Empathy is essential to peacebuilding, and two instructors—one in Los Angeles, the other in East Jerusalem—have found technology to be a powerful tool in creating understanding among their students and in their efforts to “humanize conflict.”
Professor John Haas of Cerritos College in Los Angeles, California, has collaborated with Lucy Nusseibeh, executive director of the Middle East Nonviolence and Democracy (MEND) in East Jerusalem. Together, they’ve linked their students via videoconferencing to bridge cultures and put a human face on political and social conflict.
Over the course of five months, the US students “met” with their contemporaries in the West Bank to learn more about their lives, personal stories, and the conflict that colors daily life for all. The collaboration has allowed students in California to comprehend more intimately the trials, tribulations, and depredations that their contemporaries in the Middle East endure. Their conversations explored short video resources like "The Story of Palestine" and "Five Broken Cameras.
Foundational to this effort is the idea that creating this bridge—creating empathy and understanding related to geopolitical conflict—allows for more candid discussions about building peace, advancing human rights, resolving conflict, and being a responsible global citizen.
Credit for the success of the project goes to the students, whose interest in promoting dialogue and bridging cultures had them leaping time zones in order to keep their commitment. “My students arrive 90 minutes before their first class, and Lucy’s students stay late in a land where security is, at times, problematic,” Haas said.
This approach to learning about conflict helps to improve students’ and peace builders’ analysis, understanding, and vision; offers students a “real world” education; and reduces stereotyping, both through personal knowledge and study of media coverage. In this approach, educators, together with their students and their institutions, affirm their obligation to make important positive change, not only in their local communities, but globally.
This is a project of the Fetzer Advisory Council on the Humanities.