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Parents Circle- Families Forum (PCFF) The Israeli Palestinian Narratives Project: "History through the Human Eye" Final Evaluation Report

05/11/2012
Dr. Maya Kahanoff and Mr. Nabil Shibli


Executive Summary
This report is a summary evaluation of the Israeli-Palestinian Narrative Project, initiated and carried out by the Parents Circle - Families Forum (PCFF). The evaluation was conducted by Israeli and Palestinian researchers who accompanied the project throughout its course. The objective of "History Through the Human Eye" was to promote reconciliation through acquaintance with and a more profound knowledge of each other's historic, national and personal narrative. The program incorporated lectures on the national-historic narrative of both sides to the conflict; field trips to sites of collective memory and pain of both groups; facilitated dialogue and sharing of personal stories of participants. It consisted of 4 meetings\ workshops, which were conducted in most of the groups in the form of a weekend workshop, in addition to several meetings before and after, in order to establish relationships, build trust and promote in-depth work. Discussions were facilitated by an Israeli-Palestinian team of facilitators from the PCFF.
The PCFF managed to assemble 11 groups (one of which was terminated due to difficulties within the group) consisting of a wide variety of participants - wide age range; different political/ideological views; different levels of acquaintance and exposure to the other; and different education levels (grandmothers, students/ Messengers of Reconciliation, activists from Combatants for Peace and One Voice, Wounded Crossing Borders, mental health specialists, educators, artists, and one diverse group that PCFF produced a documentary on).
While some groups constituted organic units of active organizations, others were established ad hoc so as to expose people to an unfamiliar topic, thereby expanding the impact. Overall, 314 Palestinians and Israelis took part in the program and were exposed to the other's narrative between October 2010 and June 2012.

Based on our observations we can say that significant group processes evolved within the working groups. Most groups demonstrated a process of developing mutual acquaintance and discussion, based on accumulated knowledge and thinking that is more complex. The ability and willingness to hear and be heard was developed, as was the ability to conduct debates on difficult issues while respecting contradictory opinions.

Participants' feedback demonstrates that the narratives program is very valuable and challenging and is also capable of effecting changes in their mutual perceptions. In addition, the program is empowering and increases participants' belief in the possibility of dialogue and reconciliation; furthermore, it motivates participants to seek active involvement in peace-building efforts in various ways.

Most participants reported that the program was a significant powerful experience. Many described the meetings as a meaningful and powerful emotional experience. Noting the opportunity to meet new people, Palestinian participants expressed their appreciation for the opportunity to talk freely and directly to people from the other side, to state their views and attain comprehension and understanding. Many of them emphasized the opportunity to meet as human beings, to experience their own humanity and to tell their story. Many Israeli participants indicated the value of conducting a dialogue in the midst of conflict, dealing genuinely with issues, and the importance of sharing points of difficulty, which, in their opinion, contributed greatly to the group.

PCFF facilitators received much appreciation, respect and cooperation from the participants. By investing concerted efforts in promoting peace and reconciliation between the two nations in a protracted conflict, the facilitators - it could be said - served as role models of sorts for people engaged in similar efforts who seek hope and reinforcement.

The (initial) impact of the program was measured on a scale of 5 pre-defined indicators, as reported by participants in questionnaires distributed after the end of program:

71% of all participants reported that participation in the program improved their level of trust and empathy for the other side.
In this regard, many participants indicated the good experience they had and the hope that it gave them.Some participants indicated the healing effect of the meeting; others noted seeing the human side of the other and realizing the similarity/common ground between the two peoples. Many mentioned the importance of seeing the other's face, transcending the enemy/soldier's face.

68% of the participants reported that their participation in the program increased their levels of knowledge and acknowledgment of the other narrative.
In this regard, most Israeli participants indicated that the program significantly broadened their knowledge about the conflict, acquainted them with the other's point of view and deepened their understanding of the other's narrative and daily life. Palestinian participants indicated that they studied both narratives and the way of thinking on the other side,

The program increased support for peace among 78% of the participants, according to their report and intensified belief in the possibility of reconciliation among 77% of the participants.
In this regard, many participants report a change in their image of the other - from an opponent to a peace-seeker - having discovered that "there are people on the other side who want peace". Several participants expressed a sense of empowerment following the meetings - strengthened hope and belief in the possibility of change.

The program increased the willingness to be more active in activities supporting peace building among 80% of the participants.

Our finding suggested that the program has varying impacts on the different groups of participants. The most obvious difference was found between Palestinian and Israeli participants. While Israelis report a greater positive impact than Palestinians in the areas of knowledge and willingness to grant legitimacy to the other's narrative, Palestinians report a greater impact on the emotional level in the sense that it increased trust and empathy towards the other and belief in the possibility of peace and reconciliation. We discuss these differences and propose several interpretations. Finally, we discuss challenges encountered in the program, such as the unsettling experience of encountering the other's/ opponent's narrative and having to part with familiar beliefs and demonizing images, and the tension of symmetry between narratives in asymmetric conflicts. We end with six recommendations pertaining to program improvements (such as addressing the emotional dimensions of such a reconciliation-aimed program; taking into account the wider, asymmetric socio-political context; developing additional uni-national frameworks to work on topics, etc.); and promoting professional facilitation.

 

Maya Kahanoff, Ph.D. is a lecturer in the Swiss Center for Conflict Research and Resolution and a research fellow at the Truman Institute for the Advancement of Peace, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Mt. Scopus, Jerusalem, 91905 - maya.kahanoff@mail.huji.ac.il

Nabil Shibli is a lecturer in the department of Social Work, at Al Quds University, Jerusalem and a program evaluator - shibliy@yahoo.com

 

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