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History of the Village: Envisioning an Oasis of Peace

Over forty years ago, a man named Father Hussar first came to dwell on the land in Israel that would come to be known as an Oasis of Peace, home to a School for Peace and a primary school and to residents committed to living together and respecting one another’s language and culture. Inspired by a phrase in the book of Isaiah, Father Bruno envisioned a manifestation of the Old Testament’s prophecy that “My people shall dwell in an oasis of peace” (32:18). Neve Shalom/Wahat al-Salam, the "Oasis of Peace" was conceived of and nurtured by Father Bruno, a Jew born in Egypt and a convert to Catholicism, who dedicated over 30 years of his life encouraging peaceful coexistence between Jews and Arabs.

Father Bruno believed there were two “rights” in Israel and Palestine: the right of Jews to inhabit the Jewish state created in 1948 and the right of Arabs to maintain their homeland and live as full citizens in Israel. He envisioned the need for a place that could be a model for peaceful coexistence between Arabs and Jews. In 1972, he camped without modern conveniences upon a hillside that he leased from the nearby Trappist Latrun Monastery for 25 cents a year for 100 years. In 1978, the first family arrived to join him along with funds to begin construction on infrastructure for water, sewage, and electricity.

Father Bruno later wrote of his idea, “We had in mind a small village composed of inhabitants from different communities in the country. Jews, Christians, and Muslims would live there in peace, each one faithful to his own faith and traditions, while respecting those of the others. Each would find in this diversity a source of personal enrichment.” Placing Jews and Arabs together was only part of a goal that would involve providing “the setting for a school for peace.” Father Bruno stated, “For years there have been academies in the various countries where the art of war has been taught. . . [W]e wanted to found a school for peace, for peace too is an art. . . People would come here from all over the country to meet those from whom they were estranged, wanting to break down the barriers of fear, mistrust, ignorance, misunderstanding, preconceived ideas—all things that separate us—and to build bridges of trust, respect, mutual understanding, and, if possible, friendship. This aim would be achieved with the help of courses, seminars, group psychology techniques, shared physical work and recreational evenings” (from Father Bruno’s autobiographical book When the Cloud Lifted published in 1989).

Twelve years after his death, Father Bruno’s objectives continue to be fulfilled. The community has grown to 55 families, has hosted over 45,000 youth and adults at its internationally recognized School for Peace, and educates almost 500 students in grades K-6 in its bilingual bicultural primary school. “What is being done at NSWAS,” wrote Father Bruno in 1991, “is the result of the efforts, of the vision, of the tenacity of many men and women, from the beginning in 1970 up to today.”