Constructive Communication in Times of Conflict

This past May Israel went through a very difficult period, with violent riots in Israel’s mixed cities and throughout the country. Merchavim developed a unique workshop for educators and has already led over 20 workshops with over 400 participants.

The severity of the violence that seized Israel in May caught many of us, Jews and Arabs, unprepared. The silent majority of the country’s peace-loving citizens felt helplessness, anger and frustration. Many were unable to give voice to their feelings, in discussions in the workplace and homes, and moreover in the media and social media, which often were not characterized by listening but rather mutual shouting.

The Merchavim team, together with the Israeli Ministry of Education, developed a unique format for a workshop for school principals, teachers, students, professors and government employees.  The workshop is three hours long and has already been presented to over 400 participants in over 20 meetings.

We asked Merchavim’s instructors how they recommend to enable constructive discussion in such a stressful time, when every subject can be explosive. “An important rule is that we don’t have to agree on everything, but we should be able to talk about everything,” says Libby Levin, who instructed the workshop for government and municipality employees. “One of the objectives is to develop the ability to hear different narratives, and take on a more complex, less simplistic approach.”

The foundation of the workshops is the multiplicity of identities in each person, beyond just “Jewish” or “Arab”, but also musician, cook, teacher, chess player, parent… In tense situations between groups like this past May in Israel, the conversation doesn’t go in this direction and it’s important to bring human complexity back center stage.

Esti Gross, the Merchavim instructor who presented to teacher instructors at the teaching academy Kaye College, most of whom live in Be’er Sheva and in the Bedouin towns in the south of Israel, faced significant challenges. “The workshop occurred in the very same days when there was violence in the area. There were instances of Bedouins throwing stones at drivers from Be’er Sheva and some of the participants were personally caught up in the violence. There was a very tense, passionate discussion in the group,” explains Gross.

What began as a tense exchange progressed during the workshop into a respectful discussion, where the group was able to digest different opinions, Gross explained. “The change came when the participants started talking about the professional angle – everyone there is involved in teaching instruction. Here too, there’s a strong connection to what we call the ‘multiplicity of identities’ – when we move from the place of Jew/Arab, we are able to improve the quality of the discussion.”

“The crisis situation in May demanded from the entire Merchavim team to make an extra effort,” summarizes Yael Keren Raba, Head of Educational Programs at Merchavim. “Our workshops went from a tool for developing constructive discussions in an ongoing way to a solution to a critical current problem in many groups in Israeli society. This time clarified for all of us the importance of developing constructive discussion as a central tool that Israeli society can use to take advantage of this crisis to get to a better place, more understanding and acceptance between different groups in Israeli society.”


For more information on workshops for teachers visit our Teacher Training Program page.

For more information on workshops for organizations visit our Diversity & Inclusion Training for Organizations page.