עוסים שלום
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Jews and Arabs rebuilding their environment

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Naomi Sheffer, Project Director

 

 

Project update:

 

          The Israeli Jewish – Arab conflict in the general Israeli society and in neighboring and mixed communities in Israel was on Ossim Shalom's agenda for many years. Therefore the organization has developed a few operative models for training over 200 Jewish and Arab social workers as agents of change in their communities. In addition we also trained 70 professional "conflict group" facilitators for groups in a conflict situation. All these professionals were active in their communities, in Ossim Shalom's projects and in various other organizations whose aims are changes in social and economic gaps and other conflicts in the Israeli society in general and in particular between the Jewish and Arab population.  

Towards the end of 2009 Ossim Shalom started negotiation with ICfC, the International Center for Conciliation in Boston USA for a new project in this direction. The aim was to use the ICfC model of Historical Conciliation by Ossim Shalom professional facilitators and to start mutual activity in Israel.

 In March 2010, a bi-organizational contract between Ossim Shalom and ICFC was signed. As a first step for implementation, the steering committee members have developed a professional model for conflict evaluation, according to which we started to map and evaluate the local Arab – Jewish conflict in about 40 mixed and neighboring communities. According to this evaluation we decided to start a pilot program that would include four different types of groups.

             In May 2010, at a weekend seminar, 26 Ossim Shalom's Arab and Jewish professional conflict group facilitators were trained by the ICfC staff in their Historical Conciliation model, which equipped them with additional new knowledge and skills.

            In this first experience with the Historical Conciliation model, we were interested to learn and evaluate how it works with different participants, groups and communities and if there are some groups that it works better with them or does not work at all. In addition, we have decided to approach communities that seemed to have the strongest potential of sustaining a several-month long program. Thus we chose four groups with different characteristic: two different grassroots groups, one of an active on- going non-formal group of women in a mixed city, the other was assembled for this purpose and represented a few mixed communities in a mixed city; and two different groups of professionals: one organic group from a formal organization and the other with Board members and volunteers in a non-formal NGO.     Each of the four groups will be consisted of 14-18 Arab and Jewish participants and they will go through the same workshop process of seven three hours community based meetings and one intensive weekend retreat meeting. All the groups will be facilitated in the co-facilitation model by two facilitators, an Arab and a Jew, that acted as role models.

           In June, after Israel Amir, the project supervisor adjusted the model to the local culture and needs, we have launched the first two groups. One was consisted of grassroots community activists from mixed Jewish Arab communities in Haifa. The other one was an on-going group of Jewish and Arab women, who are grassroots activists in Jaffa (Tel Aviv – Jaffa).

In October 2010, after the summer holidays and vacation we launched two additional groups, one in Haifa with the senior staff of the municipal youth authority, and the other with Board and members of "Hagar": an NGO, in Be'er Sheba, that initiated and implemented a Hebrew-Arabic bi-lingual pre–school and school.

           According to the written and oral evaluations by the participants and the facilitators, we have concluded that the model "is working" as the facilitators and participants have expressed their positive results, with all the four types of groups.   We have also concluded that working with on-going, formal and non- formal types of groups and communities is just as crucial as working with more divided groups. The main reason is that when groups are not equipped with the necessary tools for developing empathy among its members, group cohesion even in the most committed groups and communities can be jeopardized during times of political trauma.

Steering committee

             The project's steering committee was assembled at a very early stage in the development of the project and considerably in advance of the signing of the contract. The steering committee members are: Naomi Sheffer project director, Israel Amir project supervisor, Oded Leshem project coordinator, Nader Agbaria active facilitator, Orna Romanov Ossim Shalom CEO, Kher Albaz consultant Historical Conciliation expert, Dov Bernstein and Jamal Elkarnawi, OS's Chair Persons. They all   participated in the Historical Conciliation training before the project was launched. It is important to note that the activity of the steering committee members is all done on a voluntary basis.

Evaluation

             The project was evaluated in qualitative methods and quantitative methods: written questioners and oral sessions for the facilitators; and written questioners for the participants. The evaluation was developed on a voluntary basis by members of the steering committee..

