big challenge but I have learned that if you thrive to follow principles of equality, democracy, dialogue, acting together, in spite of mistakes and difficulties, you can make a difference.
I believe in these principles as the guidelines for conflict resolution and for my own involvement and activity. It doesn’t bring any simple solutions, but my experience in NSWAS has taught me that following these principles allows you to deal with the difficult questions and gives you tools for the struggle to build a better reality.
Last but not least is that you should believe you can impose positive change, in order to lead in a positive direction. You have to hold to your beliefs that it can be done as well when it is difficult to reach positive results. NSWAS does give you this strength because it proves that the effort has a meaning, and that it can and it will contribute to create a better future.
Suliman: Unfortunately human kind is violent, and if we look at the history of the world we can see that clearly, so many wars, but very few peace agreements. But still I believe that the only way to solve this 64-year conflict is through trust, when people trust each other its much easier to make compromises, and reaching this point is the hardest in my opinion.
I don't have solutions, but I am sure that killing each other won't solve a thing.
As Buddah told his pupils: just try to do your best, that is enough.
What would you say was your most meaningful experience in NSWAS?
Sagi: The most meaningful is to grow up as children together. Your Jewish or Palestinian identities don’t disappear when you grow up together - we deal with them all the time - but we have a strong believe in political partnership and the need for a change in reality. But when you grow up together you have something which goes beyond political views and ideological beliefs. You have a deep personal connection which creates a mutual commitment that goes beyond and is deeper than political partnership.
Last year when I turned 30 a group of my good friends from the village came to congratulate me. While we set together I suddenly noticed the sound of Hebrew and Arabic mixing, and the unique atmosphere between us and it made me feel proud that such a place is my home and my community.
What do you think your experience at NSWAS has given you that people outside the village don’t have or understand?
Sagi: Let me give you examples of breaking barriers: when I started at the university, I discovered that Jewish and Palestinian students were seating separately, not because they have to, but because no one dares otherwise. After a few classes, I went to the Palestinian students and talked to them in Arabic, the atmosphere changed and we started to get to know each other. It’s very difficult for Jewish students, even that they are the dominating group, to go to the other side. For Arab students that are the minority it's even harder; thanks to growing up in the village I can do that almost naturally.
Also, there is currently a debate about referring to Palestinian history in Israeli schools. I can use my experience to contribute to the discussion, I can explain that when you learn about the other side of the conflict, you don’t weaken your identity; you actually enrich your own identity because you don't have to constantly hide and try to avoid some aspects of reality.
What are your plans for the future? Do you plan in staying in contact or even continuing to live in NSWAS?
Suliman:Of course I plan to stay in tough with the village and be active in the village as a member. I am still not sure if I would live in the village or outside of it, I still didn't make up my mind.
As for my career plans, I will continue working at the Hadassah Hospital and hope one day to become an expert in the field of radiation oncology.
Sagi: I am active outside the village in organizations, speaking to groups. I have a normal life but I always try to keep a frame of political activism, with friends or colleagues.
It is important for me to express my opinions, as they are central to my identity, but I also try to listen and learn from other opinions. As a kind of "product" of the village, I am interested to get to know other ways and approaches to deal with the conflict. Right now, I am mainly active outside the village; as I feel I need to develop from having other experiences as well.
NSWAS is home, for me there is no doubt about that. I believe very much in the ideas of the community and it has molded my identity. Therefore staying informed about what is happening in NSWAS is very important to me. But I don’t know yet where will my future plans lead me and if I will be moving back. It’s a wonderful place and I would for sure want my children to go to the Primary School. I see the chance to study in a binational educational system as a great privilege and as a meaningful contribution to them as human beings.