Reflections on Encounter Groups of Jews and Palestinians from Israel

Haggith Gor Ziv   &   Rela Mazali

Research Report to the Ford Foundation
April 1998


Table of Contents
I          ntroduction                                                                                              
1.     Some Aspects of the Political Economy                                            
        of Encounter Group Work in Israel
          1.1.    Government-Funding Agencies-NGO’s -
                   Two Readings of the Three-Way Complex                                
          1.2.    Funding and the Political Map                                                
          1.3.    Restricted Professionalization and Fund Distribution               
          1.4.    Facilitators’ Career Choices as a Telling By-Product               
2.     Gender and Gender Roles in Jewish-Palestinian
         Encounter Groups                                                                         
          2.1.    Gender as Analogous Power Structure                                   
          2.2.    Gender and Sex as Part of the Group Dynamic                       
3.     Encounter Group Models                                                                 
          3.1.    The Contact Model                                                               
          3.2.    The Cognitive Knowledge Model                                             
          3.3.    The Task Oriented Model                                                      
          3.4.    The Psychological-Process-Oriented Model                           
          3.5.    The Critical Education Model                                                
4.     Axes of Evolution in Encounter Group Work                                      
          4.1.    Organization and Scale                                                        
          4.2.    Terminology                                                                        
          4.3.    From “Non-Existence” to Co-Existence                        
          4.3.    From Consciousness to Action                                             
5.     Some Typical Characteristics of Encounter Groups                       
          5.1.    Asymmetry                                                                  
          5.2.    Group Dynamics                                                         
          5.3.    Recurring Dynamics                                                     
6.     Concluding Remarks                                                             
          6.1.    The Success Question                                                  
          6.2.    Possible Successes                                                                  
          6.3.    Probable Failures                                                         
          This discussion offers a series of related but separate looks at over two decades of encounter group work, between Jews and Palestinians from Israel.* Each section takes as its point of departure a different aspect of encounter group work and outlines our insights about the work, employing the prism of that particular aspect. Our observations are based on years of experience which each of us has accumulated in the field, in different forms and types of encounter groups and related work. It is supported by professional reading done over the years and by a limited amount of reading done specifically for the purpose of writing the report. It draws on a series of interviews with people previously involved in encounter group work - facilitators, project directors, researchers.
          We believe that some of our remarks, our connections and contextualizations of various aspects of encounter group work are new to the literature on this field in Israel. As such we hope they may prove useful and relevant to a deepening understanding of the workings of groups in conflict and processes of dialogue. However, the present discussion does not present a systematic, exhaustive study. It is a collection of personal views, rooted in long and intensive experience, extended learning, introspection and discussion.
          Now to set the scene in a very general way - encounter groups between Jews and Palestinians from Israel is a broadly inclusive description for a wide variety of activities, jointly attended by members of the two communities. There were very different types of encounters, from one-time one-and-a-half-hour meetings where pre-school children from Palestinian and Jewish kindergartens played together (Brit Bnei Shem), through extended year-long programs comprising periodical meetings and including intensive, three-day joint seminars away from home.
          The “classical” meetings employed the intensive three-day model, in a setting away from school, with room and board, allowing a process of acquaintance between students or participants on the personal, cultural, social and group levels. Some of these meetings touched on political issues directly and intentionally, while others concentrated exclusively on the common denominator shared by the participants, and the human and relational elements accepted by both sides. Neve Shalom and Giv’at Haviva handled masses of students in this manner, although the form of encounters there changed over time and took on different characteristics. Other forms in which encounters were conducted included: mutual students’ visits, groups of teachers meeting for the purpose of specific projects, lecture seminars, etc. At universities and teachers’ colleges there were students’ encounters, while Giv’at Haviva and Neve Shalom dealt mainly with high school students. Some projects involved elementary school children (Nitzanei Shalom) and pre-school children (Brit Bnei Shem).
          We will go on from here to discuss a few of the points that we view as having been generally overlooked or ignored in the existing discourse on encounter group work in Israel. The next two sections of our paper, then, offer several ways of looking at this work on which very little, or nothing at all, has been written. They comprise: a) a look at Israeli encounter group work as part of a construct including government agencies, funding agencies, and non-government organizations serving and/or enlisting the grassroots; b) an examination of facilitators’ career choices as a reflection on encounter group work; c) a view of encounter groups through a gender perspective.
          In the following three sections, our points of departure are more familiar - classification of encounter groups by work methods, evolution and development of encounter group work in Israel, typical dynamics occurring in groups. However, the classification we will offer is of our own making, based on educational theories and practices, and therefore again offers a view of the body of encounter group work from an unfamiliar angle.
          The last section of the report offers observations and evaluations based mainly on long-term and extensive experience, with the advantages and disadvantages of practitioners’ - as opposed to researchers’ - analyses.
1.    Some Aspects of the Political Economy of Encounter   Group Work in Israel
          During more than a decade and a half, between the mid-seventies and the mid- to late eighties, Jewish-Palestinian encounter group work was allocated a substantial and growing portion of the foreign funding allocated to Israeli NGO’s. It was funded under headings such as advancing co-existence and mutual acquaintance, bolstering democracy, facilitating the development of civic society, educating for pluralism, reducing conflict and discrimination by enhancing tolerance. Both the non-government organizations on the receiving end and the funding organizations at the source, apparently shared an interest and a belief in such encounters.
          1.1.  Government-Funding Agencies-NGO’s - Two Readings of the
                 Three-Way Complex
          In 1986 the Israeli Ministry of Education established the Department for Education for Democracy and joined both the funders on the one hand and the program operators on the other, opening a series of nation-wide government sponsored programs of encounter groups in schools. As described by Itzhak Shapira, then head of the Department for Education for Democracy, the role of the department was primarily a legitimizing one: advocating encounter groups, letting schools know they were Ministry-approved, and encouraging NGO’s encounter group work in schools. According to Shapira, the Ministry of Education invested only a small amount of funds in the work. His description of the scope of the actual work is, “very limited,” though he states there is no systematic assessment of how many schools or students or teachers participated in this kind of work. One of the main factors preventing encounter group work on a much larger scale was, in his view, a largely unstated but consistent boycott of such activities on the part of national religious schools, which should have constituted a central part of the participant population.
          Later, in December 1987 the Intifada broke out in the occupied territories, eventually causing such effects as much deepened polarization in Jewish Israeli society, enhanced national consciousness in Palestinian society in Israel, a partial conflation of the Palestinian community in Israel and Palestinian society in the occupied territories (returning the former, to some degree, to their previous “invisible” status). All this was an added and very loaded burden on encounters between Palestinians and Jews from Israel, and constituted one of the main causes of the Ministry’s virtual abandonment of encounter group work. While some political NGO’s and funding agencies moved on to what seemed the more pressing agenda of encounters between Jews from Israel and Palestinians from the territories, the organs of state education cut back severely on their large-scale involvement in Jewish-Palestinian encounter group work.
          At any rate, the earlier 1986 governmental adoption of NGO objectives and methods, through the Department of Education for Democracy, seemed - at the time - to vindicate the ongoing investment in encounter group work, demonstrating that it had gained legitimacy, respected status and recognition, and was moving into a phase where it would be funded, at least in part, by the recipients themselves, that is by the official institutions of Israeli society and state. It consequently seemed a move towards the kind of sustainable, eventually self-supporting activity which is targeted by many funding foundations. Lastly, the Ministry of Education entry into encounter group work seemed to ensure a substantially larger scale of activity (a scale which did not materialize in the long run), possibly accumulating a critical mass of participants which would therefore allow the work to become a true agent of change. All of this may have convinced the funding agencies to extend and enlarge their support for encounter group projects, as these seemed to be achieving results at a national level. In the process, at least some of the major funders, including the Ford Foundation, had established direct contacts with the Ministry of Education, and regularly checked on the views of Ministry officials regarding proposals and organizations which were candidates for funding.
          Conversely, however, it is possible to view the Ministry of Education move and the funders’ cooperation in a different light. Despite addressing the open questions at issue between the Palestinian and Jewish citizens of Israel, Jewish-Palestinian encounter group work has not, as a rule, questioned the basic premise that Israel is and can be both a democratic and a Jewish state. It has not undertaken to inquire whether or not this premise embodies an inherent contradiction. As we will claim in more detail below, encounter groups in Israel have, by and large, refrained from, or failed to attain, critical analyses of nationality, the national divide, gender and other social categorizations. In an extension of this, they have not generally addressed the structural asymmetry that would seem to be embedded in the concept of a Jewish state, where a considerable portion of its citizens are non-Jewish. Such refrainment may have been a bona fide product of the Zionist beliefs of some of the program operators. In other cases it may have been the only way to avoid totally alienating prospective Jewish participants.
          In any case though, it is in this sense that encounter group work has been described as essentially conservative, accepting the claim of Israeli state and society to be concurrently both a liberal democracy and definitively Jewish. On these terms, the Jewish and Palestinian groups taking part in encounter groups have been meeting as individuals attempting to overcome differences, misunderstandings, knowledge gaps, within the firm boundaries of existing Jewish-Palestinian power relations. As the latter, by and large, have stayed out of the discourse, or have entered it within the bounds of a framework of acute asymmetry between participant Jews and Palestinians, the groups have in fact been duplicating and preserving these power relations. On the other hand, on the personal level they demonstrate individuals’ liberalism and willingness to actively confront their own prejudices. This can actually have the effect of further obscuring the structural problem and creating a semblance of progressiveness. One of the Palestinian facilitators has said, “I felt the Palestinians were there at the service of the Jews and that even there we weren’t attending for ourselves. It was so they could be less racist, not so we could be less racist. Our problems, whatever they were, didn’t matter. The Jews had prejudices about the Palestinian citizens of Israel so that had to be worked on. The Palestinians were there as an exhibit. Not in order to work on their identity and their problems.”
          The bulk of encounter group work has thus been characterized as a relatively non-threatening liberal token which was widely adopted, particularly by the Ministry of Education, precisely because it upheld a tolerant democratic image of Israel while failing to effect any far-reaching structural, social change. Describing Israeli society as a society of separate tribes, each of which live and educate separately, Itzhak Shapira said of encounter groups, “In each such tribal school you can educate for democracy but there is no way to relate the principles of democracy to any other tribe. Under these tragic circumstances, the very minimum that can and should be done is to search for the non-permanent ties, to do a little towards creating ties based on the common ground, the human factors and the civil factors. [...] In the absence of alternatives, there’s a naive assumption that creating direct human ties is a necessary but insufficient condition for recognizing the rights of the other group.”
