Israel/Palestine Art Therapy Project – Entry 3: “Oasis of Peace”
“Do you see him?” Shira Shvadron asked. I squinted my eyes after struggling to finish my burnt coffee at 7:12 am on the streets of Jerusalem. On the opposite side of the road a long, silver haired bohemian artist was walking towards us, moving to the beat of the Indian sitar. “We are going to get along just fine!” Robert Markey has been creating mosaic murals with the underrepresented children worldwide for over 30 years. We have been communicating electronically since 2011 sharing projects and teaching methods, and yet, until this day, we had never met. We loaded up and drove straight to the “Oasis of Peace”. Seventy-two minutes later Shira Shvadron, Robert Markey and Benjamin Swatez made history by teaching our first class together.
Neve Shalom is a community founded on the principals of peace. In 1970 Israeli Jews and Palestinian-Israeli Arabs joined to demonstrate that two peoples can live and work in peace, while developing a system of education for peace, equality and understanding. Needless to say, in the heart of Israel this community faced countless obstacles and to this day, continue to stand for Peace. By 1984 the first bi-national school was created in Israel and now 150 Arab and Jewish children study side by side. It is a great honor to contribute to the amazing work that has been recognized around the world for years deriving from the “Oasis of Peace.”
The classroom was anything but peaceful. What a breath of fresh air! The kids did not care about who comes from where; they just like having fun and getting into trouble as one. Kids will be kids! We taught 6 hours a day adjusting the curriculum according to the aptitude of each age group. The students would draw with the wild energy just off the playground and then I would play my flute. The soothing silence flowed from body to body, the grip would loosen on the pencil, and the drawings were transformed before the very eye. There were many tools and games we brought into the classroom: some with rhyme and reason and others full of playful nonsense. “Happy. Sad. Angry. Happy. Confused. Laughing…” As I called out the human emotions faster and faster Robert and Shira would bounce from facial expression to facial expression, in full animation, demonstrating how to draw our human emotions. Every class was translated into both Hebrew and Arabic… imagine how awesome that was. Laughter spread though the classrooms and we even heard word that kids were literally protesting against going to school if they did not get art class that day.
Gratitude filled our hearts as we were welcomed with so much love from the Principal Carmela, Reem and the entire staff with rooms in the guest house, gas in our car, food at every meal and the freedom to sculpt our own schedule. We held a staff-workshop where we invited them all to follow each of our journeys around the world that led us here to this very place, exactly where we wish to be. The interactive lecture was followed by an exercise that aloud them to loosen the weight of self-judgement and surrender to the freedom of creativity. We have been told since that our techniques of drawing the attention of teachers and students alike are being implemented right now =) It is heart warming to give back in multiple facets of life. Shira, Robert and I found a beautiful flow and complimented the gifts and talents we each brought into this chapter… what a team!
As the rain fell consistently for a couple of weeks we postponed the murals and remained inside t prepare the 4th, 5th, and 6th graders for their final painting on professional canvas. In the start of each class we would look into art history, with images projected onto the wall. We explored Pointillism with Seurat, brushstroke with Van Gogh, Cubism with Picasso, Surrealism with both Miro and Dali… We instructed the students to close their eyes and draw for 15 seconds then open their eyes and use their imagination to create a masterpiece from the unknown subconscious. With numerous exercises and techniques to choose from they each had their brushes, their paint, their canvas and their message. 85% of the student body lives in neighboring villages where cultural integration is far from the norm. Arab and Jewish children grow up together at the school and from the same playground the naked eye can see rockets launched during time of war. When the outside world is constantly pushing the individual to choose sides, each child comes to school every day willing and eager to be the example of peace they wish to see in the world. They are heroic and on Sunday they painted their message through their innocent eyes! Their work will now travel the world and exhibit in Galleries and Museums. We can all learn a thing or two! THANK YOU NEVE SHALOM!