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Finding Unity in Conflict


For the past 12 years, students at the University of Maryland, outside Washington, D.C., have been learning about conflict resolution from an unusual team of professors: an Israeli and a Palestinian. On behalf of producer Wajid Ali Syed, VOA's Jim Bertel reports that what started as a tense teaching relationship has developed into a deep friendship outside the classroom.

The images of conflict in the Middle East are almost a daily staple on newscasts around the world. For many who watch, it seems peace between the Israelis and Palestinians is unattainable, with every step forward followed by two steps back.

For the past 12 years, two professors -- an Israeli and a Palestinian -- have taught students at the University of Maryland about this conflict and the challenges in resolving it.

Israeli Edy Kaufman and Palestinian Manuel Hassassian have both lived in Jerusalem. When they started teaching conflict resolution together in 1993 they agreed on little, from the syllabus to the words used in describing the conflict.

Hassassian says they both believed dialogue was the only way to find peace. "And from day one we tell them we are not here to score points as much as to convey to you -- first, the methodology, the knowledge, give you the facts, give you the different historic narratives, and then we let you draw your own conclusions in a way, one way or the other, you have to think in a joint manner where you think in terms of searching for common ground."

Still, there were tense moments that first year. And life for Hassassian outside the classroom was also difficult. He spent the first month living in a small dorm room with no entertainment and, as he describes it, lousy food. And then Edy Kaufman stepped in. Hassassian explains, "So he invited me to stay in their house with his wife Lisa where I stayed the last two weeks. And since then they took the decision that since I'm coming alone, and not all the time with my family, it would be a good idea to share with them the same accommodation. And that is how we came to live with each other."

Kaufman adds, "We would love to have him with his entire family. And one summer we were so lucky to get also his wife Samira, and his two children. So our relationship now is a family-to-family relationship."

Kaufman says the two share many interests, including a love of classical music and soccer. Through the years, as their friendship has grown, so has the respect for each man's position on Middle East peace.

Kaufman believes this approach to teaching conflict resolution would be effective in areas where other ethnic-political conflicts rage. "Many other conflicts could benefit from what we have learned from all these years of teaching together about how to understand better, respect better, and look for common solutions towards the future."

Both teachers believe they are proof that people with different points of view can coexist. Hassassian and Kaufman say finding common ground like they have is the only hope for finding peace in the Middle East.

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