HMG in Israel

I paid a visit to Israel last week and had the pleasure of not only meeting local court and community mediators, but also Nobel Peace Pize recipient Mr. Shimon Peres  (9th President of the State of Israel). I was first hosted warmly by our overseas affiliate David and Yael of Goshrim, a private mediation company (lower picture from left: Yael, David, Gali, Orat). IMG_3262 Orat is an appointed "Mahut mediator" - court referred highly skilled mediators who are have been able to make mediation a full-time profession. See articles on Mahut mediators here and here. We shared with each other our experiences and compared mediation culture, practices and business models between Singapore, Israel and other countries. It was interesting to note that despite geographical distances and business cultures / practices, the private mediation community shared many similarities and challenges. These include educating the public about choosing to resolve disputes amicably first, and the development of mediation as a recognised profession. David summarised the discussion succinctly, "It is our common vision, for the betterment of society, that mediation will become mainstream. And the 'alternative' in ADR (alternative dispute resolution) will eventually be litigation."  We then paid a visit to the city of Lod, one of the most diverse neighbourhoods in Israel. At the Lod Community Mediation Centre, I met a team of passionate community mediators who impressed me with their commitment to peacemaking (From right: Noah and Oshrit). The signage for opening hours at the centre are written in Hebrew, Arabic, Ethiopian and Russian, reflecting the ethnicity in the city of about 75,000 residents (see picture below). Noah the Manager, had this to say: “Here, at the Lod Community Mediation Center (CMC), we focus more on consensus building than arriving at settlement agreements. In such a diverse community where people are so poor and live so closely together, there are so many things that can spark off conflicts.

I teach my students NOT to provide them with solutions but to teach them the skills and competencies from the mediator’s toolbox, to speak the mediator’s language. They need to learn how to ask about each other’s culture, religion and interests, and learn to put themselves in each other’s position. They have to come up with their own solutions, because there will be many disagreements, they have to mediate amongst themselves.

For example last year, the most holy day for the Jews and Muslims not only fall on the same day, but 2 years running. The Jews commemorate this holy day by fasting and meditating quietly. People don’t even drive, not talk much, everything comes to a standstill. For the Muslims, their holy day is a day of rejoicing in song and dance, as much noise as possible! How do they co-exist harmoniously? We keep reminding people that each side is just keeping to their own religions and customs; they’re not trying to offend the other side. With the help of police, there were no major incidences last year. We’re hoping for peace again this year"

IMG_3265When I expressed the desire to meet with an Arab member of the community, David immediately rang up another former student of his, an Arab community mediator and manager at the local community centre. There, I had the opportunity to meet with Eyal one of the producers of the documentary "Lod - between hope and despair" (now into its second season), and Fatten who is an active mediator between the Jews and Arabs in the city. It was clear in the short discussion, how these community mediators navigate complex racial and religious issues with skill, sensitivity and much patience.   IMG_3173 Israel is no stranger to a wide range of complex conflicts. Another Israeli friend arranged for me to sit in a short meeting with  one of Israel's 2 Nobel Peace Prize Winners, Mr. Shimon Peres, who was Minister of Foreign Affairs during the historic signing of the Oslo Accords in 1995. We met at his office at the Peres Peace House in Jaffa, where Mr. Peres kindly shared his optimism amidst the reality of international politics: “Right wing politics… left wing politics… you need both wings to fly! After much effort, we were able to make peace with the Egyptians and the Jordanians. There is no reason why we cannot make peace with the Palestinians. But there is much work to do. And it must start from the ground.” IMG_3168 It was my honour to meet Mr. Peres and I took advantage of the rare opportunity to present him a copy of the "Mediation in Singapore - A Practical Guide". While our footsteps are small in the shadow of so many peacemakers around the world, HMG hopes to contribute in whatever manner possible in Singapore and beyond.

Linda Heng

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