Peace village thrives, emissary says in S.F.

Even if Israelis and Palestinians reach a peace agreement, their daily lives may not become more stable, said Daoud Boulos, an Israeli Palestinian.

Both governments are rocked by internal strife, Boulos said, and the leaders of both are distant from the populace.

"Palestinians have lost hope totally because they are not connected to their politicians," said Boulos, who hails from a unique Jewish-Arab cooperative town in Israel.

Visiting the Bay Area this week to discuss how Palestinians and Jews can find new ways to live together, Boulos said, "All [Palestinians] know is their situation is worsening on a daily basis. The peace process is not improving the life of the Palestinian worker; it's not putting more bread on the table, it's the opposite."

He finds Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to be courageous, since his apparent effort to secure peace may further separate him from his party and potentially unseat him.

Boulos' vantage point gives him a special perspective on the interactions of both cultures. He has lived for about a decade in Neve Shalom/Wahat al-Salam, a cooperative village of Jews and Arabs located between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.

Passing through San Francisco and Berkeley, Boulos raised funds for building projects and spoke to those interested in living there.

Built in 1972, Neve Shalom/Wahat al-Salam is no longer an experiment, Boulos said, but a stable village. Home to 35 families, it has its own school as well as a research institution that has provided weeklong training sessions in peaceful conflict resolution to more than 20,000 people.

When Boulos first saw children in the village primary school learning both Hebrew and Arabic, he thought, "This was the future. I want them to meet the other side, to experience and study both languages and cultures together."

The community has received praise from both Israelis and Palestinians, but Boulos said many outsiders still consider the project a little naive.

"We do have conflicts, but we don't fight it," he said. "We find ways to live with it."

Neve Shalom/Wahat al-Salam has major plans to expand. The community has designed a $20 million central building that will house the research institute and a small museum and cultural arts center. Villagers also want to bring 100 more families into the cooperative. Most of the money for these projects will come from abroad, the majority from Jews in the United States.

Boulos hopes the success of Neve Shalom/Wahat al-Salam will serve not merely as an example of how Jews and Arabs can live together, but how they can mutually support each other.

The similarities among the two cultures recently hit home for Boulos. While visiting a synagogue in Montreal, he took part in his first Jewish prayer ceremony. The services seemed very familiar to him.

"It made me open my eyes and see how close we are to each other," he said. "The text I read related to me and wasn't in any way offensive. It may sound naive and simple, but the two people have almost the same mentality."

Ultimately, Boulos advocates a two-state solution; but the two lands, he said, should find a way to exist as partners.

"The two people have come to be so dependent on each other, and their lives so integrated, that they cannot separate," he said.

Nonetheless, the Palestinians need independence, Boulos said, and they need closure on a troubled stage in their history. He emphasized that only the United States, as an international power, can truly guarantee a peace agreement.

"In the long range, I think the 13- or 14-percent withdrawal will not be so important," he said. "As long as both sides agree, the important step is that the process will be irreversible."