Fighting Pessimism

Eileen Babbit

Assistant Professor of International Politics, Fletcher School of Law, Tufts University

Interviewed by Julian Portilla, 2003

This rough transcript provides a text alternative to audio. We apologize for occasional errors and unintelligible sections (which are marked with ???).

A: The project I'm doing now is with a group in Israel itself. This is a group that is headquartered in Haifa. It's called the Center for Negotiation and Mediation. The woman who runs it is an Israeli Jew. Her name is Yona Shamir. And she basically set up this program to sort of permeate the Israeli culture with the study and practice of negotiation and mediation. So, she brought people in to train people in environmental negotiation and mediation, community, legal. You know everything that's happening in the ADR movement within the United States, she was trying to replicate within Israel. And there were others doing this as well. And I think she's made remarkable contributions in this regard and it's really starting to percolate through the culture you have most of the ADR work is still being done, unfortunately, my bias, by lawyers. But there are people doing mediation who are not legally trained and it's starting to become a much more common practice.

So with that success behind her, Yona decided it was time to take on the inter-group problems and she looked at the Israeli Palestinian issues within the territories and decided it was beyond her to take that on. It was too difficult, too explosive and there were other groups already doing that. What she felt was not being sufficiently attended to was the relationship between Arabs and Jews within the 67 borders, within Israel itself. And that's where she decided to begin her work. And so she wanted us to design a training program for a group of Arab and Jewish facilitators. These are people who would work in pairs. One Arab, one Jew.

Q: Arab-Israelis, though.

A: Yeah, these are all citizens of Israel. And work within Israel on inter-communal conflicts between Arab villages and Jewish towns. Particularly in the north, in the Galilee, where there are a lot of land ownership issues, water, resource issues and community services issues, where there's disparities between the Arab villages and the Jewish towns. And she had already picked out two adjacent communities, whose community leaders had agreed to, in principle, to use a sort of dialogue model to begin to look at some of these issues in a problem-solving mode rather than in legalistic mode.

So she identified a group of people who were interested in being trained in this regard. Some of them had had mediation experience previously in other kinds of community disputes or whatever, most of them had not. All of them are professional people in other realms; lawyers, city planners, business people, teachers, psychologists. So they have a profession, they do something else. And this was something that they were going to do in addition. Because they really see that this is one of those problems right under the surface that in a particularly difficult circumstance could simply blow up and did in fact.

One of the reference points for all of this work was in the fall of 2000 right after this intifada started, there was some kind of demonstration in, I don't even remember what town it was in, but it was somewhere in the north part of the country, of Israeli-Arabs, in solidarity with the intifada. And the Israeli army killed 13 people. And there was an incredible uproar as you can imagine. Just shock, anger, unbelievable disappointment. And there was an investigation, there was a commission set up called the OR commission for the name of the judge who was put in charge of this from the Israeli Supreme Court, to investigate these shootings and why the Israeli police used live ammunition on citizens. And killed them. Why did this happen when they're not killing Jewish citizens? Why did they do this? So there's this undercurrent that is very volatile. It hasn't broken through the surface but there's a worry and a fear that if the situation with the territories doesn't resolve or even if it does, this other thing is sort of boiling under the surface.

So, we went to do this training and we decided that this needed to be something more than a problem-solving workshop. First of all, people needed skill, they were trained to be facilitators so this wasn't only about understanding the needs and fears of the others and it wasn't only, if at all, about finding solutions. It was about facilitating others to find solutions at a community level. I mean at the community level it's kind of a microcosm of what's happening at the national level. But how do you, if you're a member of the community, how do you facilitate that discussion? So that was the challenge and we didn't even frame it that way until we were about halfway through the project and we thought, you know what we're doing here, is we're training insider facilitators. And it's obvious to me now but I wasn't thinking of it in explicitly those terms. And what kinds of different skills might they need than the ones we already can think of that facilitators need.

So here's what we did. The training was done in three stages. In part, because of finances and of course the Iraq war was in the midst of all of this and so it got delayed. The first session which I did with a colleague of mine here in Cambridge, Pam Steiner, who's a psychologist. The first training was working on the problem-solving workshop model and we introduced them to the social psychology of conflict and the issues about stereotypes and all of the social psychological parameters. We took them through the first couple of stages of the problem solving workshop model with the idea being, number one to give them familiarity of what it means to talk about needs and fears. And also to begin creating relationships among them. Because if they were going to be working together they were going to have to again be a microcosm of the macro change that they were trying to have happen in these communities. They were going to have to deal with it.

So we did this and it was incredibly intense. It was in January of this year. It was a week-long program. And one of the things that was clear is that people had a very hard time, and we've seen this in other workshops, had a very hard time listening to each other. Very hard time. And a very hard time asking open-ended questions. And we talked a bit about this, but it was hard for them. So we recognized that the next thing that people really needed was communications skills. They really needed to understand better especially if they were facilitators, what it means to have a conversation, to listen to what the other person has to say, even if you don't like it. And then to be as a facilitator helping other people do that same thing.

So the second week of the training was on consensus building and communication skills. And Pam and I didn't do that training. That training was done by a trainer from Australia who's a very good friend of Yona's. She's a lawyer and she's Jewish. She donated her time, which we all did. She came from Australia and she did a week-long session with them. And it was, by all accounts, we weren't there, fabulous. She shifted the frame of the training. It wasn't so deeply personal as the interactive problem solving is. It was much more skill oriented, much more pragmatic. How do you run a consensus building process? How do you listen without judging? How do you ask an open-ended question that elicit people's response and doesn't push them into a corner? You know all those things that both as facilitators and hopefully as members of a constructive negotiation you would be doing. So it was very skill-based.

So the third week of the training, the challenge was number one, to build on what they'd already done. Number two, to go deeper because that's what they wanted to do. To go deeper in themselves and to work more with narrative, which was what they wanted to do. And to prepare them after this third training to actually go out and begin doing some facilitation on their own. Which is a pretty hefty assignment. So here's what we did. We decided to use yet a third model. The first one was the problem-solving workshop. The second one was consensus building and communication. The third one was a process that's been developed by an Israeli psychologist whose name is Dan Bar-On.