- Helen Keller
Assistant Professor of International Politics, Fletcher School of Law, Tufts University
Topics: refugees, establishment of personal relationships, facilitators
Interviewed by Julian Portilla — 2003
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Q: So, can you please give me a brief overview of your work?
A: Yes, I can. It focuses in several different directions, one is primarily facilitation work. Organizing, conducting, discussions, dialogues, between identity groups of various kinds and the place where I've done this the most is in the Middle East. Israeli/Palestinian, Jewish/Arab, etc. I'm actually also facilitating an Arab/Jewish dialogue here in the United States in the adjacent community. So that's where I've done this the most.
The other major trajectory is training and cross-group training in other words bringing together members of disparate groups and groups in conflict in the same room and conducting a training with all of them together. So I've done that in the South Caucasus, we just colleagues of mine and I just planned a training program in Kashmir which I was not able to attend but I was part of the planning and we're going to be continuing that discussion and a little bit in the Balkans doing that kind of training. And I said there were two themes but now there's actually a third which is the research component and that's more of a function of this academic appointment that I have at the Fletcher School and looking more from an evaluation perspective at things that are going on particularly in post-settlement societies. Countries that are coming out of violent civil wars and looking at what is going on in those countries to try and recreate community connection and inter-group relationships that make the country actually viable to govern and to work. So those are the three things. That's my work.
Q: OK. So what is going on in those countries where there are refuges that need to come back?
A: Well the project that I've been working on most recently is initially an evaluation project for the UN High Commissioner on Refugees and it was initiated by the previous high commissioner Mrs. Ogata At the very end of her tenure in that position, she was high commissioner for 10 years and in the last 2 years she was reflecting on two of the most difficult circumstances of her tenure assignment there which was returns to Bosnia and Rwanda. Part of the challenge was not only the numbers of people and the complexity of the return process this was you know people returning from many different external locations, under very adverse circumstances etc. etc. but also it strained the capacity of UNHCR because their before the Cold War most of their return enterprises were not necessarily to divided communities to countries where there were strong ethnic divisions. So even though there were legal challenges and logistical challenges there weren't so many of the inter-communal relations challenges.
What they found in working in Bosnia and Rwanda in particular, these were their most difficult cases, was that in addition to all of the other problems of getting people to come back and reintegrated into the society they were coming back to communities where they were really, really unwanted. Most of them were coming back to places where, in Bosnia, where before the war were places where they were a majority population and now post-war they are the minority so another group has literally taken over moved into their homes, and many of those people are also displacedm, traumatized, etc. and they're not about to simply give up everything and welcome the returning refugees with open arms. They're threatened, they're frightened, they're antagonistic. So there's been a lot of difficulty and in the places where people are returning in Bosnia to communities where their group is the majority, still, it's not been a problem, but if they're going back to places where they're the minority, it is.
And so what HCR and likewise in Rwanda. The Rwandan context is even more complicated because you have refugees from previous purges in Rwanda you have Tutsi refugees in Uganda, Tanzania, etc. from decades ago who in after the genocide began returning so you had about 800,000 people killed in Rwanda during the genocide. Most of them Tutsi, but some Hutu and you still have about 800,000 Tutsi in Rwanda because most of them are returning, but they've lived in exile for decades. They're not so necessarily welcomed again. They're welcomed by the government but they're not welcomed to the places where they're returning. They've been socialized and acclimated in other countries and are now coming back and there's a real difficulty in figuring out how to integrate them into an incredibly traumatized country because of the numbers of deaths in the genocide. So those are the circumstances under which HCR was interested in figuring out what should we be doing here. What kinds of programs should we be funding that would facilitate this reintegration process, which in effect is not in my opinion no just a technical process.
I mean being a conflict resolution person I'm not only interested in what laws should be put in place and what government institutions should be given power to do whatever, but I'm also interested in what it means for people to live in the same community after going through the events that they've just lived through and what that means. So we constructed and they wanted us to do this evaluation in these two extreme cases those were the countries they chose and they also chose the communities in which they wanted to do the evaluation, which were some of the most difficult.
Q: So straight to the hardest case.
A: Straight to the hardest case. And also in wonderful UN and UNHCR fashion they wanted us to do this in a year.
A: Which became completely impossible and I won't go into all the details of the project but they chose two communities in Bosnia that were very difficult one which was a Serb town before the war, during the war it became a Croatian town and now the Serbs are returning and it's also a seat of Croat nationalism. So it's not just sort of passive Croats who are sitting there as the Serbs are returning, it's very hostile Croats, many of whom themselves are displaced from somewhere else in Bosnia, so they really have no place else to go.