          An interesting case with regard to the question of progressiveness in encounter group work is perhaps Shutafut, one of the two NGO’s disqualified to work in schools, by the Department of Education for Democracy. The organization was among the very few which attempted to broach the structural disparity between Palestinians and Jews in Israel, through its own internal structure as well as its work. It was apparently disqualified following notice from the General Security Service that some of its members might pose security threats. Though no charges of any kind were filed against members, this information was enough to achieve disqualification of the organization for work in schools. This in turn, possibly along with internal problems in the organization, led to the discontinuation of funding for its programs, as it was barred from reaching what its funders may have seen as crucial or effective target groups. On the face of it, at least, it would seem that blatantly undemocratic means served here to silence a potential agent of structural change, while this government interest in effective censorship was implemented by a combination of a government department and independent outside funders.
          In addition, while encounter groups were a major trend, there was no concurrent trend of direct investment in services for the minority Palestinian population in Israel, to counter cumulative discrimination against it. Such a trend might have been evidence of a seriously liberal or progressive approach, advocating full equal rights for the minority, even if no structural goal was targeted and the framework of a Jewish democracy went unquestioned. The absence of such programs as an attempted complementary measure, during the height of the encounter group trend, seems to reinforce a reading of that work as essentially assuming and preserving a discriminatory structure.
          1.2.  Funding and the Political Map
          On this view, then, there are several possible reasons for the continued backing from funding organizations, allowing encounter groups to become such a mainstay of Israeli NGO activity. Some foundations may have been sincerely misled by the liberal, tolerant aspect, by the attractive “photo-opportunity,” as it were, of Jews and Palestinians repeatedly meeting, shaking hands, smiling, conversing. Others, undiscerning of or resistant to an inherent contradiction between liberal democracy and a Jewish state, may have had an interest in maintaining and demonstrating Israel’s liberal image and self-image, and in nurturing tolerance at an individual level which might “soften” particular manifestations of the existing political structure, therefore helping to sustain it. In other words, on the view that encounter groups were a conservative force, some funders may have mistakenly believed they were supporting social change at a fundamental level, while others may have intentionally invested in preventing it.
          Whether or not the “conservative reading” is adopted, and whatever the varying considerations of different funding organizations, it is clear that over a considerable period, NGO’s on the scene in Israel, working for democracy, co-existence, human rights, social justice and peace, were aware that encounter groups were the going fad. Funding agencies seemed to be looking for projects which centered on them and featured enhancements and innovations in their methodology. While some of the work clearly grew out of the convictions of various grassroots groups and non-government organizations in Israel, parts of it were tailored by such organizations to meet demand - that is, in answer to their perceptions of funders’ preferences and tendencies. Later, in much the same way, before and after the Oslo Accords, funders shifted emphasis and tended to prioritize projects featuring cooperation - usually task-oriented (see section 3.3 below) - between Israeli Jews and Palestinians from the Palestinian Authority, or from the occupied territories. This was part of the shift in the three-way complex of funders-government-NGO’s which eventually led to the near disappearance of local encounter group projects involving Jews and Palestinians from Israel.
          The process, then, was one in which the policies and preferences of funding agencies, no less and - possibly more - than the ideas and the situational analyses of the NGO’s, were promoting and generating a trend of encounter group work. Meanwhile, the reality of a flow of funds into encounter group projects over an extended period created employment openings which existed almost nowhere else. Facilitating encounter groups offered job opportunities to the members of two underemployed populations - Palestinians and Jewish women who were students and junior academics, particularly in the fields of social sciences and education. Unemployment among Palestinian university graduates in Israel was (and still is) much higher than the percentage for Jewish academics. Among graduates in the humanities it tends to be even higher. University jobs, for example, are hardly an option (in 1994, the percentage of Palestinians in Israeli university faculties was 0.4).* Women graduating university also have limited, though considerably larger, chances of employment in university jobs (in 1992, for instance, they were 36.6% of the junior faculty and only 7.3% of the full professors in Israeli universities). But unemployment among women in general, in Israel, is highest for the age group of 16 to 24. One of the Palestinian facilitators has told us, “I just happened to start doing it. It was a job. I was looking for a job and there weren’t many around.” Though not among the planned goals of encounter group work, these job opportunities turned encounter groups into an agent of empowerment, inadvertently supporting the development of an intelligentsia and of some of the leaders of these two underprivileged groups.
          In addition, the facilitators and project directors were almost unanimously left-wing in their political views. In fact, though encounter group projects were usually proposed in non-partisan terms, a large majority of the people creating and operating them viewed them as a form of political action. Many of them were also active members of peace groups, left-wing parties, human rights groups, protest groups working for the end of Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and Gaza. Others come to these activities as just a job, acquired an intensive, in-depth political education through their work. As one facilitator said, “I became much more aware of our oppression. Before the encounters I wasn’t so conscious of it. And I became much more political. I was young and not very political. It was there that I began asking the questions. I started seeing the reality. It was the first time I saw the huge gap between Jewish and Palestinian youth.”
          The funding allocated to such programs was consequently strengthening this segment of Israel’s academia and intelligentsia, this zone on the political map. Though similar parts of the population might have been supported as employees of differently designed projects, the fact that they were supported through encounter groups is, in our view, a significant although partly inadvertent aspect of this work. The support provided a left-wing and underemployed group of people opportunities for professional development, for networking, for accumulating information and experience, for getting to know organizations and funding sources. In other words, it sometimes served as an indirect form of leadership training and it gave action-oriented people some of the financial backing that helped them maintain their activism. The scope of the latter in terms of commitment and thus of the hours and efforts invested, was usually much larger than warranted by the very modest salaries paid to facilitators, so that a limited amount of funds generated a significant scope of activism.
          1.3.  Restricted Professionalization and Fund Distribution
          The funds, of course, were limited indeed. Most of the jobs offered involved piece work rather than steady positions, NGO’s were often destabilized by recurring internal conflicts, projects were in constant flux, many funding and planning decisions seem to have been based on the personalities of NGO chairpersons and fund-raisers, with the result that most facilitators could not plan on building a steady, continuous career in the field of encounter groups and related community intervention. While a majority of the organizations remained in place for years, consistently employing an administrative staff, the actual intervention and facilitating work was highly unstable. By and large, the professional opportunities created were temporary and perceived by facilitators and project directors as a transitional stage. This was also due to the fact that the Jewish women and Palestinian men (and a few women) who usually facilitated encounter groups, almost never or very rarely became top directors in the organizations conducting the work. Prospects of professional promotion through facilitation were very limited.
          In addition, on some views, funding was concentrated in the hands of relatively few organizations. This relative centralization meant that a comparatively small number of personalities were provided with the backing to implement their specific concepts. It wasn’t a climate which generated and advanced small, community based organizations, tackling limited, local issues through the joint activity and dialogue of Jewish and Palestinian citizens. This was partly due to the segregation of Jews and Palestinians in Israel, where mixed communities are very few and the majority of Palestinians live relatively far from the major urban centers. However, the majority of encounter group programs didn’t attempt to build on geographical proximity and common community or regional goals, towards forming independent local organizations. Nor did the trend generate a very wide variety of original approaches to encounter group work, developing through a spectrum of different organizations. The distribution of funds often seemed to stick to the limits of a hegemony of male, Ashkenazi, left-wing intellectuals, and rest to a significant degree on personal esteem towards specific people. In this sense too, the flow of funds into encounter group work can be viewed as a partly conservative force, maintaining the status and power of a limited number of established individuals (based on their existing reputation) rather than, perhaps, providing for the emergence of a large number of new organizers, activists and community leaders in smaller and more varied frameworks.
          1.4.  Facilitators’ Career Choices as a Telling By-Product
          Looking at what many of the ex-facilitators of encounter groups are doing today seems to illuminate some of the limitations of encounter group work as it has been conducted till now in Israel. First, few facilitators have remained in that capacity for more than about 10 to 15 years. This has to do in part with the fact that as a form of employment facilitating Jewish-Palestinian groups in Israel, is usually piece work, insecure, unsteady and not well paid. Therefore it doesn’t provide for extended professional development and career building. Most facilitators have been students at various stages of their studies, who later go on to other related fields.
          Aside from that, however, it is interesting to note that a significant number of former facilitators have moved on to work that is more directly concerned with advancing social change for a given disenfranchised group. Several Palestinian facilitators are currently working with Palestinian communities for the improvement of their civic society, for greater access to education and better education, for a larger allocation of state resources, for better community planning etc. Several Jewish women have moved on to work with similar projects in Palestinian communities, while others have involved themselves in comparable feminist work with groups of deprived Jewish women (women from poverty neighborhoods, predominantly of Mizrachi origin, or new immigrants, mainly from Ethiopia, and in some cases mixed groups of Jewish and Palestinian women from mixed poverty areas).
          Among these facilitators, then, there seems to have been a common career movement towards a form of activism which is more overt, more directly aimed at achieving social change through a redistribution of resources and power, and which focuses on a specific disenfranchised community. This has constituted a movement away from the thrust of encounter groups towards effecting shifts in the mutual attitudes and perceptions of two conflicting communities. In many cases the move has also been an “inward” one towards work with a community to which each facilitator feels some sense of personal belonging (Palestinians who now concentrate on Palestinian communities, women who concentrate on women’s groups).
          We believe this reflects a significant aspect of these facilitators’ evaluations and critiques of the encounter group work. After years of carrying out this work, their preference has clearly been to opt for more activist, interventionist approaches and to concentrate on working to empower disenfranchised groups, often groups which are somehow “their own.” It would seem to indicate a sense of diffuse, unsatisfactory results provided by the encounter group work and the conclusion that the priority was/is working directly with the disenfranchised towards empowerment and greater resources, rather than trying to improve their image in the dominant community while improving their perceptions of this community. It also seems to indicate their motivation to work with the group with which they identify personally, a preference for work which is more assertive of their view of their own, distinctive identity.
          On the other hand, we also see the course described above as one of the significant results of encounter group work. Although inadvertently it seems to have provided both motivation, skills, empowerment, and better-clarified objectives, for a cadre of professional social activists, who have gone on to work within several needy groups and communities. In this sense, the facilitators in fact seem to have been experiencing the work much like a program for community leadership, where they themselves were the ones acquiring and practicing leadership skills which they then took to the communities of their choice.
          Moreover, the type of projects set up or joined by these facilitators have gradually seemed able to enlist more support from funding organizations. The latter too have apparently concluded that other kinds of intervention are more effective or necessary than encounter groups. And meanwhile the accumulated experience, skills and acquaintance networks of ex-facilitators probably give them improved access to funds and other resources. It isn’t clear to what degree this can be claimed to be a process of evolution actually moving towards increased support and resources for more progressive, far-reaching change. One data set which might provide part of the answer is a comparative account of funders’ investments in encounter groups vs. investments in development and empowerment projects for disenfranchised groups. We have no way of providing or even guessing at this data.
