Happy Passover to all!  Here is the last student blog of the trip (other than I’ll post my own wrap up later this week)

Our last part of the trip were two speakers that I wanted to save for the end in order to really focus on the skills and thinking that our law students were going to need as they themselves reflected and then spoke about their experiences.  First, we focused on listening skills with a workshop from Professor Guy Itchakov.  Guy’s work on the deep listening skills that are needed to change minds has been groundbreaking.  (For more, you can listen to him on Hidden Brain in a podcast just dropped last month!)  We then shifted to talk about hope in conflict and the human evolutionary need to remain hopeful in the face of circumstances that can drive us all to despair.  Dr. Oded Leshem spoke to the students about his new book from Oxford, Hope Amidst Conflict, and gave us all renewed hope as we were about to leave Israel.

Student David Fleschner described the first talk:

Thursday evening’s speaker lineup started with Guy Itzchakov’s presentation on deep listening and conflict resolution skills. Guy’s presentation focused on the importance of what he called “High Quality Listening.” Guy emphasized that a listener’s main goal is to create an environment of psychological safety for the speaker. We were then given tools to help create that environment. Guy argued that the most important tool is effectively asking questions. Guy said that asking good questions is the best way to make the speaker feel important and understood, while also helping the speaker unlock doors about themselves that they could not do on their own. The most important aspects of good question asking are having good intentions and being non-judgmental. After teaching us these skills, Guy split us into groups of two and had us practice our listening skills with each other. This exercise showed us the importance of High Quality Listening. Ultimately, Guy’s taught us that listening is a limited resource which helps us better understand each other. High Quality Listening is a skill that we use every day, and learning how to maximize its utility was a great way to end our meaningful trip.

Student Daniel Edelstein outlined our second talk:

Dr. Oded Leshem is a political psychologist based at the Hebrew University who conducts research on the psychology of intergroup conflict and conciliation. Fascinatingly, his specialized research on hope in the context of Israel-Palestine delineates remarkable parallels to the geopolitical/interethnic conflict in Cyprus (between ethnic Greeks in the south and ethnic Turks in the north). Dr. Leshem notes that one key difference between the two conflicts is that the Cyprus conflict has a mostly calm border that has not seen intercommunal violence for many years. This is of course very different from Israel-Palestine, which experiences consistent flare-up in violence, even if at different levels of intensity. Nonetheless, Dr. Leshem pointed out that his research showed strikingly similar levels of animus between the respective intercommunal groups in both conflicts. In spite of this, his research indicates that hope is a two-dimensional process, with the first element being desire for peace and the second being belief in the fruition of peace. In both conflicts—and in the case of Israel, even amidst violent conflict—research showed similar levels of high desire for peace but low levels of belief that peace would actually occur.

To me, as someone who has actively worked with grassroot Israeli peers on alternative models to the two-state solution, Dr. Leshem’s research gives me hope (in the colloquial sense) of a better future, since to me the main element in establishing peace is that the affected populations desire it. That there is a lack of belief in its manifestation is merely a sign of affected populations reflecting on their experiential letdowns regarding the conflict; however, with the proper policies and good-faith endeavors to positively solve conflict, it would be reasonable to believe that the cynicism of peace can be overcome, leaving the core element of desire-for-peace to compound.                                                                                                    

And from student Eliott Dosetareh:

For our last speaker of the trip, we were very lucky to have heard from Dr. Oded Leshem who has been studying and analyzing the role that hope plays in realizing a future of peace between Israelis and Palestinians. There were many parts of Dr. Leshem’s talk that I found illuminating and thought-provoking, but one in particular that stood out. Firstly, Dr. Leshem broke down the definition of hope into two components: 1) A wish or desire for a certain outcome and 2) An expectation that that wish or desire will come to fruition. Depending on the context, people may use the term hope to mean the former, the latter, or a combination of these two ideals. When it comes to conflicts and times of war, Dr. Leshem explained that hope becomes an essential need because it is in these most difficult times, when people rely upon hope the most. Dr. Leshem pointed out that in the current crisis, the people who have suffered the most, namely the Palestinians in Gaza and citizens of Israel, have consistently displayed the greatest statistical percentage who identify with the first component of hope—that is for a wish and desire for a resolution to end years of continuous war and bloodshed. 

What was most fascinating in the argument that Dr. Leshem constructed, based upon his quantitative analysis and years of data gathered through asking individuals about their views of hope, was that the greatest indicator for peace is actually found in those who exhibit the first component of hope, that is of a desire for an ultimate resolution to the conflict, often without actually having the expectation that a resolution will emerge. In other words, the key ingredient to peace is not necessarily expecting it to be possible but maintaining that yearning desire for it as a principled ideal. While we discussed that great secular philosophers have ridiculed the notion of hope as being representative of ignorance, naivety, and foolishness, according to the Jewish tradition, we learn that it is one of the Thirteen Principles of Faith, according to Maimonides, that every Jewish person is obliged to believe in a future time of true peace and prosperity, as part of the ultimate redemption. Hope, as Viktor Frankl put it, is an existential need that we all yearn for and possess deep within us, and just having the desire or wish may be all it takes for true peace to actually come to fruition within our lifetimes. In sum, Dr. Leshem’s lecture on hope and its fundamental role it plays was both eye-opening, insightful, and inspiring as we seek to build bridges to bring about a just resolution to this conflict, for all peoples in this region.