The other place in Bosnia is a place where there was a lot of Serb/Muslim antagonism during the war and it's right near where some of the concentration camps for Muslim men were set up. And now the Muslims are coming back and it's now a majority Serb area it's actually in Republic of Serbska so it's in this inter-entity sort of no-man's land it's in the Serb part and there's tremendous anxiety in the Muslims who are returning and terrible as you can imagine but a lot of commitment to come back and settle this area.
In Rwanda, the areas that they picked were the Northwest of the country, which is a Hutu stronghold, and is the area from which the president who died in the plane crash which was sort of the spark for the genocide, this is the area from which he originated and his tribe but it's also the place where once the Tutsi government took over after the genocide, there were incursions across the border this is on the border with DRC There were incursions of Hutu militia. So it's a place where the current government, although it's called a government of national reconciliation, and there are both Hutu and Tutsi, it's very much dominated by the Tutsi and so it's a place where the government does not pay a lot of attention because they consider them sort of their enemy. There's Hutu coming back to that area who were who left the country at the time of the genocide because of being fearful of their own lives after the government, after the RUF Forces came in.
And they there's within the Hutu community; there's lots of division because there's those that stayed in the country and those who left and those who left who are returning there's a suspicion on the part of those who stayed that they might be part of the genocide?? And all of this is very unspoken. It's not explicit at all and I don't claim to be a Rwanda expert this is only interpretation from people I know who are and who have given me a lot of insight. It's a very difficult country to understand because people are very very closed. They do not talk they're very hospitable and wonderful and they tell you almost nothing and it's not surprising.
Q: So there are inter-party problems to resettlement but also intra-party problems.
A: Absolutely, absolutely. So what we were trying to do in the same on the Tutsi side and etc. So the project was trying to set up a mechanism for evaluating what was working in these difficult divided communities to create relationships across the divide.
Q: What was working. So sort of an appreciative inquiry approach.
A: Well, we actually did not do appreciative inquiry. We did more because in our view, appreciative inquiry was an intervention in itself. My understanding of appreciative inquiry is that the process, by its very name creates a support for whatever it is that people are doing. We were trying to be a little bit more distanced from what we were observing and trying to understand what people were doing without saying, "Yes you're doing a great job," or "No you're not doing a great job."
So that seemed a little further than what we felt comfortable getting involved with. What we did instead was to set up a series of tracking processes that tried to identify how different kinds of interventions created ripples in the community and what those ripples were and not just in terms of relationships but in terms of reputation for the interveners, feelings of increasing comfort on the part of individuals engaging in these activities, the extent to which they felt comfortable getting colleagues, peers, family members involved in things they were doing and the viability of these things over time.
Unfortunately the evaluation project was so short lived most of the finding in terms of sustainability had to be very provisional because we just didn't have a two year we didn't even have a two year data point. I mean the projects as we were evaluating them were only about 6 months old, which is nothing in terms of relationships. So we could extrapolate from the information we gathered we did a lot of interviewing, we hired local interviewers, we trained those local interviewers because we wanted the interviews conducted in the local languages.
Q: People who understand maybe even the non-verbal stuff...
Q: The contextual problems.
A: Exactly, exactly. And there's, you know, both strengths and weaknesses of that approach. The strengths are exactly as you say, people who can pick up the nuance, they understand the body language, and they know what words mean in a level of subtlety that an outsider could just never get. And you would never catch if you forced people to speak English. On the other hand you have to be very careful in choosing those local people because there's also things that people will say to an outsider that they may not say to an insider.
So we had to try and figure out multiple ways of triangulating the same information. Local contacts, outside contacts, us, insiders, etc. And so that's how we did it. And I had I was the overall coordinator of the project. I had one person who was working primarily in Bosnia, one person primarily in Rwanda who was French speaking and then the set of local people who collaborated with us as well.
The way HCR works as well as most international organizations they have organizations they call implementing partners. They come in with the money and with the framework of the project, what it's supposed to look like and then they put out an RFP and people respond and they choose an organization to be their implementing arm. So HCR implements very little on it's own.
Q: So like USAID or any sort of granting institution.
A: Exactly and in Bosnia, the implementing partner was a local NGO a Bosnian NGO based in Bonyuluka??? Which is the Serbska part of Bosnia, with a lot of experience doing contracting work and a strong psychosocial background. They did a lot of work with traumatized children, with women's groups; with community sort of community health issues and some of the people on their staff are psychologists. And for the HCR office in Bosnia, they felt that was the best profile.