2.    Gender and Gender Roles in Jewish-Palestinian Encounter
          It is our view that gender roles function forcefully in both Jewish and Palestinian society in Israel to create and maintain hierarchic structures of power within each culture. In both cultures women are a second class lacking proportionate control of resources and decision-making. There are marked differences between the two cultures in the levels and configurations of women’s second-class status, but an overall lack of real power is common to both. This makes the issue of gender highly relevant to the workings of any group, and all the more to a group whose work addresses questions of power and its distribution, as encounter groups have done (either explicitly or implicitly). The power relations between Jews and Palestinians in Israel, relevant to and affecting the work of, encounter groups have intersected and combined with the power relations between genders in both societies.
          The issue of gender and gender roles has pertained to Jewish-Palestinian encounter groups in two separate, though related, ways. First as a social power structure which is in many ways comparable to the Jewish-Palestinian one, and which - at least in potential - is very familiar and accessible. Second as part of the group dynamic that is taking place. In the first form, that of an analogous and instructive power structure, gender questions have been incorporated usefully into encounter group work, though mostly in more recent years and mainly by a very small number of feminist facilitators, working against the continued marginalization and suppression of gender issues in mainstream encounter group work. To the best of our knowledge, the underlying existence of gender issues as a central part of the encounter group dynamic, has never been overtly introduced into such group work or examined in the course of its assessment and planning.
          2.1.  Gender as Analogous Power Structure
          The first years of encounter group work could be safely said to be quite gender-blind. As one of the most experienced facilitators (an active feminist) has put it, “We weren’t at that point yet. Our feminist consciousness hadn’t reached that level.” Later, a small minority of women facilitators, all feminists, began to introduce gender questions into some of the groups. As this facilitator said, “Without this, the work stays confined to a search for guilty parties. Work which allows me to find and feel the situations in which I am dominant, am a ruler, hold power, as opposed to those in which I’m a dominated subject, is work which makes for growth. Otherwise all we’re left with is permanent victims and permanent guilt.”
          She and others have incorporated comparisons between gender and nationality as a central means of awakening participants to their varying status towards other groups and other individuals, to the shifting distributions of power that place them at different points in different hierarchies. They have used such comparisons to get across both a clear sense of powerlessness and a clear sense of potency and power. This has included a concrete grasp of the meaning and circumstances of wronging others and the meaning and circumstances of being wronged by others. It has also included the observation that a given individual or group can be both an oppressor and oppressed vis a vis different counterparts. In encounter groups both sides tend to claim the status of deeply wronged victim, and the introduction of gender has tried to clarify that this is not a fixed, permanent status.
          The gender-nationality analogy has thus been used to deepen understanding and empathy, to emphasize the importance of specific meaning-giving contexts over sweeping generalizations. One Palestinian facilitator, a woman, recounted an incident when a Palestinian colleague or participant touched her and she rebuked him sharply. He replied that he had thought she was Jewish and therefore open to such conduct. This made her even angrier, due to his assumption that Jewish women didn’t need to be treated with the same respect or deference with which he habitually treated Palestinian women. On her account, her overriding identity at this point was ‘woman’ rather than ‘Palestinian.’
          Feminist facilitators, then, have connected gender and nationality, not only in analogy but also in mapping the intersecting effects of different but interacting power structures. Encounter group work which is gender-sensitive has revealed how gender and national divides combine in determining the status of specific sub-groups. However, working with gender issues in encounter groups has still remained the exception rather than the rule. Under the overall heading of the Jewish-Palestinian issues addressed through encounter groups, gender divisions have been and are still viewed, on the whole, as a supposedly irrelevant topic, an illegitimate intrusion into, or deviation from, the real subject. To date, questions of gender have not become a normative, accepted part of the agenda. They are not included in the ‘canon’ of Jewish-Palestinian encounter group work. The facilitators who have done systematic work with these questions, have constituted a small minority, most of which have adopted this line as isolated, feminist individuals, rather than as part of a recognized school or method. In some cases they have consequently chosen to work with women only, subsuming their Jewish-Palestinian work under their work with feminist consciousness raising.
          We find it interesting and problematic that Jewish-Palestinian encounter groups, like Israeli society as a whole, have generally presumed the national divide as primary and given. Individuals attended and participated as - first and foremost - Jews and Palestinians. The national reference group is only one of several possible groups to which an individual feels she/he belongs. Encounter groups could have raised cogent questions about the inevitability of classification by nationality. They could, and in our opinion should, have worked towards a perception of nationality as at least partially imposed from outside the individual and not necessarily and always paramount in his or her identity. One of the facilitators has remarked, for example, that coming from a Palestinian-Jewish poverty neighborhood, she was much more aware of the poverty divide till her early adulthood, than of the national one. In her childhood neighborhood, about three and a half decades ago, poor Jewish families and poor Palestinian families had close-knit family-like relationships.
          In the same sense that one “is not born but becomes a woman,” encounter groups could have asked to what extent one is born or becomes an Israeli Jew or a Palestinian from Israel. And to what extent this component of identity overrides other central ones such as “womanhood” and “manhood.” One of the major tools for clarifying what we view as the partially arbitrary nature of the national divide is obviously gender. But the national divide has been a basic premise of encounter group work and has hardly ever been questioned or criticized by it. In this sense, Jewish-Palestinian encounter groups have functioned as uncritical reflections of Israeli society, of its presuppositions and definitive values.
          In other words, the great majority of encounter groups have failed to adopt an approach in which gender awareness is integrated into participants’ critical abilities, to assist them in undermining the results of their own socialization and thinking habits, in identifying and acknowledging widely varying forms oppression in different circumstances. Due to this failure, encounter group work in Israel has perpetuated, within its limited framework, what we see as a problematic feature of nationality and of struggles for national self-definition. Such struggles have often mobilized women in a swift, dramatic (but usually, as it turns out, temporary) process of equalization, whole or partial, between women and men. In many cases they also seem to share a forceful prioritization of national rights and needs over women’s rights and needs. Women activists in many national struggles have been misled to believing that once the ‘broader, more pressing’ national goals were achieved, their turn would come for ‘self-definition’ and equality. This has rarely been the reality of national struggles. By and large, once national goals such as independence were achieved, the new national institutions have striven to put women ‘back in place.’ While their active investment and sacrifice has helped gain national rights, identity, and needs, they have almost never been equal beneficiaries of these gains. Their rights, identity, and needs as individuals and women have, at best, been threatened and, at worst, totally denied. Encounter group work in Israel has not in any way broken this pattern of totally obscuring gender discrimination (as well as other forms of discrimination) behind the issues of national conflict and discrimination.
          2.2.  Gender and Sex as Part of the Group Dynamic
          Almost all encounter groups were led by two facilitators, one Jewish and one Palestinian. Most often, these were a Jewish woman and a Palestinian man. The facilitator from the dominant national group, was a member of the power-deprived gender, and vice versa. The focus, though, usually stayed on the national divide and ignored the gender divide. Consequently the complex asymmetry between the facilitators remained largely undiscerned and implicit. Jewish facilitators were perceived (and perceived themselves) as members of the oppressing group, apologetic and dissenting though they invariably were. Palestinian facilitators were perceived (and perceived themselves) as members of the oppressed group. There was little or no awareness of the oppression that women facilitators experience as women, or of the control and even oppression that the men exercise as men. And this control and power were, in our view, exercised at times by male Palestinian facilitators towards their co-facilitators - female Jews. While the latter, in turn, tended to sense their roles as apologetic oppressors, and meanwhile stay ignorant of how this was in fact feeding into the control mechanisms to which they were subject as women. This entire dynamic remained unnoticed, as the gender divide was rarely acknowledged.
          One interesting comment we’ve heard was that the whole concept of encounters was a feminine one, presuming the importance and the effectiveness of interpersonal, one-to-one contacts. This has been cited as one of the reasons why few Jewish men (from the dominating, “strong” group) took part in encounter group work, either as facilitators or as participants. Among the limited number who were involved there seemed to be a majority of prospective care-givers such as social work and psychology students, men whose professional choices and carriage departed from the “ex-officers’” demeanor often typical of Israeli Jewish men.
          Among the participants of the voluntarily attended groups (usually adults, as opposed to high school students participating in assigned school programs), as well, there was generally a majority of Jewish women or girls and a majority of Palestinian men or boys. (Although at least a few groups, particularly at Haifa University, were described to us as characterized by strong Palestinian women who greatly overshadowed their male counterparts.) The more prevalent circumstance of Jewish women/girls and Palestinian men/boys, entered into the power play in a similar form as above. The normal sexual interest and dynamics between young men and women, or boys and girls of high school age, were sharply heightened in encounter groups, through their intersection with the realities of Jewish-Palestinian relations. They were further intensified at encounters including overnight stays at a venue away from home, where participants slept over, ate meals together and spent long hours interacting in a context detached from their normal surroundings.
          Especially among the adult facilitators, a considerable number of personal and sexual relationships developed in the course of encounter group work. To some extent these were surely straightforward relationships between mutually attracted individuals. However, for some of the Jewish girls and women they probably served, in part, as a form of non-conformity, of breaking taboos, of actively distancing themselves from a society (or from homes) in which they felt alienated or with which they were angered. In addition, in some cases, such relationships might have contained an element of reparation on the part of the Jewish woman, of seeking the forgiveness of individual Palestinians for wrongs caused his people, by her people. Meanwhile, for some of the Palestinian boys and men these relationships arguably served, in part, as a means of acquiring power over (members of) the dominant group, or even as a channel of revenge, either conscious or subconscious - a way of degrading and putting down the enemy. One of the Palestinian women facilitators has said, “I didn’t like it when Palestinian guys dated Jews. I always felt there was something dishonest about it. [...] It’s obvious that these women are being exploited. They come with good intentions and the men take advantage of this consciously or unconsciously. I always felt that really good women would fall into that trap.” Among themselves, facilitators sometimes commented that nowhere else in Israel were there so many Jewish women and Palestinian men who were conducting relationships or having sex. Although these forces were probably quite intense at times, affecting the group dynamic and the exchange among participants, they were hardly ever admitted into the group discussion.
