The naval operation against the Gaza flotilla has soured relations between Jews and Arabs inside the community of Neveh Shalom, which was created to be a model of coexistence between the two nationalities.
According to daily newspaper Maariv, the rift began when the village's council – most of whose members are Arabs – put up a sign in Hebrew, English and Arabic at the entrance to Neveh Shalom: “The residents of Wahat el-Salaam / Neveh Shalom protest the murder of the activists on the 'Freedom Flotilla' and demand an end to the siege of Gaza.”
When Jewish residents saw the sign, they immediately contacted the Council Head Ias Shabita and asked that it be removed, or its content amended. Shabita refused to remove the sign but consented to change one word, and on the next day, the word “murder” was changed to “killing.”
“We told him we don't agree to it,” Jewish resident Eli Shachar related. “We protested the matter in a conversation and announced that we would act in any way possible against these expressions. Under no circumstances do we agree that IDF soldiers will be called murderers.”
A stormy argument ensued, after which the council decided to bring back the original sign, with the word “murder.” In response, the Jewish residents decided to put up their own sign, which said: “We, residents of Neveh Shalom, protest against the hanging of signs in Israel that express a one-sided viewpoint. We protest the attack by radicals from the 'peace' flotilla on IDF soldiers and demand the immediate release of Gilad Shalit.”
The council's response was swift: The Jewish residents' sign was vandalized. “They threatened that they would kick us out of the community because of this,” Shachar said.
Neveh Shalom – “Oasis of Peace” – is located west of Jerusalem, near Beit Horon, and is home to about 50 families. It was established in 1969 by a Dominican priest, Bruno Hussar, who was born to a Jewish family in Egypt. In his autobiography, Hussar described the vision for the community: “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."