A former British volunteer at one of Israel’s oldest co-existence projects heralded it as “the way forward” for the country.
Emma Bowers, a teacher and former Noam youth worker, championed the achievements of the “Oasis of Peace” village, at a fundraising dinner at the National Liberal Club in Westminster which attracted 135 guests.
Ms Bowers, who spent several months there five years ago, said Neve Shalom-Wahat al Salam “dares to set out a model for Jews, Muslims and Christians to build a cohesive community together, not by renouncing their traditioins but by embracing their diversity.”
Founded by a Dominican brother in 1969, the village, situated in the Jerusalem hills, has 65 Israeli Jewish and Arab resident families and a bilingual primary school with 228 children.
Its educational model, where children learn about each other’s culture, had created a “ripple effect,” she said, inspiring others in Israel to set up similar schools. “Surely the only route to a real and lasting peace will be an education system of this kind on a massive scale.”
But dinner chairman Judge Laurence Brass reminded the audience of the challenges it has faced. A gang of Jewish extremists had once broken in and torched books, while hardliners in an Arab village had tried to ban a local girl who attended the Neve Shalom school from a community centre. “We cannot let the extremists prevail,” he said.
The evening enjoyed royal patronage from the guest of honour, Prince El Hassan bin Talal, brother of the late King Hussein of Jordan, and a longstanding advocate of interfaith understanding. Sitting at the top table were Israeli Ambassador Mark Regev and his Jordanian counterpart Mazen Homoud.
The new chairman of the village’s British friends is Millius Palayiwa, a Zimbabwe-born lawyer who has worked for the Quaker Peace movement, while the dinner was sponsored by a company founded by Ghanem Nuseibeh, a Kabbalah-studying descendant of one of the oldest Palestinian families.
Judge Brass said there had been a waiting list of more than 60 who had wanted to attend the dinner, which took place in the David Lloyd George Room (Lloyd George had been Prime Minister at the time of the Balfour Declaration).
Pianist Margaret Fingerhut, one of the patrons of Oasis of Peace UK, entertained guests with a short recital. The audience included former British Ambassador to Israel Sir Andrew Burns and former Master of the Rolls Lord Dyson.