          On the other hand, there were many cases in encounter groups where cultural differences and gaps led to misinterpretation of personal behavior. Jewish girls or women wearing shorts or short sleeves or speaking freely, using sexual terms, freely visiting boys or men in their rooms, etc. Were viewed by some of their Palestinian co-participants as signaling their looseness and promiscuity, as offering sex freely and perhaps provocatively. This sometimes led to results such as scorn on the part of the Palestinian boys, or to unwanted sexual advances and ensuing anger, tension and conflict. Or Jewish boys’ casual attitudes to taking off shirts, for instance, were misinterpreted as an affront to the Palestinian girls nearby, causing the Palestinian boys to feel called upon to forcibly defend them. In some cases, these processes have clearly deepened prejudice, for example, Palestinians’ view of Jewish society as less moral than theirs, with an accompanying sense of righteous superiority, or Jews’ views of Palestinians as primitive and inferior due to more openly confining, patronizing attitudes towards girls and women, on the part of Palestinian men and boys.
          These powerful undercurrents have very rarely, if ever, been openly acknowledged and accounted for by either the groups or the facilitators. The encounter group work has thus consistently laid itself open to a potent form of power-play and to loaded interrelations which go on unregistered and beyond the scope of the groups’ reflexive scrutiny.

3.    Encounter Group Models
          Most of the encounter group work done in Israel was dominated by the “Contact Model”: the idea that just bringing people together would trigger a positive process, that they would discover that they were all human beings with a lot in common. To elaborate slightly, the belief was that people from the conflicting groups would be brought together on an individual basis, engage in dialogue, learn to see each other differently, un-learn stereotypical views of members of the other group. Some projects clearly also extended these expectations to the hope that participants in the groups would gradually grow able to envision compromise about the issues of the conflict.
          The Contact Model is still popular in Israel today (although the overall scope of encounter group work between Jews and Palestinians from Israel has shrunk sharply over the past 8-9 years). New people recently entering the field often adopt it. It would seem to be the intuitive, initial, basic humanistic, approach towards counteracting prejudice and animosity.
          After several years of contact group work in Israel, an increasing amount of criticism of the basic working assumptions began to be voiced among facilitators and project operators. The expected positive results were not in evidence and in some cases facilitators had even witnessed inverted processes where stereotypes and prejudices seemed to become deeper entrenched. The accumulated experience also led to a lot of reflection and discussion between facilitators, to a move beyond the somewhat superficial expectations and analyses in which the work originated.
          However, the criticism did not result in a move to models based on fundamentally different assumptions. For instance, the “Conflict Management” orientation which had grown more and more common in the U.S. and elsewhere in the world was not widely studied or adopted in Israel in the context of Jewish-Palestinian encounter groups. While other comparable conflicting groups and societies, such as those of Northern Ireland or South Africa, had meanwhile expanded to other models based more on community intervention or on business and management theory, as opposed to strictly psychological approaches, the main thrust of the work in Israel continued to retain a psychological or individual-educational base.
          Several other writers have remarked on this fact and we too find it striking that the bulk of encounter group work in Israel remained anchored in the Contact Model and in theories of the individual. To us, as to others, it seems to provide telling evidence of the hidden agenda, at times probably a subconscious one, which guided much of the work. A psychological orientation, even when its aim is changing negative perceptions and representations of the “other,” is unthreatening to the institutions of state and nationality. It conveys an assumption that violence is a “natural, built in” propensity of individuals and, cumulatively, of groups, whose eruption it sets out to ward off by subtracting from the triggering circumstances. Its identification of the sources of conflict and violence implicate psychological traits. The structural, cultural circumstances of nationality-based communities, or of national statehood, are not singled out as universal causes of conflicts and discrimination. Here, then, as in other aspects we examine in this paper, the indication seems to be that encounter groups were not designed or seriously intended to achieve structural, social change, but rather to placate individual distress within the existing social structures.
          We would, nevertheless like to propose a rough taxonomy of methods or models guiding Jewish-Palestinian encounter group work in Israel in the seventies and eighties, of which the Contact Model is only one, a taxonomy which has not been previously presented. The classification is somewhat impromptu, based on distinctions usually used in the field of education. On one view, education works at altering or at least adjusting individuals’ behaviors, and cumulatively, the behaviors of a given group. This is why we suggest a discernible fit between contact group work and educational models. And a taxonomy based on the educational methods employed in various encounter group projects, can accordingly bring out the specific type of change aimed at by projects employing a certain method, and the particular means seen as capable of achieving that change. It should be added that none of the projects were actually “pure,” in the sense of employing a single method exclusively. There was always overlap and a variety of methods co-existed simultaneously in each project. The classification is based on what the different projects emphasized, on the dominant features of each. Also, regardless of classifications, or declared guiding models, the way any given encounter group was conducted and progressed was heavily influenced by facilitators’ personalities and personal tendencies.
          Before presenting our classification, it’s also worth mentioning that during the years when encounter groups were widespread in Israel, there was very little study of, or preoccupation with, the theories informing the work, among project directors, facilitators, NGO management, etc. Only a small minority of facilitators and project directors eventually came to extensive study of the social, educational and psychological theories directly relevant to their work. Though those who engaged in such study were among the most central and influential people working in the field, they were a fraction of the community involved in designing and facilitating the projects. Therefore, classifications of models and methods were not widely dealt with in this community. In any case, though, the following is no more than a rough overview of types of encounter group work in Israel, which may provide a tool for useful, if general, orientation. It is not an exhaustive or meticulous taxonomy.
          3.1.  The Contact Model
          As we’ve said briefly above, the fundamental assumption of the Contact Model was that the very act of bringing together groups from either side, in conditions enabling an exposure to humane, fun, “soft” aspects of personality and identity, would topple the walls of animosity. The Contact approach was based on people’s propensity for generalizing from individual instances and singular, personal experiences. Therefore, if provided with a positive human experience, with smiles, laughter, play, warmth, they would change their attitudes towards, and their opinions of, the enemy group. It would provide the basis, the trust, crucial for simple and direct human communication across conflict and, possibly, about conflict. Even if it failed to achieve such a change, the exceptional individual and the exceptional experience would be retained in memory and would moderate people’s stereotypes and generalizations.
          The groups who used this model were chiefly: Beit Hagefen, Brit Bnei Shem, Nitzanei Shalom. The encounter groups conducted on larger scales by the Van Leer Institute, Giv’at Haviva and later by various NGO’s with the approval the Ministry of Education Department For Education for Democracy, were also based on this model to varying degrees. At Giv’at Haviva and Neve Shalom the model provided an initial basis for a controlled process which moved from personal dialogue through cultural acquaintance and discussion of identity and finally to a discussion of the Jewish-Palestinian conflict. Examination of the conflict began, then, on a carefully established basis of acquaintance, understanding and mutual warmth, which were established before handling the conflict.
          3.2.  The Cognitive Knowledge Model
          A different approach was based on the acquisition of new knowledge. The assumption here was that if the facts were learned, recognized, internalized and known, a shift in opinion would follow. If, for instance, Jews learned for a fact that no more than a tiny percentage of Palestinians had ever taken part in any act of violence or terrorism against Jews, their prejudices about Palestinians would soon change. This approach was heavily based on cognitive factors, on learning facts and data, on internalizing the findings of research. It was incorporated chiefly by universities and teachers’ colleges, as well as in seminars and conferences organized by various NGO’s.
          This type of encounter group work was perhaps the clearest example of NGO’s compliance with funding trends. The learning process in these groups, emphasizing cognition and fact-discovery, didn’t necessarily require a mixed group of Jews and Palestinians. The program of lectures, reading, debates, could have progressed in much the same way in segregated groups. In one instance, a contemporary high school curriculum included in the syllabus of matriculation tests, and titled “The Rules of the Game,” was designed in keeping with this model. This curriculum was planned and operated with no encounters between the students. As we explain below (see discussion of the next model), the curriculum was written by a mixed team of Palestinian and Jewish teachers. At the students’ level, however, encounter was considered unnecessary.
          Some of the directors of Knowledge Model projects certainly believed in de-segregation and probably held some of the basic assumptions of the Contact Model, hoping that a bi-national meeting, in and of itself, would effect positive change in the participants. But the work in these projects wasn’t specifically structured to enhance this aspect of change. The significant incentive to bi-national work was the fact that there were funds available for mixed, encounter groups. The programs were accordingly designed as encounters, despite the fact that mixed participation was largely incidental to their guiding rationale and methods. Moreover, as encounter work goes, the Cognitive Knowledge Model was markedly low-cost. It didn’t require intensive work in small, intimate groups. On the contrary, it allowed for work with relatively large numbers of participants. This made it attractive to funding agencies looking for encounter work, and hoping for a large outreach at a relatively low cost. The combination of many participants and reasonable costs also made for impressive organizational reports by NGO’s.
          3.3.  The Task Oriented Model
          Another type of encounter groups were those involving joint tasks to be carried out cooperatively by the participants. The projects generally aimed to develop and clarify a particular, common objective, and subsequently to develop common methods to reach it. The contact here was pragmatic, then, connected to a concrete, practical task, considered relevant and significant to the participants. This form of encounter group work grew out of criticism of the original Contact Model and attempted to improve upon it. The main conclusions leading to it were that part of the artificiality and tangible phoniness of groups conducted in the Contact Model, resulted from the fact that no joint goal, no real, practical meeting point, was shared by the group participants. Encounter purely for the purpose of encounter was viewed as an artificial, even forced, construct. Therefore, the reasoning went, there was a need for frameworks of joint activity, where the activity would be relevant and real to the participants. And joint activity, joint problem solving, the creation of a real life platform on some specific issue, a co-existence born of real need, would result in understanding and tolerance, in an acquaintance that would crumble stereotypes and hatred.
          One of the projects which adopted this approach was “Yami” (Children Teach Children). The idea was for junior high school children to teach their counterparts their native tongue. Palestinian children would teach Arabic to Jewish peers and vice versa. At the teachers’ level this entailed joint in-service training, towards shared planning of parallel teaching programs, to be implemented in each respective community. The teachers had to function as a mixed Palestinian-Jewish staff in order to coordinate teaching processes and progress. The training process incorporated a variety of methods (usually determined by the preferences of the facilitators guiding the training). Training spanned the entire school year and ran into severe difficulties. One of the factors that developed was a very high level of tension, requiring the participants to carry out work which was more psychology- or process- oriented, rather than strictly task-oriented. At the children’s level the mutual teaching task proved unattainable. The program did not succeed in creating circumstances where children were actually teaching each other their respective languages. Teaching a foreign language is a difficult, complicated endeavor and the children understandably lacked the appropriate tools.
