The Salaam Shalom Educational Foundation (SSEF) helps to bring together Israeli and Palestinian young people through drama. Examining conflict resolution, this assembly for secondary school children focuses on, and illustrates, their work
This assembly is about conflict resolution
- A leader and three readers.
- Two chairs.
- Readers 2 and 3 sit, side by side, not looking at each other.
- Reader 4 speaks the words of Shepha Vainstein, founder of the SSEF.
- The Times, April 14, 2008-04-17
Leader: All through history, different groups of people have found it hard to live together. War between England and Scotland went on for centuries. France fought against Germany − we could go on and on. As time passes, many peoples learn to live at peace, but there are still tribes and nations who find it hard to trust each other.
Northern Ireland suffered violence for thirty years, Cyprus is divided between Greek and Turkish Cypriots. In Africa, terrible massacres took place in Rwanda. Our two readers, sitting here, represent two divided peoples who live close together. So let’s ask them… Please shake hands with the person next to you.[Palestinian and Israeli fold their arms and shake their heads]
Leader: Why not?
Palestinian and Israeli: Because we don’t trust them!
The leader turns to each in turn.
Leader: Why not?
Palestinian: Because of what they did to us.
Leader: Why not?
Israeli: Because of what they did to us.
Leader: But don’t you both want peace?
Palestinian and Israeli: Of course we do!
Leader: So, would you be willing to meet the person next to you, if we could arrange it?
Leader: Today we are going to focus on just one of the world’s trouble spots. Our two readers represent the Israelis and the Palestinians.
Tell us: how do the Palestinians feel?
Palestinian: Palestine was our land until many Jewish people came to settle there. At first we welcomed them, but gradually they began to take the land from us. Then, in 1948, the State of Israel was declared.. For us it was a disaster; thousands of Palestinian people became refugees. Things got even worse in 1967 when the Israelis overran the entire country: since then all Palestine has been under Israeli occupation.
Leader: And how do Israelis see it?
Israeli: Jewish people began to return to the land of Israel and set up a homeland there for Jewish people. In 1948 the United Nations agreed that Palestine should be divided fairly between the two peoples. But the Arabs refused and went to war. They lost. They went to war again in 1967 and lost again. We would like to be at peace with the Palestinians but they sent suicide bombers to kill us.
Leader: [To Reader 1] What is the word for ‘peace’ in your Arabic language?
Leader: [To Reader 2] And in your Hebrew language?
Leader: ‘Salaam/Shalom. The word “Peace” sounds so similar in Arabic and Hebrew, and yet the two peoples are far apart. What can be done to break the deadlock? Let’s hear from Shepha Vainstein. She’s Jewish, and she lives in America, and she felt that she had to try.
Reader 3: In 2005 I made a life-changing journey to the West Bank The people I met were not terrorists. They were teachers, mourning the death of many of their students. I met Palestinians, desperate for exchange with the outer world. They were open to new ideas.
Leader: And what was it like in Israel?
Reader 3: Back in Israel I met Israelis who wanted to provide the same thing for their children. Jews and Arabs, everyone I met, wanted a change. I could not return to my comfortable Southern California life style and keep the Middle East conflict far away.
Leader: So Shepha Vainstein decided to set up the Salaam/Shalom Educational Foundation to promote peace.
Reader 3: The goal of Salaam Shalom is to develop a generation of youth which is open to new ideas… our aim is to build bridges across the great chasm that lies between Arabs and Jews.
Leader: But first you have to get people to meet and talk to each other, and − better still − to do something together and enjoy doing it. So why not try… drama?
Palestinian: So twenty-one Israeli and Palestinian teenagers came together to work on a play. They met last month at the Asha Centre in the Forest of Dean in the west of England. The ASHA Foundation aims to help people from all over the world to get to know and understand each other.
Israeli: Back home we live less than five minutes apart, Jews in one village and Arabs in another.
Palestinian: But what sort of play could we make? If we had picked the wrong topic we might have fallen out about it.
Israeli: So we made a play based on Grimm’s Fairy Tales − stories of woodcutters and witches and warriors.
Palestinian: At the end of April we performed our play locally and in London. It was great fun.
Leader: And what did you learn?
Palestinian: I got to know Jewish people and became really good friends.
Israeli: I never expected to become friends with the Muslims, who are my people’s enemies. But it is great being with them.
Leader: And so, through the experience of doing drama together, the young people discovered, rather surprisingly, that they were all…
Palestinian and Israeli: Human! We are all human.
Leader: So far, so good. But will it last? The young actors have now returned to their homes in Israel, just five minutes apart − but worlds apart as well. They know there will still be problems. From the Jewish side:
Israeli: The kids who have not had our experience will still want to make fun of the Arabs.
Leader: And from the Arab side:
Palestinian: When I go back to my village I can’t change the minds of the people there and I don’t try.
Leader: And, sadly, since the group went home at the end of April there has been conflict between Israelis and Palestinians − bringing even more death and destruction.
Peace seems as far away as ever. But slow and steady peacemaking can work, even though learning to live together is often a slow and painful process. We just have to go on trying.
Leader: Please listen now to this short meditation. If you like, you can make it your prayer.
Palestinian: Salaam means ‘peace’.
Israeli: Shalom means ‘peace’.
Palestinian: We would like to have peace.
Israeli: But we carry a load from the past.
Palestinian: We can’t forget what some of their people did to us…
Israeli: …and we’d rather not remember about what some of our people did to them.
Palestinian: Right now they make us feel uneasy.
Israeli: We think that they don’t respect our culture.
Palestinian: They don’t dress the way we do.
Israeli: And we fear for the future.
Palestinian: How can our children live with their children?
Israeli: How can we ever learn to trust them?
Leader: Let’s give the last word to Shepha Vainstein.
Reader 3: ‘I urge you to take the first step with me to make fear of terrorism and war a memory.’
All: Give us peace.
This e-bulletin issue was first published in April 2008
About the author: John Coutts has worked as secondary school principal in Nigeria, taught RE in Scotland, and has been involved in teaching and teacher training at the University of Greenwich. He has written and presented many scripts for the BBC and other broadcasters, and currently works as a freelance writer, poet and performer.