Creating Agents of Change
The flagship program of the School for Peace is the ‘change agents’ course for professional groups in Israel and the Palestinian Authority. Whereas earlier work in Jewish-Arab relations focused upon encounter for its own sake, the change agents course motivates the participants to work for a more equal society and provides them with practical tools to bring about change.
The ‘change agents’ program uses a comprehensive model developed by the School for Peace in cooperation with Tawasul, a non-profit peace organization in the Palestinian Authority. Program development was supported by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). The SFP and Tawasul train hundreds of Israelis and Palestinians to promote social change in their communities and in governmental and non-governmental agencies where they work.
The model brings together Palestinians and Jews from specific professional disciplines: lawyers, mental health professionals, journalists, environmentalist, architects and planners, physicians, young politicians, teachers and others. These professionals explore how national, ethnic and professional identity affects their beliefs and their professional groups’ relationships with ‘the other’. With their professional expertise, they identify injustices, common concerns and shared issues that they can change. Working together, they create professional networks, effect change, and develop cooperative activities that benefit both peoples.
The hundreds of participants in our change agents’ courses are influencing decisions in the institutions and organizations where they work advancing equality, justice and peace in both societies. Seventy percent of the lawyers who have attended the course pursue human rights law as a profession.
The results of this work are impressive. Examples include:
- Connecting a Palestinian town to the national electric grid;
- Advancing employment of Arab citizens in Israeli government positions;
- Planning ‘wet lands’ waste treatment projects in towns that lack sewage systems;
- Developing organic seed exchanges for Palestinian and Israeli farmers;
- Obtaining public recognition of Palestinians’ contributions to developing community infrastructure in Tel Aviv-Jaffa;
- Changing a political party’s platform on the status of women;
- Assisting mental health workers to address socio-political aspects of daily life in their work and then organize conferences that raise the awareness of thousands of mental health professionals to the importance of building a just and equal society.
“I am working on a project with a colleague across the border. We talk every week. I did not think that would even be possible. This is already having an influence on the ongoing conflict”.
In both Israel and the Palestinian Authority, the educational system has the greatest potential for impacting the future of society. The School for Peace has always worked to train teachers to bring conflict issues into the class-room, in a manner that can be constructive in building a better and shared future. Recently, the SFP initiated a program for literature teachers called, Two People Write from Right to Left. The program is based on a Hebrew/Arabic literary anthology of the same name, which was developed and published by the SFP. The anthology gathers Israeli and Palestinian texts that appear in their original language and in translation. The new program is designed to give Jewish and Arab teachers from Israel and the Palestinian Authority the opportunity to build and implement a curriculum that teaches the literature of ‘the other’. The program brings thousands of students into contact with the life and culture of those they often see as enemies. As a result, walls are being broken down on both sides of the border. Teachers and students are beginning to understand the other side and recognize their humanity.
“In our first meeting, the Jews discussed their fear of a second Holocaust; the Palestinians talked about their family members in Israeli jails and those killed by the Israeli military; Arab Israelis spoke of racist attacks in Israel. We talked about facts and reality and ways to move forward and change. It shows we can achieve peace.”
The mission of the School for Peace is to build equality in society. It therefore must address the role of women. The SFP conducts a variety of programs and courses that empower women and deepen their knowledge and understanding of topics such as leadership and empowerment, identity, feminism, and the role of women in peacemaking. These programs are organized for women from mixed Jewish-Arab cities and include participants from both sides of the border. The SFP has also developed and implemented, a unique academic course at Tel Aviv University, for women from disadvantaged communities, based on peace and social change studies.
“During the course I gained self confidence, became more mature, and now I feel stronger. I can say what is on my mind. I have become stronger by learning about other women’s experiences .”
Over 30 years ago, the School for Peace began its Youth Encounter Program, which works with Jewish and Arab youth from high schools throughout Israel. It is the longest running project of the SFP and has worked with over 25,000 young participants, guided by hundreds of SFP trained facilitators. This unique program brings the students together for an intensive three days of meetings and activities.
Working with youth at this impressionable age is vitally important. During the encounter, youth have an opportunity to get acquainted, explore cultural and political issues and simulate negotiation processes. For the first time, they begin to explore what it means to build a shared future for Jews and Palestinians in Israel. Additional programs with youth include long-term workshops to develop joint projects, leadership training and preparation of youth peace delegations to other countries.
“I learned a lot about your past and your history. I identify with your pain and your suffering. I hope you can understand us and accept our perspective.”
Training Facilitators to Work with Groups in Conflict
The School for Peace has trained over a thousand Jews and Palestinians to facilitate groups in conflicts. It was the first, and for many years the only, organization in the country to run such a facilitator training program. Today, the SFP organizes these courses both for participants from Israel and from the Palestinian Authority. The majority of individuals who have undergone this training have made work with Jewish-Arab relations a part of their professional lives. Many have become leaders in human rights and peace organizations. The 120-hour course is open to university graduates.
Trainees learn the SFP approach through lectures, long-term encounter and practice in working with the group. The course includes studying group facilitation theory as well as post-colonialism, social identity, critical pedagogy. The participants acquire facilitation skills through practice in a workshop setting. The SFP offers similar training to groups in other parts of the world.
“During the course I acquired new skills and tools. I see things through a different lens. I can now examine behaviors of different groups and this influences me in everything I do; personally and professionally.”
Pioneering peace studies in Israel’s universities since 1990, the School for Peace has been teaching undergraduate and graduate students theoretical and practical characteristics of conflict, usually in the framework of a long-term encounter between Jewish and Arab students. These courses take place at Tel Aviv University, the University of Haifa, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and others. These courses “open the eyes” and impart a deep understanding of group conflict, specifically the Jewish-Arab conflict. The participants are social science students who will go on to become decision and policy makers in Israeli society. Dozens of these students have continued to advanced degrees, and a few are themselves teaching similar courses at the Academic College of Tel Aviv-Yaffo, the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya and Harvard University.
“This is a beginning. This has made me stronger”……“We have all tasted a bit of peace. We are hungry for a bigger bite.”
Jerusalem Mosaic – A year-long program providing a forum for Jews and Palestinians to negotiate the future of Jerusalem.
International Programs – Training projects with organizations in regions in conflict including Northern Ireland, Cyprus, Kosovo, South Africa, and Costa Rica.
Organizational Consultation – Working with staffs composed of individuals from different ethnic and national identities, to facilitate understanding, cooperation and better work practices.
Conferences supporting peace and social justice are continually being initiated by the SFP.
“For me, until now, I knew Israelis only as soldiers at checkpoints or soldiers in armored vehicles. Now I know them as people with whom I can eat, talk, have coffee and work… this changes everything for me.”