Quantitative results

Summery of quantitative questioners of all 4 pilot groups:

Results in %

Summery of results "high to very high %" (4 plus 5 as noted below)

 

1.         In retrospective, to what extend you were prepared to the group's activity

Very much   5        4          3           2         1                 not at all

         %                 4.6     4.6        14         32.5    44.2

      %4+5                                                        76.7

                                                         

 2.      To what extend was the group's activity up to your expectation:

Very much   5        4          3           2         1                 not at all

            %                         9.3       23.3    25.5   41.9

        %4+5                                                    67.4  

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3   To what extend the group's activity promoted you personally:

 - More empathy towards other group's members, their ideas and

           identity.       

           not at all      1        2        3         4        5     very much          

            %                      9.3       7       39.5      44.2                            

        %4+5                                                   83.7

 

   -    More tolerance and sensitivity towards other group's members their ideas and identity.

not at all      1        2        3         4        5     very much

          %                   4.7     9.4       40.7     45.2

       %4+5                                             85.9

 

     -   Greater commitment to act to reduce misunderstanding and prejudice between Jews and Arabs:

          not at all      1        2        3         4        5     very much

             %                    4.6   11.6      30.2   53.5 

%4+5                                          83.7

 

4.      To what extend the facilitators contributed to the advancement of the group and to reach its goals?

          not at all      1        2        3         4        5     very much

           %                  4.6      14       18.6    62.8

      %4+5                                           81.4

 

5.    What is the prospect that the group's planned project will actually be performed by the group?

          not at all      1        2        3         4        5     very much

                %          5           10     25      25     35

          %4+5                                              60

 

6. Will you recommend opening additional groups in your mixed community?

          not at all      1        2        3         4        5     very much

                     %              2.3      12         16.6    69

         %4+5                                                85.6

 

7.   How you will grade your overall experience?

        Very low      1        2        3         4        5    very high

                       %          2.3       16.3     28       53.5

          %4+5                                              81.5

 

 

8.    How you will grade your personal satisfaction of this experience?

Very low             1        2        3         4        5     very high

                 %                2.3     11.6     25.6    60.5

           %4+5                                           86.1

 

 

In an oral evaluation session all the facilitators of the 4 groups said that the model is "working well" but the community project is not yet well integrated into the process. The groups need more time to understand its meaning and implication, as they are very involved in the process of personal and group change and conciliation. 

 

The groups' processes:

 

 Haifa Grassroots Leadership Group

 

 

              The Haifa Grassroots Leadership Group consists of local community leaders who are active and volunteer in few mixed, Jewish and Arab, neighborhoods of Haifa. The leaders represent an array of social and ethnic backgrounds, with members who are Muslim and Christian Arabs, “Mizrachi” Jews, Israeli-born Jews, and Jewish immigrants from Ethiopia and the former Soviet Union.

The Ossim Shalom group facilitators, Ibrahim Agbaria and Yair Levine, senior facilitators, used their recently acquired conciliation skills in the Historical Conciliation model and strong backgrounds as facilitators and social work to effectively create a secure and welcoming atmosphere for the participants to express their diverse feelings, opinions and definitions of self identity. The workshops were successful and group members came away with fresh perspectives and a renewed sense of hope. Pharess, an Arab man, commented that, “In this workshop the Arab minority expressed their pains. Inside of me there is a spark that will continue to believe in Jewish-Arab partnership because we don't have a choice, we don't have an alternative". Although certain parts of the group conciliation work became difficult and topics were controversial, hope remained a strong sentiment amongst participants. Merav, a young Jewish woman, expressed that she “did change her views thanks to the workshop because she saw that there were other people committed to peace."