          Other projects, including the development of school curricula such as “The Arab Citizens of Israel,” and “The Rules of the Game,” also adopted the Task Oriented Model and the curricula were developed in joint teams. The encounters were essentially task driven although sometimes process-oriented work was needed before the task could be addressed. The task-oriented groups handled topics such as writing techniques, teaching methods, text analyses, all products of the dominant goals of curriculum development and teaching. The encounters did, however, lead to by-products such as friendships between Palestinian and Jewish teachers, possibly - a slight shift towards more open, democratized teacher-pupil relations in some Palestinian schools, possibly - a slight increase in Jewish teachers’ awareness of, and sensitivity to, discrimination against Palestinians.
          The task-oriented approach also provided the basis for the “Cluster Program” designed by the Department for Education for Democracy. This plan proposed clusters of schools from the same geographical area, from different educational streams - Arab (they were not called Palestinian by the Department), Jewish secular, Jewish religious, rural, urban, kibbutz, etc. Each cluster was supposed to formulate joint educational tasks which the teachers would plan and prepare together, to be integrated into the pupils’ studies and activities. These would also include joint work with students from other schools comprising the cluster.
          In the context of task-oriented encounters, it is worthwhile mentioning the overtly political, task-oriented groups which joined Israelis (both Jewish and Palestinian) and Palestinians from the occupied territories. All these organizations concentrated their efforts on opposing Israel’s occupation of the territories and undermining some of the occupation’s most injurious results. The oppression and discrimination they combated were those of the Palestinian population of the territories, not those of Palestinians living in Israel. We’re referring to organizations such as Workers’ Hotline, opposing violations of Palestinian workers’ rights, Israeli Palestinian Physicians for Human Rights, protesting violations of Palestinians’ rights to health, the 21st Year, whose members stood witness at a variety of human rights violations in the territories, which they later publicized and publicly criticized, and later, B’Tselem, which systematically documented and opposed breaches of Palestinians’ human rights, along with several other similar organizations.
          All these groups created and experienced Jewish-Palestinian encounters in the course of, and as a by-product of, their activities - between both Jews and Palestinians from Israel and Palestinians from the occupied territories. However, their activities were directly politicized, aimed at creating change and building up practical influence and results, rather than targeting shifts in attitudes. And the members, by and large, were committed activists who had already broken with mainstream views. In spite of this, the members of such organizations clearly dealt repeatedly with internal challenges to their attitudes, fears, misgivings, presuppositions and stereotypes, all of which couldn’t fail to affect their perceptions and work. However, as the agenda was openly political, struggles to overcome such barriers stayed internal and personal, for the most part, never becoming topics of discussion within the organizational public space.
          3.4.  The Psychological-Process-Oriented Model
          This approach viewed attitude shifts as a more complex process which cannot be attained through knowledge growth alone, as attitudes are also determined by feelings, sensations, value systems. It was an approach that adopted techniques from theories of group dynamics and therapy groups. It was based on the principles of humanistic psychology, according to which people are essentially capable of solving their own problems. It established a broad base of emotional and social acceptance among all the participants in a given group, allowed a sense of security and ease, aimed at enabling the group and each individual to examine their attitudes from a position of compassion, rather than a confrontational stand, with a willingness to take a skeptical view, broaden perspectives and face unknown factors. This model used combined group and individual work, and it was one of the models which first began advocating and using uni-national work in separate Jewish and Palestinian groups, in order to allow each side full emotional expression, without the automatic barriers present in mixed groups. According to this model, shifts in attitudes involved emotional and social experiences, which could only occur in emotionally safe surroundings, enabling individuals to acknowledge their own complex attitudes and trace their effects.
          One of the main tools or methodologies feeding into this model was the British-based “Tavistock” school of group dynamics. Many facilitators attended Tavistock workshops and adopted some of its techniques of reflecting group processes with a minimum of intervention on the part of facilitators. The currently ongoing encounter group program at Tel-Aviv University is one of the more pronounced examples of this approach. The working assumption guiding the processes here seems to be that every incident and act taking place in the encounter room is a reflection of, or connected to, the Jewish-Palestinian conflict. Facilitators reflect these processes as they occur with the aim of gaining and providing insights into the conflict itself and its workings.
          The main distinction between the basic Contact Model and this derivative, the Psychological-Process-Oriented Model, consisted in the deeper psychological analyses and reflexivity of the latter as opposed to the superficial, outward gesture level on which the former was conducted. The derivative model attempted much more detailed psychological work, with individuals achieving new perspectives on their own behavior, their subconscious, their motives, while the base model was mainly preoccupied with creating a pleasant, civil, friendly atmosphere.
          To the best of our knowledge, the Psychological-Process-Oriented Model was never named or declared as a separate, defined entity. Its principles weren’t formulated or presented as part of a structured, systematic rationale. It was simply practiced in the field by a number of facilitators. These were people who, as individuals, had experienced and studied various theories and techniques in social and group psychology as well as psychology of the individual. Exchanging views and knowledge among themselves, these facilitators shifted gradually towards a more psychology-oriented type of work. One of the reasons why it was never named explicitly as a model and discussed openly in professional forums, might be the difficult questions raised in the context of this approach, as to the boundary lines between therapy and encounter groups, and the resulting implications regarding appropriate professional training.
          3.5.  The Critical Education Model
          According to theories of Critical Education, the central goal of the educational process is empowering its participants to become critical consumers of the knowledge and values transmitted to them by society. The educational work applying this model is conducted as a dialogue and aims to increase awareness of the placement and status of various groups in society, of the distribution of power and control, of inequalities. It involves an examination of one’s self and one’s own placement in social structures, concurrently with active measures towards the achievement of social change. Facilitators who employed the Critical Education approach in encounter group work, tried to create processes revealing a reality implicitly known to, but unrecognized by, the participants, heightening their consciousness of existing political circumstances. It was the only type of encounter group work which overtly targeted social change through a change of consciousness involving empowerment. It expressly placed the main causes of continued discrimination and conflict with cultural, social circumstances, with the basic structure of the state and of nationality in Israel. These were major components in the reality it tried to reveal and empower encounter group participants to change.
          This model was introduced into encounter group work by a small number of facilitators. The latter took issue with the central role played by personal, psychological factors in encounter groups, which they wished to counterbalance with more socially-oriented views, evolving and developing through practical action towards change. It was never a clearly defined, formulated school, in the encounter group scene in Israel, although it was implemented over a considerable period by some of the most professional, experienced and senior facilitators in the field. It was evolved by educators who adhered to the ideology and practice of Critical Education, which they applied in encounter groups as in other areas of their professional work. In general, Critical Education was not a theory which was familiar or widely known among Israeli educators. It was not part of the mainstream of educational work here. Very recently, it has begun to enter educational discourse in Israel to a limited extent. However, the theories of Critical Education and their application were studied and discussed at length among the tiny community of encounter group facilitators that adhered to them.


4.    Axes of Evolution in Encounter Group Work
          4.1.  Organization and Scale
          One evolutionary axis in the work of encounter groups in Israel in the seventies and eighties, was the combined one of organization and scale. The core of encounter group activity was started, on a very limited scale, by a few organizations including Neve Shalom, Beit Hillel, Beit Hagefen, Haifa University and others, in the late seventies. The work was later enlarged on and implemented on a considerably larger scale by Giv’at Haviva and the Van Leer Institute. As we’ve already mentioned, there are no statistics on the actual number of groups convened, meetings held, participants, etc. At any rate, it was mainly the sponsorship of the Van Leer Institute which brought encounter group work into the boundaries of mainstream consensus, legitimizing it under the auspices of a highly prestigious, recognized academic institution. The next phase was the foundation of the Department for Education for Democracy within the Ministry of Education, in 1986, following a national elections in which a meaningful percentage of youth had voted for the openly racist, Jewish supremacist, “Kach” party led by Meyer Kahane. As explained in the section on political economy, this led to the height of encounter group work in terms of scale and legitimacy, although the actual numbers of meetings, even in this phase, were very limited and never overcame a largely silent but crucial boycott by national religious schools.
          4.2.  Terminology
          Another axis along which changes and shifts emerge, when considering encounter group work in Israel, is that of terminology and language. Over the first years, the Arab participants were never referred to as Palestinians. There was a taboo on overtly including them under the label of Palestinian nationality, a classification which would probably have proved frightening for most Jewish participants at the time, although everyone was implicitly aware of it. Few Palestinians from Israel referred to themselves as such (due to fear or to their own suppressed national awareness) and the going term was Israeli Arabs, which assigned them, on the one hand, to the domestic reference group and, on the other, to a more generalized, abstract group than Palestinians. The shift in usage was gradual, occurring first in more left-wing circles and leftist publications and entering into encounter groups sometime in the late eighties and more pronouncedly in the course of the Intifada, reflecting its role in consolidating and strengthening Palestinian national identity. The term was often introduced by the group facilitators and following the facilitators various participants also began to use the term more and more, either to refer to themselves or to their counterparts. This nevertheless aroused many sharp and angry debates. As put by one of the Palestinian facilitators, referring to just 8-9 years ago, “The word ‘Palestinian’ was still extremely loaded. By now this has changed some, after all.”
          At the end of the eighties the Ministry of Education refused to approve the use of the term “Palestinian” in educational materials it published jointly with various NGOs. The word was adopted as standard usage only after the Oslo Accords, following its legitimization by government officials and media. Today, still, the Druze citizens of Israel, a vast majority of which define themselves as Palestinians, are largely excluded in Jewish use of the term and their identity still remains a bone of contention, as does the national affiliation of the Bedouin population, regardless of how individuals comprising it view themselves.
          Another term that only gradually gained legitimacy inside encounter groups was “human rights.” At the outset the unspoken assumption was that the state of Israel unfailingly upheld justice, that this indeed went without saying, and that the only exceptions were justified by serious threats to state security. When encounter groups discussed equal rights for Palestinian citizens of Israel, it was never under the more universal concept of human rights. A shift to this type of discourse would have amounted to a recognition that the Jewish state was systematically violating the basic, universal human rights of a specific part of its population. The belief in Israel's righteousness, in its provision of justice and equality for all would have been seriously challenged if not shattered. And consequently, for long years, the topic was treated without reference to the universal terminology. Human rights education was called education for co-existence and democracy (on the tacit assumption that there was no doubt that Israel was a democratic state, and that indeed here it was encouraging, and educating for, democracy).
          During this period, and indeed to this day, in the secular state schools, education is purported to be a-political. The term “political” was and still is widely understood to mean “partisan,” that is, affiliated with a specific political bloc or party. State education was purported be neutral and objective, effacing any personal political views that teachers might hold and avoiding loaded debates about current events. Education was said to instill “values” - supposedly universal and agreed on by all - as opposed to ideologies or views.