In Rwanda, they did something different because they didn't feel that the local NGO's had enough organizational capacity to be able to carry out this project in such a short space of time and they didn't have enough staff to bring those local organizations up to speed. So they chose to work with two international NGO's- Oxfam Great Britain and Norwegian people's aid. So we had a very interesting comparative study two countries five regions, three implementing partners two of whom were international, one was local so it was an incredible opportunity to grapple with too many variables.
Q: Perfect storm.
A: Exactly, exactly, exactly. Great metaphors. And we came up with I think some very good but preliminary findings and advice for HCR. Some of which they knew already but there organizational culture is such that putting them into practice is just so difficult.
Be: Exactly, exactly. But many of the things are things that as a conflict resolution professional were not surprising. The importance of choosing the implementing partners and making sure that the partners had the kinds of skills for not just logistical administration, but understanding what was really happening on the ground. A real sophisticated view of what's going on in their respective countries and that made enormous amounts of difference, enormous difference.
Goodwill is not enough. People really need to know what's going on and you have to really find people who know, number one. Number two, you've got to find people who are able to be creative. This is not something where there are standard operating procedures. We don't yet have a checklist of what works and what doesn't. So you have to have people who can think on their feet who really can be creative and but can evaluate as they go and are smart enough and self confident enough to make adjustments as they go along. The third thing is that the whole project has to be self-reflective. That you can't just do an up-front something or other and end output thing there has to be...
A: Not just benchmarks but there's a research methodology in political science called process tracing, in which you actually look at what happens over time but not in terms of. It's not benchmarks. It's not saying how does this activity time T1 relate to our goal. It's what's happening at T1 and how does in react to what's happening at T-1. So you're trying to see how things play out in certain over time following certain themes. The most important and challenging thing was figuring out what it was you wanted to be tracing over time.
What we discovered is that there were some things that you could choose to look at that you could evaluate in any context in which you were working. Whatever the project, tracing the way relationships developed within organizations across organizations between organizations and governments between leaders and followers. I mean these are the kinds of things you could predict, but there were other sorts of things that were very context specific and you could not necessarily always identify ahead of time what those might be really had to work with the local partners and with the organizations themselves to identify those almost as in process.
One of the weaknesses of the work that we did was insufficient resources to keep somebody on the ground during the whole evaluation. Our evaluation team had to keep going in and out and the local partners could be there all the time but expecting them to be completely self-reflective as they did every single thing is really asking a lot. This is not a mode of operating that is familiar. And although particularly the people from psychology in Bosnia, although they took to it very quickly and understood the benefit of it right away, both the time and the skill to do it were things they were building as the project went along. So the whole project was a set of self reflections.
Of us reflecting on what we were doing, of our local partners reflecting on what they were doing and then reflecting that back to us, of the projects themselves it was iterative as we went we learned a tremendous amount and all I can say is that in order to do this well in the future we have to do a lot more work up front of training work to get people a little more comfortable with what the methodology will be as the project unfolds. Is this making sense at all?
Q: Yeah, I just want to clarify which level of project you're talking about. The evaluation project or the reintegration project?
A: All of them. At all of those levels. At the level of the reintegration projects themselves, at the levels of the implementing partners who are overseeing those projects, and at the meta-level of the people who are evaluating both. There were strands going on at all three of those levels. I guess in terms of the reintegration itself again these are things that for many of us are not surprising but to begin to gather data on it is what is so important these are processes that have to take time. They can't be rushed. The fact that these international organizations go in with this extremely short turn around times because of donor pressure is an incredible shame because just as people on the ground are starting to get the hang of what it is that's going on, it's over. And it's heartbreaking because you can see, you can watch they just begin to get a glimmer of where they could be going and the funding is over. It's just heartbreaking. So I think that you know we of course know this but to begin to see how it actually works in practice and to begin to document it.
There's also some assumptions that are being made from donors about what kinds of projects work in these circumstances and one of the assumptions is that if you give people money to create income-generating businesses and you force them to bring everyone from party A and party B into these businesses and work together, they will form these fast friendships because everyone wants to be employed, so it gives them a common goal a common whatever and in the context of this everything will be OK. Not so. I mean we just saw that in the projects that we looked that it was not the case. People tolerated each other. Did they form friendships? Certainly not in six months the businesses were not viable they weren't given training on how to run a business. So there were a lot of assumptions made about how you go about this co-existence work that in practice turned out not to be so effective. And HCR was sort of open to getting this feedback but sort of not.
Q: So what does work? Did you see things that worked? Or was anybody doing the right thing?
A: Well what we saw that seemed to be the most effective again this is not surprising, were organizations that understood the complexity of relationship building. Whether they were creating jobs, putting together basketball teams, putting together community cooperatives to grow strawberries whatever the content of the project it was the sensitivity on the part of the implementing organization to how difficult it was going to be for people to work together and to provide some kind of interpersonal and intergroup sort of sensitivity training almost to help them overcome those barriers.
