Peace and Conflict Studies

West Chester University

Dr. Dean Johnson, Coordinator
Anderson Hall, Room 108E
West Chester University
West Chester, PA 19383

Olive Trees

Glenn Chon (2012) majored in Psychology with a minor in Peace & Conflict Studies and Political Science. He is currently interning in Israel at Neve Shalom/Wahat al-Salam, an intentional cooperative village founded jointly by Israeli Jews and Palestinian Arabs.

            I'm surprised I waited this long to write the rest of this and send it, and I've been wanting to give everyone an update since my first week here but I wrote half of this about a month ago and decided to wait and reevaluate my frustrations before I submit it for the public to read.

            Let's start with what this organization actually is.  First and foremost, it is a village that has been developed by Israeli Jews and Israeli Palestinian Arabs back in the 70s. From what I've gathered, back then it was a bunch of hippies coming from all over Israel to live in huts and find peace.  The land on which they had their huts/shacks was leased by the Latrun Monastery (you can see it from the village).  Well, this land was leased for a couple pence a year for 100 years as an area for interfaith dialog.  This idea was developed by Father Bruno Hussar.  What actually happened was that those darned hippies (not that there's anything wrong with them) didn't stay very long.  Sure they helped out and brought all the love but the constant cycling in and out of new people prevented a real community from developing (which was what Father Bruno wanted). After some time and development in infrastructure, families began to stay and BAM a community.

            Fast forward to today, the community now has The Primary School (PS), The School for Peace (SFP), and the Pluralistic Spiritual Community Center (PSCC).

            The Primary School (PS) is exactly what it sounds like, except this one is special.  It accepts 50% Arabs and 50% Jews. They also teach both Arabic and Hebrew to all the children, I believe it is the first of its kind. The language classes are separated though, they've found that the Arab children were much more advanced at Arabic and the Jewish children were holding them back. Other than that, everything else is equal and they're doing a great job of educating the children about their individual cultural identities while fostering mutual respect and understanding. The first week here all the kids thought I was Chinese but said hi in Japanese. For those that don't know me, I'm neither (Korean). It was pretty entertaining to say the least. We must all look alike.  (just kidding, less exposure to individual races = diminished ability to tell them apart) There are some studies that say otherwise, claiming that certain races can more easily distinguish facial attributes between their peoples but I think that's just a very small portion of how we tell people apart. At this point, the 6th grade class has seen me enough to know my name and they're always excited to say hi to me in English.

            The School For Peace (SFP) is an institution that hosts encounter groups between Israeli Jews and Palestinian Arabs, they basically host Jewish and Arab high schools and guide them through a dialog, they also have "Change Agent" programs where individuals and professionals in fields like law, environmental protection, journalism, and psychology are trained on how to enact positive change within their professions.

            The Pluralist Spiritual Community Center (PSCC) is a gathering building where all religious and non-religious can gather and express their faith or lack thereof in organized activities.  Usually hosts free dancing, meditation groups and also young adult Palestinian - Israeli spiritual meet ups. 

            In the middle of May, we had the AGM (Annual General Meeting), where friends associations from around the world come and discuss current and future projects, funding issues, and other general topics on the village.  We spent two weeks getting prepared for it and everyone was definitely stressing out over putting together their individual reports for each institution.  I helped out with SFP and the PSCC reports, which was a bit of a headache, but I did get a lot of information out of helping out so it was definitely worth it.  As for the PS, I was up there quite a bit taking pictures and recording some video during a couple of their events.  I think somehow I've become their unofficial journalist and photographer.  I even took pictures for the 6th grade year book. Who knows, maybe I'll have a future in professional photography.

            Well, anyway, the AGM was pretty stressful. Imagine having a room full of international people trying to get what they want to say out in front of everyone in their second language.  Luckily one of the American Friends members was an experienced group facilitator and he facilitated the meetings from the second day.  I would have loved to jump in and help but already having introduced myself as the new intern and considering the age difference between me and the members, I sort of doubt that I'd be given the respect needed to facilitate such heated discussions regarding funds.  Speaking of respect, by the end of the weeklong meeting, the issue of getting more youth support came up briefly.  But after how one of the members talked down to me (purposely leaving their country of origin out for obvious reasons), demanding corrections immediately regarding their contact information and position on the paper, made me think, "good luck getting anyone young to join up with you."  Seriously, treat the young kids that are working with you with respect.  They're there because they're interested.  They're the ones who will come in with fresh ideas.  If their ideas don't work, sit down with them and explain why, so they understand. Treating them like trash will only deplete their motivation (which in the NGO world, you'll need a lot of).