          However, many of the people who designed and implemented encounter group programs saw this description as false, as an evasion of the fact that educators cannot escape working out of a personally held world-view and set of opinions, as vague and diffuse as these may be. Many of these people see any and all education as political, as conveying opinions and attitudes, whether implicitly or explicitly. During the years of the Intifada, for instance, it was pointed out that refraining from discussion of its events in schools was not a-political but rather a political stand implying that Israeli Jewish life could continue as usual, ignoring the issues raised by the uprising and its suppression. It was a stand that upheld the existence of an almost total split between goings on in the territories, military and government actions there, and the routine of normal civilian life in Israel. Encounter group work, along with curricula for education for democracy, which were written and introduced into schools in the mid-eighties and early nineties, gradually shifted towards overt acknowledgment that education is political. The term, and through it the concept, were domesticated in faculty lounges and class rooms to some degree, along with the implication that recognizing their role and discussing it openly, was preferable to keeping it invisible yet potent.
          In addition, at the outset, encounter groups were not classified under “education for peace,” as they often are in other places in the world. No category of this kind existed in Israel at the time. While the themes and contents of peace education clearly formed much of the substance of encounter group work, they were presented without the label of peace education. The main catch word was co-existence, which indeed was often qualified as ‘peaceful co-existence’ but avoided a direct connection to peace.
          4.3.  From “Non-Existence” to Co-Existence
          In retrospect, “co-existence” may seem a dubious target, the meagre substance of what Jews and Palestinians in Israel were doing anyway - by default. When historically contextualized, though, its recurrence as a central objective of encounter groups is clearer. At the time the groups first began, the vast majority of Israeli Jews were virtually unaware that there were Palestinian citizens in Israel, not to speak of the fact that they constituted about 18% of the population. Several factors converged to make their presence shadowy, to obscure it from general Jewish knowledge. Among these were: long term denial, by Zionist leaders - prior to statehood and later - of the existence of Palestinians in the land (a famous Zionist maxim re-claimed “a land without a people for a people without a land”); severe restrictions on the mobility of the Palestinian citizens of Israel, who lived under separate, martial rule till 1966; the geographical segregation between the populations, establishment of the most Jewish villages and towns at separate sites from the existing Palestinian communities; widespread Jewish ignorance of Arabic and the cultural suppression of this language among Jews from Arabic speaking cultures. The virtual invisibility of the Palestinian population was part of the highly asymmetrical structure of Israeli society and one of the means supporting an ongoing Jewish belief in its basic fairness and justice.
          At the time, most Jews were totally unclear and confused about the identity Palestinians, widely applying the term to the population of the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Participants in encounter groups, whether teachers or students, made no distinction between Palestinians from the occupied territories and those who were citizens of Israel. All of them were perceived - in both emotional and cognitive terms - as the Arab enemy. There was no awareness of Palestinians in Israel as citizens who were owed full and equal rights. For the minority of Jews who actually discerned their presence in the state, they represented a threat to be strictly monitored and controlled. Therefore, co-existence, an existence alongside each other on (a more) equal footing, seemed a valid goal at the time, to be achieved - mainly - through Jews’ acquired awareness of the existence of Palestinian citizens of their state, and the recogition of their equal rights.
          The Intifada seemed to effect a degree of change in the invisible status of Palestinians in Israel. On the one hand, the powerful Palestinian presence established by the uprising seemed to draw attention to Palestinians per se including those who were citizens of Israel. On the other, the latter were clearly not parties to the struggle (though some of them were outspoken in supporting it) and consequently seem to have emerged more clearly as Israeli citizens, distinct from the population of the territories, who could and did voice dissent through the mechanisms of Israeli society and government. Encounter groups reinforced this distinction by allowing direct encounters and acquaintances with Palestinians from Israel and by doing so at times when the population of the territories was often physically barred from entering Israel. The current much higher awareness, among Israeli Jews, of a significant and distinct Palestinian population in Israel, may thus be partly ascribed to encounter group work.
Xxx developing consciousness of asymmetry - first enough to put equal numbers of 2 groups together; later understanding that asymmetry entailed by education, resources - political causes external to the groups; awareness that in any case no equal co-existence possible, conclusions of the need to work on the real inequalities, with the disenfranchised groups; also change in methods used in groups - everything shown in the context of asymmetrical power structure, and of the conflict
          4.4.  From Consciousness to Action
          A final axis along which encounter group work evolved is the continuum between achieving consciousness and taking action. Many of the facilitators working within the psychologically oriented models, felt considerable distress concerning the boundary lines of these models. Particularly over the years of the Intifada, facilitators felt increasingly motivated to move participants beyond the borderline of growing awareness, reflection, shifts in attitudes, towards practical political action. Meanwhile, alongside this rising drive to move people to action, the fact that no one knew how to do this created an accumulating frustration among facilitators. In some cases attempts were made to move encounter groups into a phase of political action and these often proved unsuccessful. The lack of practical action in the encounter group framework and the elusiveness of clear means for moving participants to activism were a combined subject of sharp criticism among facilitators and program operators. This seems to us to be a significant factor in the process of professional and personal development that took many facilitators to more clearly interventionist positions.
          Near the start of the Intifada, several facilitators’ meetings at Giv’at Haviva concentrated on the need to move into forms of practical action. The feelings expressed were that talking wasn’t enough, that it didn’t change the facts on the ground and was empty and useless in and of itself. The same dilemmas and debates ran through the intentionally and openly political encounter groups organized by peace groups such as The 21st Year, who introduced Palestinians from the occupied territories to groups from the Jewish intelligentsia of the middle to left, at a large series of parlor meetings. Interestingly, looking at them in retrospect, these last meetings served a number of their Palestinian speakers as internships in diplomacy, as these were some of the people who later conducted the peace talks with the Israelis and then graduated into ministerial or other posts in the Palestinian Authority.


5.    Some Typical Characteristics of Encounter Groups
          5.1.  Asymmetry
          The main problem facing Palestinian-Jewish encounter groups was an inherent asymmetry. This has been written on by several researchers and we will only recount it briefly here. While the student’s groups, for instance, were usually carefully constructed to include equal numbers of Jews and Palestinians, the Palestinian youths came from schools which were often highly authoritarian, where self-expression was rarely encouraged, where less expressive channels - such as artwork and music - were readily available, where the level of personal oppression was often higher, where teachers employed strict disciplinary techniques. The encounter group situation was one where expression skills were paramount, and Palestinian participants were coming to it from a background which disadvantaged them in this field.
          The entire background and support system of the Palestinian students participating in encounter groups was lacking in comparison to those of the Jewish students. State investment per student in the educational system for Palestinians in Israel was, and is still, about a fifth of its investment per Jewish student. A facilitator has describe this asymmetry as follows, “The Jewish youth was self-confident, back-talking, imperious. They conducted themselves very freely. The Palestinians were scared, introverted, very skeptical, with stilted relations between girls and boys, very frightened.”
          Moreover, the language used during the encounter had to be Hebrew. This was true whether the groups comprised adults or school children. A minority of Jews in Israel speak Arabic at more than a very rudimentary level. The majority know no Arabic at all. Palestinian students study Hebrew from a relatively early age and most of them are fairly fluent in the language. Beyond this, however, there was a tacit rule that the language of the ruling majority should be used, by virtue of the fact that it was after all the dominant language. In this sense, the very choice of language defined a structure of asymmetry. In addition, the Palestinian participants had to use a second language, which invariably impeded full and fluent expression, while most of the Jews were speaking their native tongue.
          The structure of a process-oriented, student-driven meeting was also more familiar to many of the Jews than the Palestinians. Children attending informal educational frameworks such as youth movements, drama groups, art and dance classes, etc. were fairly well acquainted with such sessions and felt relatively at ease within them. This type of framework was far rarer among the Palestinian than among the Jewish population.
          5.2.  Group Dynamics
          Some of the dynamics which characterized encounter groups were the same which are familiar from dynamic group work in general. These included features such as an often hesitant but positive opening, a recurring series of stages the group would pass through. They also included developments such as acquisition of new skills, where various inter-personal skills were often acquired or at least practiced intensively. Listening skills, sensitivity to others, perceiving a group, placing oneself relative to it, were all parts of participating in an encounter. However, the background framework of the conflict heightened and sharpened many of the characteristic features of group dynamics. Issues regarding the struggle for space and leadership, for instance, became more loaded than usual. Group resistances of all sorts, to the process of the dynamic were sharpened considerably relative to other types of groups. In addition, there were some dynamics which seemed particularly characteristic of encounter group work.
          5.3.  Recurring Dynamics
          The following are several processes that would typically occur in most or many Jewish-Palestinian encounter groups in all their various models:
·             Attempts on the part of the group to undo the positive Jewish-Palestinian co-existence between the co-facilitators - The successful joint functioning of the facilitators often created emotional dissonance for the participants, who would exert a group force against it.
·             An initial sense of euphoria - At discovering that the other side is also human, participants on both sides would generally experience a warm feeling of mutual connection, very soon after the beginning.
·             Parallel processes - The dynamic within the group both mirrored, and was mirrored by, developments between the facilitators, which in turn often reflected and was reflected by developments occurring at the organization level, which again replicated, and to some extent was replicated by, events on the inclusive level of the Jewish-Palestinian conflict, outside the encounter group. For example, a bombing outside invariably led to a destructive confrontation inside the group, and almost always to the destruction of the encounter process, which was effectively “bombed.” In another instance, processes and reactions which were typical and familiar in encounter groups were often visible in later years, in the processes of negotiation between top Israeli and Palestinian officials.
·             Unlearning myths - This was an often painful and difficult process. It occurred in the course of almost every Jewish-Palestinian meeting or through activism in political groups or NGO’s (such as B’Tselem, Physicians for Human Rights, etc.). More among Jews than among Palestinians, who tended to be more familiar from the outset with the hegemonic Jewish version of history and reality. Palestinians too, however, were often acquainted for the first time with Jews as human beings, with their pain and trauma and vulnerability. Participants who underwent these processes were deeply and authentically shocked when very basic beliefs which they had usually held, unquestioned, all their lives were overturned and turned out to be entirely or partly false. For many Jewish participants, the encounter was the first time they heard the life stories and histories of their Palestinian counterparts, their first acquaintance with the facts of the Palestinians’ forceful expulsion from homes and land by the Jewish state and army in the late 1940’s and early 50’s, of massacres carried out by the Israeli army. For Palestinians it was often a first detailed acquaintance with the holocaust and its scars. The resulting feelings and cognitions were often deeply conflictive for each individual. One Palestinian facilitator has said that, early on in her work, “I didn’t want to identify with the Jews when they talked about the holocaust. Something was awfully confused for me. I didn’t want to hear it. I couldn’t understand how I could identify with them on this point and yet be so angry at them because they’re the strong ones. But they’re so frightened. I understood that the strong were weak. [...] So as not to lose myself I felt I needed to be insensitive, not to identify. If I identify then what -- am I giving up my rights? My struggle as a Palestinian?”
