Photograph by Allison Strang

A mural decorates the side of an unfinished house being rebuilt by Bustan L’Shalom, an Arab-Jewish partnership that promotes social and environmental justice in Israel and Palestine. Bustan activists will speak on the IU campus on Oct. 21.

Bloomington resident Allison Strang got a taste of what life is like for Palestinians living in the West Bank when she tried to pass through military checkpoints to reach Nablus, a Palestinian city surrounded by Jewish settlements, in 2003.

"At the second checkpoint, (Israeli soldiers) weren't letting anyone in that particular day, for whatever reason," she said.

Strang, who was traveling as part of a six-person delegation sponsored by the Bloomington Peace Action Coalition (BPAC), was riding in a minibus along with several Palestinians. One of the Palestinian passengers invited the Americans to stay in his home for the night.

"We hung out with his kids and talked to him about what his life was like," said Strang. "He lives a five-minute journey from his work, but some days he can't get to work because (the Israeli military) will close off the gates to him or make him wait for hours."

Strang saw a different side of the Jewish-Palestinian relationship - a more hopeful side - when she went to Anata, a region just northeast of Jerusalem. There, she watched as Israelis and international volunteers worked side by side with members of the local Palestinian community to rebuild a Palestinian family's home. The house had been demolished repeatedly by the Israeli government to make way for the security wall that would encompass the West Bank.

The volunteers had rebuilt the house twice already.

"Essentially, (rebuilding) was an act of civil disobedience to the construction of the wall," Strang said.


Today, the disobedient house is still standing, according to Devorah Brous, the American-Israeli peace activist who organized its construction on behalf of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions.

Brous is also the founder of Bustan L'Shalom, a partnership of Arab and Jewish experts working together to promote social and environmental justice through various projects in eco-building, renewable energy, health care and desert agriculture.

Brous and Bustan's incoming director, Ra'ed Almickawi, will visit Bloomington on Oct. 21 as part of a U.S. speaking tour. Their presentation will take place from 4 to 6 p.m. in Wylie Hall 015 on the IU campus. The event is open to the public.

Brous founded Bustan L'Shalom, which means "garden of peace," in 1999.

"At the time, a lot of the activities happening in the Israel/Palestine arena were either protests or dialogues," said Brous. "I felt the need to become more centrally involved with work for sustainable action, (developing) projects that we, Israelis and Palestinians, could cooperate on, with a start and a finish."

Brous acknowledges that sustainability isn't most people's top concern in times of conflict.

"When you're working in a war zone, how can you even mention the word 'sustainable'?" she said.

That's why Bustan encourages people to think about the implications of "fighting a war over a holy land while destroying that land in the process," said Brous.


Bustan works primarily in the Negev Desert, a fragile ecosystem in southern Israel that Palestinian Bedouin and Jewish communities share with several major environmental and health hazards, including the Dimona nuclear facility, dozens of chemical manufacturing plants, military installations and a toxic waste incinerator.

"(Bustan is) doing incredibly valuable and often underreported work with a usually invisible population," said Judah Schept, who, along with Strang, is organizing Brous and Almickawi's visit. "They're talking about the Bedouins, who we don't hear about in the conflict."

Schept, an IU graduate student, became interested in Bustan after attending a presentation in San Francisco.

"I was incredibly moved by their work," he said.

"(Bustan's) method seems to be working well," said Lucille Bertuccio, president of Bloomington's Center for Sustainable Living, which is co-sponsoring the event. "It's a way of solving conflict in a benign manner. I think that this is something needed in the world right now."

IU's Progressive Faculty Coalition and the Near Eastern Languages and Cultures Student Organization (NELCSO) are also sponsoring the event.

"Bustan L'Shalom addresses some incredibly relevant and controversial topics in Middle Eastern politics," said NELCSO Vice President Sarah Almuhairi. The event, she said, will give students the opportunity to gain new insight into the Israeli-Palestinian relations.

Brous hopes her visit will be a learning opportunity for her organization as well as the audience.

"People living outside the conflict can be extremely helpful because they're bringing new perspectives," she said. "We need people from outside the community to brainstorm mechanisms for bringing Jews and Arabs together over sustainable projects. The new perspectives help us think outside the box."

Charli Wyatt can be reached at .


Organizers are still seeking additional co-sponsors for the event. To help, contact Judah Schept at .