Finding Solutions in the Heart of Conflict

University of Haifa launches international conflict resolution program in English.

Raphael Ahren
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Raphael Ahren

Israel is no stranger to conflict, and neither, it seems, are its students.

International graduate students participating in the University of Haifa’s new conflict management program this semester.Credit: University of Haifa

A new English-language program at the University of Haifa is capitalizing on this phenomenon, offering a unique master's degree in peace and conflict management studies to students from across the globe.

"This is one of the best places in the world to study conflict management and conflict resolution," said Joe Chapman, 23, who enrolled in the program after studying politics in the United States.

"Here is where you really see the conflict and you see the different strategies people talk about at work," added the Washington, D.C. native. "In D.C., we talk about a lot of strategies and you learn a lot of theories but it's not until you get out to a conflict zone like the Middle East that you can actually see them in action."

The new, one-year program is taught entirely in English and focuses on the Middle East conflict as well as conflicts in other regions of the world. It is the second such program offered in the country; Tel Aviv University also offers an English-language master's in conflict resolution and mediation.

Currently, 20 international students - half of whom are from North America - and 10 local students are enrolled in Haifa University's new program, the first of a new initiative to attract more foreign students to the University of Haifa.

Students in the program familiarize themselves with the "social-psychological, sociological, domestic-political and ideological sources as well as with international influences on the conflict and different strategies of peacemaking, including the role of the international system, various mechanisms of negotiating, the issue of partition versus binational states and other mechanisms of managing conflicts," said the head of the new program, Prof. Benny Miller.

"One of the issues is the tension between conflict management versus peacemaking versus conflict resolution," Miller told Anglo File.

Participants in Haifa’s new program.Credit: University of Haifa

"The idea is to come to study this in Israel because we have so much experience with conflict. Unfortunately, we weren't always very successful in peacemaking and in conflict resolution, but we have some successful experience with conflict management - namely war termination, cease-fires, armistices, partial peace agreements, like the peace with Egypt, for example."

"The question," he said, "is what kind of lessons can we learn from that, and what are the necessary conditions in order to move from this cold peace to a warm peace? This is one major challenge we have to confront." Another relevant topic that the program addresses is the effect of democratization, Miller said.

"It's a big issue now with the Arab Spring and [democratization] potentially in other parts of the world," Miller said. "The question is: Does democratization lead to greater levels of peace, as liberals expect, or actually might it pose challenges to peace and might it increase the likelihood of war? ... This is now a very practical question and we can train analysts and policy advocates," he said.

Miller added that graduates from his program potentially could find work in the foreign services or with human rights groups and other NGOs.

The new program, offered by the university's political science department, is the first of several master's programs intended to draw international students to Haifa. "We, in the course of the next five to seven years, will be launching some 20 new full-degree master's programs in English that will attract students from all over the world," said Hanan Alexander, the head of the university's International School.

"All of those programs will be in cutting-edge disciplines, such as peace and conflict studies, patent law, Holocaust studies or creative arts therapies," he said, adding that the university seeks to bring some 3,000 students to its campus during the next few years. Currently, about 900 students from 40 countries - about half from North America - attend Haifa University's International School.

Aside from a few "administrative hiccups," the students seem to be satisfied with the program.

"Israel, and especially Haifa, is one of the best places to study conflict because conflict is a part of daily life here," said Jeremy Rockmacher, a 20-year-old New York native.

Now a few weeks into the school year, Rockmacher said his favorite course is a field seminar about ethnic privileges in Israel. After class discussions, the professor took students on site visits to several Arab municipalities.

"Speaking with the people who are managing these conflicts on a daily basis and hearing their different perspectives and even how they perceive the same events differently has been very enlightening," he said, adding that he feels the program remains politically impartial, presenting both narratives in the Israeli-Palestinian issue.

"We really get a sense of what the actual citizens are thinking and how they feel about the conflict, how they respond to different actions taken by one group or another," Chapman agreed. "For me, this is far more valuable than anything we learn in a classroom. And that's perhaps the real reason why I came to Israel. In the U.S., sure you can get a great education and a very good understanding of what's going on. But you can't really experience what's going on, you can't talk to people that are directly affected. By coming here, and in classes like this one, that's where the greatest learning can happen."