   

Jaffa Women’s grassroots Group

 

             The Jaffa women’s group is composed of Arab and Jewish women who are active in their communities as volunteers in grassroots programs. Established six years ago by the Tel Aviv-Jaffa municipality, the group meets twice a month to talk about family life and motherhood, youth violence in their neglected neighborhoods, and about community projects they want to participate in. At the time of the group’s establishment, members decided not to deal with the emotionally sensitive issues of the Jewish-Arab conflict, so they never delved into the critical issues of pained memory and historical narrative, which is ultimately what inflames conflict. After learning about the Historical Conciliation program, members of the group decided that they were ready to confront and embrace their broader responsibilities as members of a bi-national group in Israel. As part of their series of conciliation workshops, the women engaged in an intensive weekend workshop, led by their facilitators, Nader Agbaria and Maya Haskell. The facilitators understood that their main goal was to enable the women to overcome their fear of opening up while obtaining a secured and protected atmosphere, so that participants felt comfortable sharing deeply personal stories, thoughts, concerns, and experiences. One Arab woman, Sharrifa, noted that "there were many personal stories concerning identity and the conflict that I never knew about. We've been hiding them for years. Now that we talked about them, it gives us some sort of relief.”

Beer Sheba Hajar NGO Board and members' group  

 

 

             Composed of proactive Arab and Jewish local residents, Hajar is the NGO responsible for the establishment of a new bilingual elementary school in Beer Sheba, 1 of only 5 bilingual schools in Israel. In engaging the Historical Conciliation model intervention, the group’s key objective was to cultivate strong relationships with one another that would withstand external political crises, and will help them to strengthen and to enlarge their community.

             In mid-October 2010, the facilitators, Tzofit Goren and Nasir Abu-Srihan, began working with 15 participants from the Hajar group, which included parents and board members of the school. The highlight of the conciliation series was the intensive weekend retreat, during which the facilitators guided the group through intensive dialogue work. Some of this dialogue included the Jewish group expressing fears of Arab extremism and being a minority in the Middle East, while the Arab group expressed fears of displacement from their homes due to settlement policies favoring Jews in the Negev. Both groups presented hopeful visions for Israel’s future, including a belief in peace and desire for a two-state solution, and the incorporation of Arab culture and nationality into Israeli society.

           Participants also shared personal stories related to the theme of empathy, which the facilitators encouraged them to do through listening and responding respectfully. Many of the participants had positive feedback about their dialogue experience. "I came with a certain narrative in mind, a certain point-of-view that I've been holding onto for years,” said Hamdi, an Arab man. “But now my views have broadened, I can see things from different angles." Liat, a Jewish woman, expressed that she “came to some kind of peace with [her] own deep and troubling thoughts and feelings” through the workshop, because hearing others share openly made her feel “protected” and free to “expose [her] deepest emotions.”

 

Haifa Municipal Youth Authority Group

 

 

          The Haifa Youth Authority is a municipal department which plans and leads youth development activities around the city. Amal Bishara and Yair Levin facilitated the conciliation sessions with a group of Arab and Jewish senior staff from this department who were interested in improving understanding amongst their colleagues so that they may form a better infrastructure for working together in the future. In addition, the workshop aimed at improving their performance as senior staff in the youth department so that they may deepen connections with citizens and youths of different religions in Haifa, with its delicate bi-national balance. The idea was that they would implement what they experienced in the workshops so as to be more effective advocates of peace and understanding, serving as role models to the youth they work with on a daily basis. One participant, Benny, commented that “[he] took the things [he] experienced back to [his] job as the director of a Youth Center.” He also said: “I thought to myself: if I developed a better understanding of ‘the other’ through this workshop, I could certainly try to impact the kids I'm working with and get the Arabs and the Jews to work and play together.” In general, participants came away feeling that their experience had been valuable and enriching. One Arab man, Wassim, said, “The fact that we had a dialogue is important in itself. It was extremely meaningful for me to hear other people's stories and thoughts. It was important for me to be able to expose mine.”

Conclusion

            Working with groups in all four of these communities proved to be incredibly successful, as participants now feel more confident in their potential to withstand a community break down next time there is a national political crisis. Furthermore, many participants have committed to assuming leadership roles and using the skills they’ve learned to expand their bi-national co-existence activities to others in their cities. These “barefoot conciliators” are bringing their tools to their own families and communities in order to ensure profound change for the long run, which is exactly the affect of Historical Conciliation is intended to have on individuals who experience constructive dialogue and hate-empathy transformation. Not only is there now a pressing need to embark upon a second phase of conciliation work in these four communities, including the initiation of joint community projects, but ICfC and OS are ready to join forces again to start work in at least six more communities.

 

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