They didn't call it that of course but they themselves had the training, the background, and the knowledge to understand when things were being difficult, to see what was difficult and to intervene at that point either at a personal level between two people, or at an intergroup level they knew what to do. They could either create a discussion forum if they thought that would help. They could some sort of interpersonal mediation, but in a very particular way that raised the sensitivity of the people involved but in other words they understood these activities were taking place in a particular kind of social psychological context and they knew how to work knowledgably in that context that's what made a difference so that the content of the contact was almost secondary to the process that was used in that contact if that makes sense and there are some organizations both local and international that are just masterful at this.
Q: The content may have been secondary to relationship building but I imagine that just for attracting an audience it was primary right.
A: Well that's a very good point they obviously had to find activities that drew people, of course. The income generating activities do that. There's no question about it. In both of these countries and in many post settlement countries. The economics are in the pits and there's very little external money that's coming in because the environment is unstable and you don't have the kind of international investment that you should have.
This is especially true of Bosnia. And people are desperate. They're really living on what's the equivalent of international welfare where you know the international aid organizations are still providing the bulk of the food and other things that medical care that people need because other things simply aren't functioning. So yes the content is critical, the social contacts between women between children are also critical.
I mean kids want activities that bring them in contact with other kids. This is where the basketball and other sports kinds of things come in. And one group put together a rock band with both Croats and Serbs and it was just so heart warming they're you know late teens and this is a town that's terribly depressed both economically and psychologically and they said you know we just want to make people smile, we want to give them a lift and so they put this wonderful band together and they play everywhere. People come, and they listen, and they dance. This is not just for the youth this is for the community at large. And so it's really looking for what will the community respond to. Both income generating and non. That will yeah that will entice them to work together.
Q: So it sounds like a bit of a complimentary cycle then. I mean there needs to be some kind of content or substantive hook to bring people in but even that's not going to last if there's not some sort of deeper more subtle relationship conflict addressing mechanism.
A: That's right, that's right, that's right. Absolutely. And the people, the organizations that were able to provide both were doing tremendous work. Tremendous work.
Q: So the rock band and any other specific examples of things that were working in that way that were using both elements, the substantive and the relational?
A: There weren't too many. The ones that were notable were mostly projects geared toward young people and a couple of projects geared to women. The income generating projects were just simply not getting the kind of support they needed. There was really this sort of mindset that giving people a job would be enough and it just wasn't. And in every circumstance it wasn't. The youth projects were as I said the sports projects, basketball, a girl's soccer league, which was incredibly successful, wonderful. And let's see I'm trying to remember what some of the other ones were.
One of the wonderful projects in Rwanda was a women's project between Hutu and Tutsi women and the women themselves actually launched the project with the help of a local priest, against a lot of both spoken and unspoken resentment in their respective communities. Not only because it was a mixed project but because it was women this is a very patriarchal culture and the women were very much going against a lot of the norms of their villages as well as of the country. But incredible women, just amazing and very clear what it was that they wanted to do and they've now formed a network this is in southwestern Rwanda they've now formed a network of something like 4,800 women scattered around many villages and towns.
Not all of whom have contact with each other all the time but are part of sort of this larger web and they're amazing. They're really really amazing and that was largely their own initiative they get a lot of sustenance not so much psychosocial, but spiritual. They're very much it's very much a religious sort of prayer group as well as an organization for social support.
Q: That's interesting. Now what about the notion of scale up or re-entry or moving from communal transformation or personal transformation to something societal and if you want we can pause if you want to munch on that.
A: Yeah, let's pause for just a second.
Q: OK. You're on.
A: OK, the scale up issue the scaling up issue is as you know incredibly challenging in the context of this HCR project, there was only one organization that was dealing with it explicitly and this was Oxfam Great Britain. Their project in Rwanda is stunning. And in and of itself is a case study that needs to be written. Oxfam at some previous point before we got there in 2001, they had already decided that their poverty reduction programs in Rwanda were not working. And to their credit, and I don't know whose decision this was if this was the country director or the regional director, they literally stopped what they were doing for about six months which is quite amazing or dramatic to do an assessment.
Why was what they were doing not effective and what was really at the heart of the poverty issue in Rwanda and what they came to was an understanding of the power dynamics within the country such that for reasons both political and historical people do not feel confident and able to handle anything on their own. It's a sort of a learned passivity. And it's not just post-genocide and it's not even post-colonial. It actually is even further back in Rwandan history and culture and what Oxfam decided is that they needed to be working to create more confidence, skill, and I guess incentive for people to begin to learn to make decisions at the local level to not expect or look for people higher in the hierarchy authority figures to do it all for them.