·             A perceived threat - Many Jews felt deeply threatened when they first confronted a group of Palestinians assembled together and talking to each other openly, confidently and clearly in their own language, which the Jews could not understand. Regardless of the language being used for the joint encounter, groups of Palestinians would naturally sit and converse in Arabic. This often aroused a fear of being with - on the side of, as well as exposed to - the enemy, as it were.
·             A disparity in expectations - Jewish participants expected to come and talk about the differences dividing Jews and Palestinians. Just talking about it for a few intensive days was enough to make them feel different. To them this in itself was political action, crossing the lines. For the Palestinian participants talking was less important, although it clearly did allow some of them a feeling of catharsis. (At one point, a few of the Palestinian participants used to go from encounter to encounter, in a sort of compulsive repetition of their cathartic act of speaking out.) Following from the asymmetry of dominating and dominated groups, the Palestinians had and felt a far greater need for practical change. Just talking answered the needs of Jewish participants much more than it answered theirs, and they often felt abused and deceived by the entire encounter framework.
·             Conflicting views of the encounter - Related to and perhaps leading to the previous characteristic, this one was based on different perceptions of encounter work. While many Jewish participants tended to focus on the personal, individual aspects of relations and interactions with their Palestinian counterparts, the Palestinians were often intent on examining the collective, group aspects.
·             Slippage towards psychological and personality issues -Personality traits and personal difficulties can easily take up large amounts of space, time and energy in group encounters. In some groups there was a high level of entanglement with the personal problems of specific participants. This resulted both from tendencies - mainly on the part of some Jews - to concentrate on psychological factors, and from tendencies - mainly of the part of some Palestinians - to take advantage of an opportunity to release anger at the Jews. And of course it also resulted from tendencies on the part of both Jews and Palestinians to channel personal aggression into group issues.
·             Different styles of discourse - In discussions on carrying out practical tasks and taking action, the Palestinian participants tended to phrase their ideas in terms that were generalized and public, while Jewish participants tended to refer to direct personal tasks and implications. This often led to misunderstandings and frustration.
·             Difficult homecomings - The experience was an intensive, sometimes intimate one. It was hard to communicate to anyone who hadn’t personally gone through it. The sense of crossing over, of joining with the enemy, of breaking taboos, unlearning myths could all be very powerful, beyond the strong sense of insular other-worldliness that can accompany any intensive workshop. This was sometimes exacerbated further by coming home to an environment which was critical of the encounter, demanded detailed accounts, etc., especially when the participants were students, coming home to their parents.
·             Definitions of identity, reference group, place, space - These occurred at almost every encounter and were often required as the basis from which discussion could begin. For some they were seen as challenging, fascinating and significant questions regardless of the encounter. For some they were infuriating, unexpected, forcefully imposed by the encounter. The role of the facilitator was crucial in how these issues were perceived and received. XxxOne component which surfaced regularly in discussions of identity was religion. Palestinians often cited religion as a major component of their identity, while Jews tended to define themselves as secular Israelis first, and only second as members of the Jewish religion.
·             Exoticizing - One recurring process involved the mutual clarification of what each group knew about the culture of its counterpart. This unfailingly raised issues of religion and different religious customs. The Palestinians usually exhibited a much more detailed knowledge of Judaism, Jewish holidays, scriptures, traditions, etc. than the Jews had of the Islamic or Christian traditions of the Palestinian population. Palestinians have compulsory school courses in Hebrew literature and Jewish history, while no equivalent courses are taught in Jewish schools. Such discussions, however, were not usually heated or loaded, because religion tended to be perceived (especially by the largely secular Jews who participated in encounter groups) as a form of quaint, exotic, folk culture.
·             “Victimization contests” - The Palestinian participants tended to speak a lot about their victimization, their persecution, discrimination against them, their lack of equal rights. They spoke about memories of their parents’ eviction from their homes and villages, about oppression under the military rule which denied them free movement, intervened in job applications, about land confiscations. Younger participants talked about the terror of being in a Jewish or mixed city or away from home after a bombing while police were picking up, grilling and sometimes brutalizing suspects, and crowds were sometimes catching and beating any Palestinian in the vicinity. They talked about the repeated and humiliating security searches every time they leave or enter the country. They conveyed a prevalent sense of living under existential threat both at the individual level and the national one. The Jewish participants would invariably answer with the holocaust. They too would express a strong sense of victimization and persecution, a feeling of helplessness to which the sole solution seems to be strength and the use of force.
·             Guilt focused discourse - Predicated on the previous characteristic, this typical feature was the degree to which guilt played a central role in encounter group work. At times it was fed actively by facilitators, especially some of the Palestinian ones, but also by a good number of Jews. To some extent there were positive aspects - expressions of sincere sorrow (sometimes mutual, sometimes not) at the circumstances that the other had had to endure. Symbolic but meaningful acts of apology for what one’s people had incurred. Explicit acknowledgments that the specific individuals at an encounter or the specific generation one was meeting, weren’t guilty of wrongs done to one’s people. However, for some of the Jewish participants and facilitators it tended to become a dead end, a cleansing quasi-confession process of accepting guilt rather than responsibility. In such cases the borderlines between past and present were often blurred and the encounter was over-dominated by the past. Some facilitators made systematic efforts to differentiate guilt from responsibility and to emphasize the practical, future-oriented implications of the latter. Usually, this would be the closing point of the encounter, which didn’t actually go on to examine options for practical action.
·             Incompatible attitudes handled in uni-national groups - Over time there was a growing awareness among facilitators and project directors that some topics could simply not be accepted and understood by both groups working together. These were issues that the encounter would unavoidably raise and they needed to be dealt with. On the other hand, attempting to deal with them in a mixed group proved counterproductive, heating emotions and deepening rifts. There was no middle ground, for instance, in in-depth sessions about the holocaust. The Palestinians could not accept any responsibility for this part of Jewish history, in the name of which they were expected to understand their own dispossession. The Jews could not expect to receive sufficient empathy for the deep existential fear with which it continued to burden them. Conversely, they could not accept the frequent Palestinian need to express some level of identification with bombers or bombings, some degree of satisfaction that organized violence, loss, humiliation went both ways, at least some of the time. And in many instances some of the Palestinians could not avoid feeling that a dead IDF soldier, for example, was a justified price for the Jews to pay for their oppression and conquest. The result was a framework that dealt with this type of topic, as well as others, in uni-national groups, in combination with the bi-national work.
6.    Concluding Remarks
          6.1.  The Success Question
          The unavoidable question we have been asking ourselves while reflecting on encounter groups is, to what degree did they succeed. And unavoidable though it may be, in many ways it is also a trick question. A question that rules out a real answer. For success remains an elusive concept regarding such activities, while its measures are many and at the same time partly unknown. Success could be assessed globally, looking at the entire complex of various encounter groups over two-some decades. Or success might be measured relative to the specific goals cited by each organization and each project, although we believe that in many cases some of the most important goals were not stated explicitly. In both cases, the measurable results, such as they were, would be hard to ascribe to encounter groups alone. They could invariably follow from a number of causes, of which the groups would be only one. In addition, a significant proportion of the stated goals aren’t easily given to straightforward quantification.         
          Regarding success, we also agree, to some extent, with Itzhak Shapira’s position that, “In education the concepts of investment, process and product don’t apply. There’s only the process. Success lies in the very existence of the process. [...] We have to do our utmost. For there’s a moral commitment in education to do the work regardless of any measure indicating that this or that is what will achieve results.”
          Finally, as both of us view encounter group work and work for social change through the ideas and ideologies of feminism and critical education, to which we are committed, whatever it is that we view as success or failure follows from the terms of these beliefs. And obviously, an alternative set of beliefs, such as those that apparently guided quite a few encounter group projects, would produce a different account of success and failure.
          Given these terms and reservations, we will go on to discuss some of our impressions (and that is the extent of what they are) of what encounter group work accomplished or failed to accomplish. As this discussion is not a project-by-project analysis, we will be looking at global successes or failures, of encounter groups as a genre of work.
          6.2.  Possible Successes
          There seems to be no doubt that, for many people, encounters provided an extremely intense and powerful experience for many of the people participating in them, including the facilitators. This may be true of various types of group work, however there’s no escaping the fact that in this case participants were from geographically and socially segregated, as well as deeply conflicting groups, and a mere acquaintance with their counterparts was often very new and exciting. As one facilitator said, “There is this very fundamental human and humanistic impulse to meet.” Another said, “The need is very much there and very deep. On both sides.” Participants’ experiences ranged from highly positive to sharply negative. They were often extremely complex. Admittedly though, we have also heard that for some they were unimportant and uninteresting, that the meeting was just a case of “going through motions.”
          There are some senses in which we believe encounter group work made a cumulatively positive contribution towards empowering Palestinians in Israel. This should be understood in a qualified manner. It is our view that by and large, the genre of work carried out in Israel was conservative and constructed to maintain Jewish hegemony, to make it more comfortable by accommodating its liberal self-perception. For those who held this, consciously or not, to be the point and the goal of the work, we believe it should be considered at least a moderate success. A success that we would conversely consider a failure, for its reinforcement of the deep inequalities and injustices rooted in this hegemony. And yet, within the restrictive framework of unequal relations, Palestinians could still develop gradually more effective ways of attaining community and personal goals, of navigating the unequal system, of pressuring it to engage with their terms and their definitions. In other words, our impressions of success vs. failure don’t fit an all-or-nothing pattern. There may be distinct elements of success within a generally unsuccessful program and vice versa. As is obvious from the above, our view of success, focusing on enablement of social change, is mainly concentrated on developments within the disenfranchised half of the encounter group formula. In asking about success, we are chiefly trying to assess the degree to which encounter groups may or may not have enabled the Palestinian citizens of Israel to achieve greater equality and acknowledgment, and the Jewish citizens of Israel to recognize the importance and justness of this. This would clearly be far from the views of success offered by the initiators and directors of a majority of encounter group projects.
          In the context of a discussion of success, it is interesting to note a distinct phenomenon, that continued over most of the years of encounter group work. There were always larger numbers of Palestinians than Jews interested in, and willing to, participate in encounter groups. In addition, there were some Palestinian participants who came back to group after group to participate again and again.
