Mediation memories.

So today, at the real estate contract-signing (and last-minute negotiation) in a law office in Tel Aviv, my memories of my Masters degree education were revived.

Two years after finishing my course in Conflict Management and Negotiation at Bar Ilan University, I found myself on one side of a glossy wood table, glass pitcher of water serving as the barrier between us and our lawyer, and my landlord’s team.

I was able to attend a real mediation case during my studies and I learned so much from those five hours. Being involved today in a much less dramatic, but still tactical, two-sided conversation with clear ‘interesim’ was interesting. A little tense. And definitely nostalgic for something I haven’t ended up pursuing.

But I can also say, following your own thought process during a negotiation can reveal a lot about you…

Conflict management.

It’s probably only appropriate that at the graduation ceremony for Bar Ilan University’s Conflict Management and Negotiation program, I witnessed my first Israeli-Arab walkout.

I studied in the program the same years as a secularish Arab girl from around Uhm Al Fahm. She’s probably around my age, with an assertive nature and a big, warn smile – the kind that involves her eyes. She participated in class, she joked with the rest of us.

It was nice to see her at the ceremony. We nodded hellos and I noticed her family was present to support her – her religious-looking parents, her secular sisters and her little nephews. With one of her nephews, hanging around where I stood in the back of the room, I played peekaboo. He’s probably a few months older than Koala and just as charming.

As it always goes at the end of an Israeli ceremony, the musicians got ready to play Hatikva, and everyone stood. The Uhm Al Fahm clan stood… and politely, inconspicuously, walked out. As my classmate walked past, I looked up at her and matched her sigh-resembling smile.

Who am I? What do I believe? A degree in conflict management taught me a lot, but living in Israel taught me, perhaps, too much. Even if I left this country tomorrow, I could never go back to who I was before I lived here. I don’t know if it’s living next to the green line. Or that it’s become normal to occasionally shop alongside Israeli-Arabs, stand on line with Israeli-Arabs. I don’t know if it’s being exposed to a class of people who look just like me, only… only…

She chose to attend Bar Ilan, an openly religiously oriented and Zionist institution. She chose to do this degree, and she chose to participate in whatever she had to get to today. But she also chose not to go too far, not to stay for the national anthem. I suppose that’s conflict management after all: peace is a sleepy dream; conflict management is making choices.

Well, my term in Bar Ilan couldn’t have ended on a more appropriate note.

Graduation.

On the day of my ‘graduation ceremony’ from Bar Ilan’s Conflict Management and Negotiation program, I must note that five years ago,when I started, I wasn’t planning to still be at the job that was supposed to pay my way through university.

Yet here I am.

So, the degree was a bit of a disappointment. Maybe the program is better now, who knows. I’m still a bit scarred from one of the professors saying to us at the end of one semester: Don’t bother making mediation your career. It should be a side job, something nice you do aside from the job that feeds you.

Look, he’s not completely wrong, but saying it to students studying the field and not doing anything to better the situation isn’t completely right.

Anyway. I’m very lucky that the job that was meant to feed me through grad school became my career. In Israel, it doesn’t usually happen this way – you come with a profession and settle for less. I came with a bullshit humanities degree and experience in activism and journalism – and learned a lot. Both in mediation and in hi tech. I’m a different person than when I got here.

I was going to blow off the חלוקת תעודות  tonight but in the end decided I have nothing to lose. A good friend will join me; actually, a good friend I made waaay back when I first started the degree and the job.

I think she’s more happy that its completed than I am.

In appreciation of honesty.

I went for an interview today for an internship possibility for my conflict management course. Details about the interview and the internship itself aside… I walked away from the experience with a totally separate outlook.

After we established that I could give the internship a shot – it’s an intense task, in short organizing mediators and vaad bayit type bodies for buildings with mainly Ethiopian immigrants – my interviewer wondered aloud if my Hebrew would be a problem.

She explained that because they are Ethiopian immigrants, the non-Israeli Hebrew along with the non-Israeli accent might make it more difficult for them than it has to be. She also considered the culture clash of what type of immigrant I am.

Instead of feeling insulted, I felt relieved. I feel like no one ever acknowledges the fact that, yes, I can speak, but yes, I have an accent and my grammar is not nearly perfect. I’m either told my Hebrew is amazing and I shouldn’t worry or I have to endure the person switching to broken English, thinking it would help me. Both frustrate me because I know I can speak, and I can communicate; I can tell a story… but I’m also realistic about knowing it’s not perfect.

The acknowledgment took pressure off me; I think it was pressure I never knew I actually had. I appreciated the honesty and I’m looking forward to trying the internship or moving on to get to the point where I need to be.

The irony of studying mediation during a strike.

I received an email today from the head of the Conflict Management and Negotiation department at Bar Ilan, apologizing for the inconvenience of the strike. He is new to the position as of this year and I found his email refreshing; isn’t this what you would expect considering the focus of this department?

He explains that he understands the frustration of the collateral victims here – the students – and he notices the irony of studying conflict management in a country and time period where the leaders can’t get their act together and come to agreement. He hopes that in the meantime we are learning from the experience and that the strike will be over soon so that we can work towards entering society with the skills needed to avoid such situations in the future. He announces that the department will do as much as possible to make sure we finish our degrees with the least trouble.

Ok, I projected a bit; he didn’t necessarily say all of that, but I got his drift and very much appreciated the sentiment. It is good to know that someone at the university is thinking of us students; even if he is involved in the mediation field and he is striking himself.

A futuristic lizrael update.

Lots of people are talking about ringing in a new year – at work, in the news, on the party scene. I’m not much of a New Years gal, but it seems 2008 holds a bunch of new experiences for me, before it’s even begun.

The year starts for me with recognizing the fact that I’ve been here for three years now. I feel like three years is the second hump to cross (after one year). There’s something about three years… (maybe it’s because the Nefesh b’Nefesh financial assistance contract is completed?)

Along with acknowledging three years of aliyah experience, I get to take on some new ones with a set of wheels… Yes, in the newborn weeks of 2008, I will become the dreaded creature known as: Israeli driver.

Soon after, we’re set to hit the beginning of February, when we make our big move; I haven’t really made it clear yet, but here is the official announcement that we are leaving Jerusalem and moving to Tzur Hadassah, a cozy suburb about fifteen minutes away, tucked in green hills, next to Beitar.

Fast forward to the summer, when I plan to be finishing the requirements for my Conflict Management and Negotiation degree at Bar Ilan. Not sure what comes after that in terms of a mediation career, but I’ll be glad to know that I’ve completed my Masters.

After that, it’s all a blur: living in the Israeli suburbs, finished with graduate school. Maybe I’ll have a chance to fall in love with Israel all over again and see this place through the eyes of someone with their feet in the ground. Then again, maybe I’ll get antsy and wiggle through the days until I can’t take it anymore.

Whatever the year brings, I’m looking forward to the new experiences… Three years in, and I’m ready for the next phase. Is the next hump the ten-year? I won’t bite off more than I can chew, but I can say I’m ready to start the trek… Although for this phase, I’ll (finally) be trekking in a car.

Stay tuned…