Q: Sort of ???anti-patron-client breaking mold.
A: Exactly. Exactly. And the way they decided to do this was two-fold. One was to piggy back onto a decision by the Rwandan government to institute a decentralization structure. Now, cynics would say and maybe not even cynics maybe realists would say that the real reason that the Rwandan government was doing this, was to get their people installed at every level from the cellule which was the village all the way up so that this devolution of power looked like it was a giving away of responsibility but what it was what it might actually become was a way for the government to exercise control all the way down to the level of the household basically. However, Oxfam decided to take it at it's to assume that it had constructive, positive goals and to use this decentralization structure to provide training and support for projects at the very smallest level of this devolution, which was the cellule.
The cellule is a collection of households making up usually a very small village. So they decided to work at the very smallest unit, but they also decided number one but number two was the skills that they wanted people to get at that very smallest level were not only decision making skills, but conflict management skills. The idea was and this is what we all believe of course, if people could learn to manage the daily conflicts, that it would give them confidence to manage conflicts at higher and higher levels. So those were the two foundations of their work.
They began a process of training at this grass-roots level. People nominated by their communities to come to these training programs which did a remarkable thing it first of all got the skills out but secondly it invested people with authority in these communities that the community people trusted. So they would send people who they felt would well represent their community to these training programs and then when these folks came back with these conflict management skills-negotiation, mediation-people listened to them and they became local authorities on these topics and people started going to them for these disputes. Family disputes, community disputes, husbands against wives, you know before they used to go to the mayors. And people in the authority positions and now they would go to these community people who had been trained so that was the first contribution but I'm getting to the scaling up.
They also realized that in order for this to work they needed to be training people at the very most local level but all the way up the hierarchy to the national level so that there would be support for this empowerment process all the way up to the I've forgotten now what the different rings of the Rwandan social structure are, there's the cellule and there's the prefect and there's the province and whatever. And they did these trainings at all levels. They did them separately.
Initially, they tried to bring everyone together but the people who were the officials of the provincial level were not so happy about coming to the trainings at the grassroots level with the people who didn't wear shoes. So they realized the trainings had to be hierarchical but they were giving the same skills at all levels. And they were informing the people at the higher levels what kind of work they were doing at the grassroots.
So their goal throughout was to make this process completely transparent and to get the people at the higher levels to see the benefit of creating skill and empowerment further down in the hierarchy. It worked incredibly well, incredibly well. And the most important things I think that it did were at the grassroots level it got people involved. What they did is they gave each of these cellules an amount of money. I don't know how much, a small amount, I don't know $5,000. Very little, but in Rwandan terms, significant.
But the only way they would get the money would be if there was a community decision on how to spend it. It couldn't just be the leadership, it had to be the whole community. And it had to be beneficial to the whole community it couldn't just all go to one person and so what it did was it energized a community decision making process and the people who were trained, the newly trained people in negotiation and mediation, became the facilitators of those community decision making processes. Not by imposition, but simply because they now understood what had to happen in order for a discussion and a consensus to be built. And they stepped forward and said, "You know I can help you do this." And since the community had sent them to the training and felt invested in their new knowledge they said, "Oh yeah, of course."
So they took over and facilitated these meetings. And they at one point would look around and say, "You know there's none of the women in the community at this meeting and I think probably at the next meeting they should come." And the next meeting the women came. And they'd look at in communities where there was this third group, the Twa, and say, "You know, they're not here. Twa not here, need to be here. They're part of this." And the next meeting, Twa were at the meeting and it was quite an incredible thing. This just never happened before, not happened.
Q: And this all related to the reconciliation and the re-entry of refugees? I mean this is all with that in mind?
A: Well, what this was doing from Oxfam's point of view and this was a little bit of a point of tension between Oxfam and HCR, because HCR kept saying, "What does this have to do with refugees?" And Oxfam kept saying it has to do with everything. Because if these communities can't function, then whatever the issue is that's on the table whether it's refugee return, economic development, healthcare, education, they're hopeless, they're lost.
They're completely at the mercy of manipulative leaders, and they will just passively sit here and wait until somebody does something for them. And what we're trying to do is give them a set of skills and a set of perspectives on their ability to affect the quality of their own lives that will help them no matter what the issue. And they commissioned an independent evaluation, which is quite wonderful and it's on-line and you can get a hold of it, where they looked at whether the processes that they put in place were actually helping at the local level and also to what extent they were creating any consciousness up the chain. It's a very long process, the scaling up. It's very very long as it is to do it at the interpersonal and inter-group level, it's even more time consuming and it's even a more protracted process if you're trying to start at the bottom and have it move up.
