Peacemaking and Mediation in the Mideast

Rodef Shalom and Nonviolent Communication Models of Mediation

In February 2014 I was part of the leadership training team for a 9 day  Nonviolent Communication training in the Almog region close to the Dead Sea (Because this is “Area “C” under the Oslo Peace Agreement, it is the area of Palestine open and accessible to everyone without needs of special visas and permits.) .  Approximately 100 people- Israeli Jews and Palestinians, Palestinians from Gaza and the West Bank and Internationals- lived together and participated in this 9 day training.  As part of the curriculum,  I facilitated a training in Nonviolent Communication-based mediation. About 25 people, a diverse representation of our group, attended this course.
I began by explaining the different consciousnesses that would likely enter the mediation room. Our materials packets are in English, Hebrew and Arabic. (If you don’t have it, email me for the Name of the Game Worksheet/NVC Map. ) People coming to us for mediation are likely stuck in the consciousness of “Who’s right/who’s wrong”; as the Nonviolent Communication( NVC)  Mediators, we are holding the consciousness of “to make life wonderful.”
I asked for an example of a mediation we might do in our community. One of the Palestinian men from Idna district outside of Hebron( west Bank)  spoke- he had recently been called upon to mediate a dispute in his community between two businessmen. He first met privately with each party, and convinced each of them that they were wrong, and that, in the interest of the community, the way to resolve this was for them to apologize to each other and thus make peace.
He recounted that when the parties came together, they embraced and thus peace was made.
I was fascinated to hear this, and felt curiosity and tension in me, because  our speaker indicated that he felt satisfied with this model,  and also that he wanted to understand how Nonviolent Communication (NVC) -based mediation would work in this situation. (He is a participant in our Palestinian Train the Trainer group); and, our model is quite different, and I am committed to supporting the Palestinians in bringing what they learn from our trainings into their culture and society in the way they choose. So a complicated and exciting dilemma!
As a group we decided to role model this particular mediation using the traditional Palestinian model ( the one that he had used), and then using the NVC method. With the NVC method, the emphasis is on the mediator being an advocate for both parties’ Needs, for supporting the parties in hearing and valuing each others Needs, by having an experience of the commonality of them; and then working together to find new solutions that meet everyone’s needs. If there is a request for an apology, for example, we connect with the underlying needs- perhaps for respect, or understanding, or creating a shared vision and connection to each other and to what happened- rather than to make someone right and someone wrong.
As we proceeded with the role modeling, we witnessed in the role players ( a Palestinian man from Jordan,  an Israeli Jewish man  from the North of Israel and an Italian woman from an NGO in Switzerland), a shift from adversarial to understanding and partnership in sharing the goals of each. It was the magic that I have experienced over and over in NVC Mediation.

I felt excited and satisfied that everyone present seemed to touch new understanding of how NVC could work in more traditional societies, in this case Palestinian society, and how beneficial the tools can be.

After the NVC training, , I returned to a class on conflict, peacemaking ( Rodef shalom) and judaism that I am taking at a Jewish yeshiva ( school) in Jerusalem with Rabbi Daniel Roth. We studied some of the teachings from the ancient Jewish text called the Mishnah about how Aaron functioned as a peacemaker. One story told of Aaron going to each side of a conflict separately, convincing each that they were “wrong”, and then they all came together and embraced and thus made peace.
In the class, we discussed whether this was the model of “peacemaking” that we as, students of Rodef Shalom, the Jewish path of Peacemaking, wanted to follow. Most of us, including me, thought, no way. This is just kiss and make up! It doesn’t address the underlying needs of the parties, nor give solutions that will move things forward and prevent a reoccurrence of the same issue.
Using my NVC technology, I looked deeper at the traditional scenario presented in the Mishnah- it occurred to me that, not only was this the exact method used by Palestinian society in our workshop, it also was crafted to meet another layer of needs that are essential to incorporate into Palestinian, and perhaps Jewish (or Israeli) ( or every) society- the needs of the collective, of the community itself. In the traditional models, as the class discovered and discussed, the mediator is a trusted member of the community. In the West, the mediators tend to be “experts” from outside the community structure- therapists, mediators, negotiators, NVC trainers (!).  These “outside” mediators  ( there is NO disparagement here)  are generally not known and respected members of the community, thus not in a position to hold and advocate for the needs of the community, the family, the village, the society as a whole.
Aaron, and our Palestinian peacemaker, are key and influential members and holders of the tradition, of the coherence and continuity and health of ongoing traditions and societies. Their roles are different , and, in the cultural context, perhaps necessary for meeting important needs. This may be different ( or maybe for us to learn) as mediators  in New York or Paris or more Westernized sectors of the Mideast.

As we bring NVC-Mediation to the Mideast, our goal isn’t to replace the traditional models that may hold Needs of the community in a vastly different way from the West, where mediations and mediators are more focused on individuals in disputes, isolated from the rest of society.  Our challenge is to identify and embrace the Needs that the traditional methods and structures are developed to meet, and to support models of peacemaking that meet these needs, without imposing a domination structure, without addressing other needs that are arising in our modern world.
This has opened up a new exploration of how the traditional Mideast mediator can both hold and  advocate for the Needs of the parties as well as for the integrity of the  society; not the domination structures of the society; not the domination consciousness of right/wrong, fault, punishment/reward; rather, the Needs of the society for stability, inclusion, nourishing all its members to thrive and participate in communal life.
This insight is important to me as we continue to explore in our training programs how to bring a Western model (NVC) to traditional Mideast cultures. Learning from our Palestinian NVC partners and Jewish Rabbis are opening doors  to  deeper exploration of this work and to the richness of integrating Nonviolent Communication into Palestinian and Israeli  society.

About the Author
Roberta Wall offers trainings inspired by Dr. Marshall Rosenberg, founder of Nonviolent Communication and by the teachings of Mindfulness. She is a lawyer, mediator, trainer, parent, activist, mindfulness practitioner and coach. She shares her time between Israel and the beautiful Hudson River Valley of Upstate New York and travels the world coaching couples, individuals and organizations and facilitating workshops and retreats inspired by Nonviolent (Compassionate) Communication (NVC) as developed by Dr. Marshall Rosenberg and Buddhist teachers Thich Nhat Hanh and the Dalai Lama, and teachers and rabbis from her root Jewish tradition.