            Other than that, the whole week was a great learning experience. We took a trip to Ramallah as a group and visited some interesting places.  We were supposed to meet up with Mahmoud Abbas but our bus drivers son got arrested and our bus came late, which made us miss our meeting with the Palestinian Prez. However, I did sit directly across from one of the organizers for the first and second Intifada during lunch.  That was definitely an interesting table to sit at. Food was great though, for those interested, I've been eating a lot of schnitzel, shwarma, lamb, rice, hummus, pita, tahini, zataar, olive oil and eggs (usually accompanied with some sort of cucumber or lettuce mixture). 

            I've developed some new contacts in the US which is always great. On the last night, one of the members asked me to have a drink with him, we sat outside on the deck of the hotel and just talked about the AGM, what he did, what I wanted to do, and the trip we all took to Ramallah.  By the end of it, we probably had more to drink than we should have, considering he had to wake up at 4 AM and I had plans to meet up with friends and grab something to drink...again. Let’s just say it was fun trying to walk home at the end of the night.

            Fast forward to the beginning of June. There are a couple things I've come to realize during my time here.  Israelis are blunt, which I'm completely fine with, I know how to take constructive criticism. However, a lot of people seem to have a problem with this. From what I'm witnessing, people are blunt but no improvements come out of it, instead, relationships get strained and people get frustrated. Which doesn't make my job easier when I have to play errand boy between these people.

            Services here are cheap, products aren't. Vegetables are cheap which is a plus but everything else is pretty costly.  A grocery trip that would normally cost me forty USD is about seventy here, and taxes keep on going up.  My one friend was telling me, "If you see the taxes going up, start expecting more war in the near future." Sort of depressing.  But a quick trip to the West Bank to smuggle some cheap and fresh meat makes me feel slightly better for sticking it to 'the man.'

            A couple days ago, I went out and got a sim card plan for my phone. Seventy NIS! That's like twenty bucks a month for unlimited everything. Great! But then I got a gym membership too, seventy USD a month.... Sort of burst my bubble when I realized I'm paying the same thing as home but the prices are switched.  Normally, it's ten for a Planet Fitness membership and eighty for a phone.  Oh well.

            Oh, remember my last article?  I said something about packing my watch and stated my assumption about people being on time. I was half right. People seem to care about being on time... when it's their time.  If it doesn't directly affect them, they seem to brush it off and wait till next week... which never seems to come. I can't tell you how many times I've sent emails or requested something small and received nothing back or a runaround which leaves me where I first started. At least I'm learning how to be more patient, those meditation exercises are coming in handy, Headman.  I think I've established not to take it personally, yea it would make my work flow output a lot faster but let’s be honest, when someone takes their time getting back to me, I get to sit back and take a breather.  Getting frustrated won't help and I forget this from time to time, but I have to keep reminding myself that it gives me more time to relax. I have to be realistic about this organization.  I have no stake in it, and as a result I shouldn't feel frustrated about it. As an outsider, I see the communication problems, the lack of motivation, and unwillingness to work with one another.  It's just sad to see people stuck in their ways, taking things personally and falling as a result of it. 

            I was talking to one of the board members from a supporting organization who flew out from California and I mentioned that it wouldn't be the lack of ideas, but the absence of drive or motivation within the organization to get the ideas done. As with most non-profits, there seems to be this constant worry about funding, and I get it... but why panic and worry when we could just as easily be organizing smaller projects to help get our name out there a little more and generate a little income while we're at it? Does a non-profit really have to rely on grants or supporting organizations alone? Everything here seems to come to a crawl when a grant's funds start to run dry.

            It's not all a communication breakdown, the village did lose two of its key members last year.  One from a heart attack I believe and the other in a car accident.  Since then, it's been a mess, or so I'm told.  No one has really stepped up to organize everyone and I guess some people are in a bit of a power struggle.  My P&C training is coming in handy. As terrible as it sounds, it's fun to sit back and pinpoint who has what power and how they're twisting it to get what they want.

            Fortunately, I've made a lot of good friends here. Most of the families seem to like me and I try to help out where I can. I've even started basic Arabic lessons with one of the girls from the village in exchange for basic Korean lessons. Definitely challenging but fun at the same time.  My friends here seem to be the only ones keeping me sane, we go out to the movies every once in a while, go get shwarma, have some lamb bbq's, get together and eat shakshuka, go swimming, night trips to the beach for some hookah and wave watching. When I'm not working, it feels like I'm living the life. I have no regrets about having come here, these kids are great. Most of them are a little younger than me but there are a couple of them who are my age.

            I couldn't have picked a better organization to learn from.  I'm learning a lot about what not to do and it's a great place to learn through trial and error.  Fantastic practice for when I start up my own nonprofit. It is a bit disappointing though, olive trees seem to be abundant but there doesn't seem to be any peace.