What they were trying to do was at least create the consciousness, the awareness and the acceptance at the higher levels of what they were doing and what positive benefit it would be. So that the people at the higher levels, at least, would not be getting in the way and would not be undermining what they were trying to do. Their hope is over time to be able to move these skills and this consciousness up in the community from the grassroots, progressively up. And they've gone back to their headquarters in England to continue to get financial support to do the work in that way. They have a long-term plan, but they see it as a 10-year process.
Q: So to say, "No, no, we want to deal with the refugee problem," is to ignore the fact that you're dealing in a complex system and the inability to absorb refugees is probably just a symptom of the deeper problems when you're dealing with conflict and dealing with difference.
A: Yes. Exactly. Exactly. The advantage in Rwanda that you don't have in Bosnia, I mean there are advantages and disadvantages in both places. In Rwanda, you have the advantage that the government has initiated this decentralization process, so there's attention being paid to developing leadership at the most grassroots level and they're piggybacking on this. And number two, you have very small communities so it's possible to go into a relatively confined group and have a pretty significant impact.
You don't have either of those in Bosnia. You don't have a good decentralization process going on. There's still a lot of mayors in Bosnia who are really nationalistic. And they haven't really been able to pay attention to reform at all levels. And B, the units are not consistently small. I mean you've got Sarajevo and Banja Luka, large cities as well as very small villages. I don't think the Oxfam organization in Bosnia is doing the same work as the one in Rwanda, the Rwanda one is really kind of a pilot for the whole Oxfam Great Britain organization and they haven't really replicated it other places.
Q: OK. Should we talk about the dialogues?
Q: OK, talk about the dialogues and how they feed into your present work.
Q: What happened, let's see you started a dialogue between women in the Middle East. Why?
A: Because the it grew out of a long series of workshops conducted by professor Herb Kelman, with whom I was working at the time, over many years between Israelis and Palestinians, using his social psychological process of focusing on needs and fears, which is the interactive problem solving model coming out of John Burton, which you probably know by heart from ICAR. The observation for many years of conducting those workshops was that in those workshops they were usually mixed workshops i.e. men and women. Although much fewer women than men. Usually in a group of 10 people there would be two or three women, and the rest men. But a consistent observation that it was often, not always, but often the women participants who would shift the tone of the conversation by using a personal story, or being able to reflect in a personal way and or to express empathy that began to change the tone of the conversation of the whole group.
So the question was, if you brought only women together would you see more of this behavior? In other words, would the group actually make more progress on this empathy building, relationship building, working through stereotypes, etc., which is the purpose of these interactive problem-solving sessions. And that was the purpose of the workshop was to identify, this was in 1992 that we did this, to identify women political leaders from the Israeli and Palestinian communities. These were not lower level. These were high-level people. Some of whom were members of parliament all of whom were politically active and acknowledged as politically powerful in their communities and by their communities.
So that was number one and the other thing we were wanting to do because of evaluation purposes, was to build into the process an agreement on the part of the women that within a year of the workshop itself we would go back to each of them individually and interview them about the impact of the workshop on their subsequent personal and political activity.
Q: So it was right up front. To participate, they knew they were going to be asked a year from now, what do think now?
A: Right exactly. And can you trace again the impact of this workshop on your subsequent thinking, feeling, activity, interaction with the "other," bla bla. We also constructed the third party to be all women. Because again we wanted to see if having the energy in the room be primarily feminine energy, if this would make a difference in terms of the content of the discussion and the tone of the discussion. What we found in the workshop itself, and Tamara and I have written this up in a couple of places, the political psychology journal for one, was that the disagreements among the women were no less acrimonious, they were no less deep. It wasn't as if people checked their identities at the door and just said well we're all women let's embrace and you know create peace. They still felt very strongly about the needs of their respective communities and the realities that their respective communities had to face.
However, there were two major differences. One was their interest and ability in combining the personal and the political. There was no difference for them. Discussing their personal experiences was part of understanding the political dynamics. It wasn't separate for them. The second was, they were very concerned about creating space for each other. Meaning, allowing people to speak. Even if they violently disagreed with what people were saying, they respected each other's points of view to the point where they wouldn't allow people to interrupt each other. They did it themselves, we didn't have to do this. They really wanted everyone to have a chance to express themselves fully. Very different from mixed groups or all-male groups in which it's very common for people to interrupt, shut each other up, say I don't want to hear that, etc. The quality of the interaction was very different, even though the beliefs that were held and the concerns that were held were just as antithetical as they would be in any group. So that's what we found there.
