'Oasis of Peace' Israeli village targeted by vandals

Neve Shalom

REPORTING FROM JERUSALEM -- Arab and Jewish residents living together in the village of Neve Shalom -- Wahat al-Salam ("Oasis of Peace") awoke Friday to find the community had been vandalized overnight.

The perpetrators spray-painted "death to Arabs" and "revenge" on buildings and cars, and slashed the tires of more than a dozen cars.

The vandalism is the latest in a series of attacks attributed to right-wing Jewish extremists. Dubbed "price-tag operations," these actions target Palestinians in the West Bank and pro-peace bodies inside Israel in response to government moves against settlers. There have been arson attacks against mosques and death threats to staff of the anti-settlement organization Peace Now.

Earlier this week, the Knesset -- Israel's parliament -- defeated a bill to legalize settlement outposts built illegally on privately owned Palestinian land. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu invested considerable political effort to block the bill, which would have caused Israel trouble with the international community.

It would also have contradicted the government's pledge to the Supreme Court to dismantle houses on Givat Haulpana, a disputed project in the West Bank settlement of Beit-El. Netanyahu will relocate the houses and intends to build hundreds more in the West Bank.

Following the vote upholding the evacuation, settlers and supporters clashed with police in Jerusalem. Netanyahu is negotiating with settlers for a peaceful evacuation but some are concerned that the removal, slated for coming weeks, could turn violent as in previous cases.

"Regards from Givat Haulpana," read one graffiti message left overnight, making the connection clear.

This is the first time the village has experienced such an attack. 

"These crimes are a direct continuation of incitement waged by ministers and lawmakers against Palestinian citizens of Israel," said Ahmad Hijazi, director of the School for Peace, which runs programs from the village. "Now this is spilling over to target the left wing too," Hijazi said.

  Neve Shalom"This is their method -- violent, hateful and racist," said Nava Sonnenschein of the village. "The words say 'death to Arabs' but their real message is war against all those who seek peace," said Sonnenschein, director of training programs for the School for Peace. "They hate equality and coexistence and everything we stand for," she said of the vandals.

Sonnenschein said the incident further deepens her conviction of their work: "We must continue doing what we do, living together, bringing people together and educating to peace. We believe our way is right." 

Among other things, she said, they are working on turning the Fred Segal Friendship Library in the village into an international academic hub of peace and conflict-resolution research. "Our work will counter this hateful attack by sending the oppposite message," she hoped.

The community school is closed on Friday but as word got around in the small community, children went to school to see the scrawls under the sign that welcomes them in Hebrew and Arabic.

"The people behind this are small, weak and cowardly to come in the middle of the night. They are afraid to come here with their political platform by daylight, so they came under the cover of darkness," said Shay Tenenbaum, who also woke up to find his tires slashed.

Besides the residents, the community is visited by many tourists, professionals, students and hotel guests during the day. A perfunctory gate goes down in the evening but anyone can get in. "Living together is a message of peace. We didn't surround ourselves with fences," Sonnenschein said.

Police are investigating.

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-- Batsheva Sobelman

Photos, from top: The entrance to the elementary school attended by Arab and Jewish children in Neve Shalom. The sign says "welcome." The graffiti says "death to Arabs" and "revenge", among other things.

"From the Ulpana,' spray-painted on one of the cars. Credit: Nava Sonnenschein.

 
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