          When encounter groups began, in the seventies, Palestinians in Israel were still generally barred from organizing in independent politicized bodies. Attempts to establish Palestinian political parties (as opposed to Arab subsidiaries of existing Jewish parties) were blocked, both legally and in practical ways. Even institutions such as the Committee of Arab Municipalities or the Monitoring Committee for Arab Affairs in Israel did not yet exist and would probably have been disallowed. Encounter groups, even in their initial, strictly bi-national form, were a rare opportunity for Palestinians from Israel to convene for discussions of issues of national identity and history in a public space, and in some cases to continue doing so over time. This had the effect of at least partly legitimizing the views being aired, the topics of Palestinian nationality, the implications of this in a Jewish state. For instance, one of the facilitators has mentioned a heated debate about carrying state-issued Identity Cards, conducted by a particular encounter group. While participating in such discussions, Palestinian participants were often reinforcing or clarifying a sense of group-belonging, of joint definition, while the issues under discussion necessarily carried significant political import, even when the group work avoided overt political debate. These were enabling conditions which were dangerous or almost impossible to create in exclusively Palestinian groups at the time.
          In addition, at encounter groups, Palestinians were learning to talk to Jews, learning to master the dominant language - not only the Hebrew but the terminology and concepts - eventually enabling them turn it to their advantage. For example, we were told, “The language came from a non-Arab context. A Jewish, western, university context. We don’t talk that way - ‘How do you feel about...’” While another facilitator sees encounter group work as one of the sources of change in the way Palestinian citizens of Israel express themselves and position themselves, when dealing with state authorities. He described a dispute over municipal funding with the Ministry of Interior. Today, he said, the stand taken by the Palestinian municipality is one of standing up for what is rightfully owed rather than begging favors. He ascribes part of “the broadening of civic awareness” among Palestinians, to the educational work of encounter groups.
          Encounter groups also clearly offered an opportunity for Palestinians from Israel to “state their case,” to consolidate and present personal accounts of their histories, of the wrongs caused to them, to their families, to their communities, by the Jewish population. This act of confronting representatives of the dominating group and “telling it to them” was undoubtedly sometimes cathartic and deeply significant, although it also sometimes led to the frustration of “just talk and no deeds.” It was also an act which undermined the monopoly on knowledge and truth which many Jews assumed (often unconsciously) they had. When the encounters went well they retold and changed the story of how Israel was founded, opened it to integrate kinds of knowledge and truth that had formerly been suppressed by the hegemonic group. In this sense, “just talking” was in fact a form of action, of establishing presence and agency.
          This seems to have made a contribution to a broader, more inclusive process through which Palestinians in Israel gradually moved from a state of invisibility, where many Jews barely registered their existence, to a status of increased visibility and presence. As we mentioned earlier, a typical response among Jews in encounter groups, especially in the first years, was surprise that the Arabs they were being introduced to were citizens of Israel, living within state borders. Many of them assumed they were going to meet Palestinians who lived beyond the “green line” (the international border of 1948). They were surprised to learn that there were Palestinians from Israel, and especially that there was a large Palestinian community. The percentage of Palestinians in the overall population of Israel (18) was a fact introduced at virtually every encounter group, and it unfailingly surprised and shocked the Jewish participants. Though hard or impossible to support with direct evidence, it seems to us that encounter group work was one of the factors which placed the Palestinian citizens of Israel more clearly and openly in the consciousness of the Jewish hegemony, and more firmly on the public agenda. Today it is uncontroversial, though grantedly on the declarative level only, that Palestinian citizens exist in Israel and are entitled to equal rights. In 1983-4, when encounter groups were just emerging, the very act of meeting with members of their community bore a connotation of treason for Jews. And while representation of the Palestinian population is still far from adequate in media, in government, in allocation of funds, it has nevertheless moved from a virtual invisibility, to a level of limited acknowledgment.
          Through encounter group work, the Palestinians were sometimes confronted with internal problems in their society. This usually aroused stiff resistance in the Palestinian group. As one Palestinian facilitator told us, “The Arabs weren’t prepared to criticize themselves in face of the enemy. Even in uni-national work. We discovered that there are a lot of social problems, in our own society. They didn’t want to admit that there were problems, that we should change.” However, to some degree, in the long run, there seems to have been a rise in the recognition that Palestinian society had to deal with some severe internal problems. Some of the activism that takes on such problems is led by former facilitators of encounter groups. As one facilitator has stated, “The groups placed a lot of subjects on the social agenda. Parenting, family, schooling and education.” In this sense again, the work seems to have proved at least somewhat empowering, though it was clearly not the only catalyst raising Palestinian consciousness to internal problems.
          In addition, through close contact with many students, teachers, individuals, the encounters clarified some of the specific details of the discrimination suffered by Palestinians in Israel. They probably contributed to some extent to the construction of itemized lists which could then be presented to the authorities. And they may have introduced Palestinian educators to some of the methods used by their Jewish counterparts to secure state support. They served as a source of information for educators and administrators on the facilities and investments received by Jewish students and denied their own. Here too, we aren’t claiming direct or exclusive cause and effect processes. But we believe that encounters played some role in the increasingly skilled, well presented and assertive demand for state support for Palestinian education in Israel, and the significant though insufficient results this has achieved in Palestinian schools.
          Encounters were empowering for Palestinians in other ways. The percentage of Palestinians living in poverty in Israel far exceeds their overall percentage in the population. On the average, Palestinian participants in encounter groups were from less privileged homes than the Jewish participants.* All the more so, since a considerable proportion of Jewish participants were from Ashkenazi middle and upper-middle class homes. And this was compounded by severe under-funding in the educational system in Palestinian towns and villages. Consequently, for school children, encounter groups were an opportunity for outings financed, for the most part, by the initiating organization. These were an exception from the often limited scope of extra-curricular activities provided by their schools or youth groups. For many adults too the accommodations offered by encounters - weekends at hotels, dining room meals - lay outside of what was usually customary, or beyond what was financially feasible. The facilities were never luxury ones, but they did provide participants with a vacation-like experience, and perhaps the sense of self-worth that can feed. In addition, they offered occasion for socializing in ways that weren’t common among the Palestinian population. And again, for practicing the cultural codes of the dominating culture, learning how to better address it. It might be debated to what degree this was yet another channel of cultural erasure of Palestinian customs, while instilling Jewish, westernized ones. Given that, it did provide Palestinian participants with tools for engaging Jewish institutions on their terms.
          Palestinian teachers participating in encounter groups sometimes experienced a different educational approach; less hierarchical and authoritarian, somewhat more allowing of creativity and originality, employing a wider variety of educational resources such as drama, films, etc. This was especially so since encounter groups were generally conducted by relatively progressive and innovative educators, both Jewish and Palestinian.
          6.3.  Probable Failures
          Reiterating our overall claim that encounter groups largely acted to maintain existing inequities, while they nevertheless helped enable a meaningful degree of change within the basic discriminatory structure, we’ll now mention a few ways in which they may have created setbacks even in the limited scope of improvement they helped create. Paradoxically, while serving to empower, encounters also seem to have had the effect of further undermining self-esteem and self-confidence among Palestinians from Israel. Such reactions may be comparable to those of women who are acquiring a growing consciousness of the extent of their oppression and their own collusion in maintaining it. On the one hand, the deepened understanding is a condition for change, while it can also foster a previously absent feeling of helplessness and despair. For instance, the gaps between Palestinian and Jewish youth, emphasized and made so obvious when they were brought together, were sometimes a cause of shame, for both facilitators and participants. One Palestinian facilitator has said, “It was really hard for me to look at the gap. It made me so sad. I used to think, ‘Poor people, how pitiful we are, what suckers.’”
          This is related to a more general phenomenon which probably affected the results of encounter groups. There was a high degree of burn-out among facilitators on both sides, while the organizations very rarely provided any preventive support in the form of supervision or other measures. The pain of confronting both the gaps in their personified form - the participants, the structural inequality, the injustice, the racism - over an extended period of time, was too much for many facilitators, both Jews and Palestinians. One said, “I couldn’t do that work any more. I used to come home with zero energy. You’d poke straight into the wound and it hurt so much and you’d start bleeding all over again. I needed a lot of time to heal it. After three days of facilitating I’d need a week of rest and it just wasn’t worth it any more. I felt I was wronging myself, first of all, because it was so hard and so hurtful and so painful.” Another said, “I felt I couldn’t go on containing the terrible things I was hearing, the racism, the expressions. I couldn’t go on being empathetic and contain these things and carefully, considerately offer reflections of them so that people would have tools to change.”
          Even when they engendered a critical grasp of reality and a new recognition of the terms of the conflict, encounter groups almost always stopped short of working on solutions. In South Africa or Northern Ireland, grassroots organizations often worked at formulating alternative platforms, systematized visions of how affairs would be conducted after an agreed solution to the conflict, of what the particular terms of such a solution would mean. These went into detail and mapped out some of the specifics of daily life in various areas. In Israel, on the other hand, the grassroots debates conducted in encounter groups generally made no attempt to outline the nuts and bolts of a resolution. They would often reach a point of partial agreement on a lot of the debated issues and that, typically, would be the breakoff point. The rest would be left to ‘the politicians’. In this sense, the encounter groups were indeed not full-fledged peace education, because they usually didn’t get down to the practical substance of what peace would look like and how to manage it. They didn’t attempt to map out a citizens’ peace with concrete arrangements and regulations. They left the end result ethereal, unreal, out of reach, and seemed to imply the participants’ inadequacy to deal with its contents. They also seemed to retain a deep and almost automatic acceptance of formal authority. As such they fell far short of the empowerment needed to propel social change.

* Palestinians from Israel, in distinction to Palestinians living in the still (partly) occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip, also call themselves, and are called, Israeli Arabs, Israeli Palestinians. In addition, religion is often also used as an identifying title, especially the Druze religion, as are tribal affiliation and social organization, in the case of the Bedouins. Issues of self-definition, national identity, group affiliation, are in flux among the indigenous population of what was formerly Palestine, and this is reflected in the terminology. Jewish citizens of Israel often use the generic ‘Arabs,’ reflecting the denial of a singular, Palestinian national identity. The choice of terms is far from straightforward, then, and depends on the views and consciousness of the individual making it. We have chosen to use the terminology currently used by many of the Palestinians who are our friends and colleagues.
* Percentages of Palestinians and women in university faculties are quoted from: S. Swirsky & B. Swirsky, Academic Education in Israel, August 1977, pp. 15 & 21. Data on women’s unemployment is quoted from: IWN, Women in Israel: Information, Data and Commentary, Jerusalem, 1996, p. 42.
* Comparative economic backgrounds of Jewish and Palestinian participants were quite different, for instance, in the encounter group work conducted across the “green line” (the international border of 1948) between Palestinians from the occupied territories and Jews from Israel. A large proportion of the Palestinians attending these groups were from upper class Palestinian families, from relatively well off homes.