In the follow-up when we did just the interviews, I guess it was less than a year, it was six or eight months after the meeting. A couple of things, again not consistent. One was, for women for whom this was their first or early dialogue, people who hadn't been engaged in a lot of Israeli-Palestinian connection. I know it's hard to believe that there's anyone left in Israel or Palestine who hasn't been a participant in these meetings, but in fact there are a lot. For those for whom this was a first session, it was a tremendous eye opener, it was like a life-changing experience to be able to sit down in a civil way and actually engage with these really difficult political and personal issues was just wonderful and they loved it. For the women for whom this was not their first dialogue, who had been doing this for years, it was more frustrating because they wished they could make more progress. They had this assumption let's just get on with it now. We don't need to be back here trying to understand each other, we understand each other, let's get to solving the problem.
Q: We learned that last year.
A: Exactly. So they were more impatient. But what they also said was that there's tremendous benefit in repeated contact because it's not just in one encounter that your relationship and your perspective on the "other" changes. I mean this makes sense, it's with repeated contact where you can watch what happens in between. You can hear what people say, you can see how they present themselves. This is what you would do in any relationship, right? You meet somebody for the first time they come off in a particular way and you think Oh, OK.
And then there's a space and the next time you meet them and they're either the same or they're slightly different and you see a different aspect of them and in the meantime there may have been some contact at a distance and you're trying to make sense of what's true about this person. How authentic are they? Do they say what they really mean? Do they act in accordance with what they say? It's only with repeated contact with people over time, that you can actually begin to make a judgment about that. And the women who were in these repeated dialogues, felt it was incredibly important to have that ongoing contact because they could actually begin to see who they could trust and who they couldn't. Who was being honest and who wasn't. And otherwise it was too hit or miss. You know you're really creating the context for a relationship to be established and relationships are simply not established in one meeting. I mean, they are, but it's only superficial. There's no ability for it to go deep and it's only by the repeated contact that that can happen. So that's what the women told us.
And it wasn't even just repeated contact that we would orchestrate. It was repeated contact through multiple organizational connections, you know. Because there is a group in the Middle East, in the Israeli-Palestinian context who get repeatedly invited to participate in these things and those people get contact over and over and over again. And then they wind up on panels and they end up establishing personal relationships that are much different from the ones that they establish more superficially. So that was our experience there.
Q: And this is just I mean dialogue for understanding, dialogue for brainstorming? I mean this isn't exactly a problem solving workshop where you come up with solutions?
A: It was a problem solving workshop.
Q: It was?
A: It was. Yes, yes, yes. It was a problem solving workshop coming out of the Burton-Kelman tradition. Where you begin with the needs and fears, but you move from that to a discussion of shapes of solutions. And as I said the women for whom this was an initial dialogue were much more interested in staying with the discussion of the needs and fears. The women for whom this was a more advanced process, were really interested in getting to the solutions. You know, we know the needs and fears already, let's just talk about what we do about them. And it was very interesting, because what we realized is that there's advantages to having these workshops with groups who are at different stages of understanding, i.e. the people who are sort of farther along can help the people for whom this is new or just a little scary or frightening.
On the other hand, they're also impatient, the more experienced ones. They don't remember what it was like to come to the first one and they didn't understand what the other side was saying, and it was very emotional, and they felt a little vulnerable, and all those things that happen when you first make contact with the enemy. And they were so far beyond that, that they wanted to rush it for the people for whom they were still in that sort of initial place, if this is making sense.
So one of the things that came out of this workshop was a sense that it may be more beneficial to bring together people who are more at the same place in terms of their psychological development vis-a-vis their relationship to the other community because they're all more in the position to make the same kind of moves at the same time, rather than to bring together people who are at different places along that continuum.
Q: So, let's call that a pilot project then and zoom forward to a more sustainable form of that initial project, which might be considered some kind of scale-up or...
A: Well, it's actually a sort of horizontal move. In the very both wonderful and troubled years after '92, I mean Oslo came after '92. Oslo came in '93. So that of course changed the whole context of the relationship and there were huge numbers of things that were going on, workshops, problem solving of all different kinds.
And we didn't go back to the all-women format, but continued to do the mixed groups and I was still working with Kelman, the project that was set up at Harvard, PCAR where I was the first deputy director, worked with Kelman and our colleagues for two years, did a whole series of Israeli-Palestinian meetings and there was a lot of hope that we were really making headway and the next big hurdle was going to be the final status issues. Refugee return, right of return, Jerusalem, settlements. The things on which the conflict continues to founder.
