Shalom - Salaam: ROTARY's OSLO-based peace process

When Rotary International fills 100 years, more than 100 students from The Middle East (Palestine and Israel) will have participated in the impressive peace program at the International Summer School (ISS) at the University of Oslo, basically supported by Rotary and The Norwegian Foreign Department.- DG Paul Johnsen, PD-2310 (09.03.2005)

Skøyen Rotary Club in Oslo initiated this Rotarian follow-up-program after the Oslo Peace Process in 1994.

The start was humble. Only two students were selected to come to Oslo the first year, one from Palestine and one from Israel.

Gradually, however, the number has been stabilized to 12 per year - six Palestinian and six Israeli students, nominated and selected from these universities in the region:

  • Tel Aviv University
  • The Hebrew University
  • Haifa University
  • An-Najah National University
  • Hebron University
  • Al-Azhar University
  • Bethlehem University

The conditions of the Skøyen Rotary Club, for participation in this peace program have been the following:

The students should be of Israeli or Palestinian origin, between 20 and 28 years of age, with university level education, preferably in social sciences, with a good command of English. It would be advantageous for the candidates if they have held leading positions in student organizations. One of the conditions is that the Palestinian and Israeli students show a sincere will to work together in the spirit of cooperation and peace. It is expected that the scholarship recipients will participate in the activities of the Shalom-Salaam Alumni Association upon their return to the Middle East. An equal number of men and women and an equal number of Israeli and Palestinian students should be nominated. During their six weeks studies in Oslo one Palestinian and one Israeli student will be accommodated together in groups of two. They live and sleep in the same room for six weeks and they spend weekends together with Norwegian host families - Rotarians as well as Rotaract families. These students mix socially with the other participants from many countries at the Summer School.

They also mix with the Rotaracters and their families, living in or around Oslo.

Social events for building friendship are arranged during their stay. In addition to their regular studies, where peace is a central subject, the University of Oslo arranges sessions with the focus on building confidence and establish close cooperation between these students from neighboring, struggling nations.

For us who have had the opportunity to have these students as week-end guests in our homes, in our mountain houses or summer houses by the sea, sailing and mixing with the whole group at the end of their stay in Norway, we are both touched and moved by the effect these six weeks have had on their relationships. As future leaders in their region they most certainly have got ever-lasting, intellectual and emotional memories with them in their luggage, that has given them a belief in people's good will, in spite of differences.

The Shalom-Salaam Alumni Association Newsletter tells about the serious work that this alumni group is doing for the peace process in the Middle East. Their experiences and stories are touching voices from the most fundamental root-system for peace anywhere and in any human community on this globe, small or big. These young people tell a credible and basic story, based on facts that could have come from any conflict or peace process with efforts to create a friendly, safe and meaningful life for people on this earth. The Shalom-Salaam Alumni members report about unexpected friendship, expected uncertainty and difficulties, unexpected love, understanding and empathy for each other - how different the participants may be.

These young people, different as individuals, grown up with conflicts with neighbors for centuries but with the same wish for peace and prosperity as all peoples around the globe - these young people convey the same message as the Nobel Peace Price winner of 1957, the Canadian Foreign Minister Lester Pearson, sent to the world in his speech in Oslo that year: «How can there be peace in the world when people do not know each other, and how can they get to know each other when they never meet ?»

The Oslo Summer School Shalom-Salaam- Students have met and have become friends

Skøyen Rotary Club has initiated an impressive project that give promising answers to this question: Is it possible for young people to learn how to change a world of war into a world of peace ? These students say: YES!

Since the start of the intifada in the fall of year 2000 it became impossible to keep the program in place. Yet the alumni students are keeping in touch by email and both Rotary and the Oslo University are ready to reactivate the project as soon as the peaceprocess at government level makes it possible.

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