Q: Boulders in the road.
A: The boulders in the road. So, we had working groups on those issues and there was progress being made, slow, but progress. Then of course you had Camp David II, the nosedive in the negotiations, the visit to the mosque, which everyone says didn't create the intifada but it certainly was a catalyst in my book. And then, of course, the second intifada. And huge, enormous discouragement, just unbelievable drop in both the Israeli and the Palestinian communities in terms of hope. And people who had been working for peace for years just giving up, just saying can't do it anymore, obviously it's not possible, you know. Slowly but surely that community coming out of it's tremendous depression and beginning to take some steps.
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 which 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 open ended questions that elicits 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. And you probably know about his work with children of Holocaust survivors and children of Nazi perpetrators, incredibly powerful stuff.
Q: South Africans and Northern Irish folk.
A: So you've read his work. Yes, exactly.
Q: Well actually, I talked to Julie Chayden??? And she told me all about it.
A: Ah yes. Yes. So they've now called this process "to reflect and trust," TRT. So we introduced the TRT process.
Q: All three? I don't understand. At the same time?
A: I know. Here's how we did it. We said, as insider facilitators, you have to be able to manage the emotion in the room. In an empathic way. And in order to do that, you have to begin to understand what's going to trigger you. Because it had already happened with us, that people who we had facilitating a session would suddenly get dragged right into the conversation because it was about stuff they really cared about and they are of the community they're not separate from it. So we said you have to begin to understand what your trigger points are. What are the things that for you, create an emotional response. And also in doing that, understand what it's like for other people to get triggered so you can be empathic in those moments and don't just jump on them and tell them to shut-up. Because that really isn't going to be helpful.
The way you're going to learn how to do that, is by getting to the heart of the matter and here's what we're going to do. We're going to use this TRT process, which we explained. And you're going to facilitate each other telling your personal stories. We're going to ask you to be in groups of two or three, I can't remember how many, I guess it was three or four people, two Arabs, two Jews. We're going to do this over the course of two days. There will be a different set of facilitators each half day. It will be your responsibility to determine the ground rules under which the storytelling, the narratives happen and to manage the dynamics in the room as people tell their stories. It was so incredible. This process. We were literally making this up as we went along.
But we were so clear that people needed this a key thing, for all of us. When you're working with incredibly volatile conflict, that has a depth and an emotional valence, you have to go into yourself, you've got to be clear yourself how you feel. How this volatile, what this volatility might bring up in you. If it frightens you, if it angers you. If it kicks off something in you that you feel you're not going to be able to handle because you need to able to sit with people, which means that we as facilitators and mediators have to work on ourselves as much as we need to work on our mediation and facilitation skills.
That is part of what we have to do is know ourselves extremely well. It's very hard. Very, very hard. And there's not a lot of explicit work on that as you prepare to do this professional work. There really isn't, it's sort of hit or miss. Well we were very convinced particularly with insider facilitators that this was key. You can't go in there unconscious and think that by simply knowing how to do consensus building and you know generating an agenda, you're going to be able to manage a really volatile conversation between people who are frightened and angry and hurt and all the other things that people bring into the room in these protracted conflicts. You have to feel it yourself.
Q: So the TRT part was to prepare the facilitators to learn how to do the first and second part of the training, which was the consensus building and the problem solving.
A: Yes, exactly. Exactly. Exactly. Exactly. And, in the context of doing the TRT, they had to practice their communication skills. They had to be able to sit there and listen and it was very hard for them, very hard for them. The first step in the TRT process is to only ask questions of clarification. How hard is that? It was really hard. Because what people wanted to say, and there was one for example, one Palestinian person, an Arab person who spoke about, because we had people from the Israeli Arab community who were not only Arab Muslims, they were Arab Christian and Arab Druze, which is yet another section, subgroup of the Arab population.
And the Druze, when the state of Israel was established, the Druze elected to swear allegiance to the new government. Whereas the Arab Christians and the Arab Muslims did not. Therefore the Druze serve in the Israeli military and the other Arabs do not. So you can imagine what the relationship is between the Arab Muslims, Christians and the Druze. The Druze are considered sort of traitors in a way even though they are Muslim, it's a certain sect of Muslim. There's also a very difficult relationship between the Palestinian Christians and the Palestinian Arabs, which we began to see in this group.
Someone in the Arab community was telling his story what we asked people to do was talk about their families going two generations back and the impact of their family history on their experience of the Arab-Jewish conflict. And one person was doing this and so someone said I have a question of clarification and the question was something like, "But don't you think that, in fact, what happened was du du du du du du?" And the people who were facilitating said that doesn't seem like a question.