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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Farhat Agbaria facilitates the seeds of peace through dialogue

Published: September 21, 2012
Section: News

Wednesday at Brandeis’ International Center for Ethics, Justice and Public Life, Farhat Agbaria coexistence facilitator from Givat Haviva and Seeds of Peace, discussed the science of conflict facilitation between Israeli and Palestinian groups. Agbaria is involved with organizations like Seeds of Peace, which regularly brings young Jewish-Israeli teens to Maine for a month to partake in dialogues on the Middle East.

“It’s a complicated situation … part of my state is at war with its own people,” Agbaria said.

Initially, Agbaria had difficulty listening to his opponents, but over the years he has become a more sophisticated facilitator. As a facilitator, Agbaria repeatedly mentioned that you have to begin with an empty mind, avoid single sides and be available to every participant.

“In the beginning it was difficult to listen,” Agbaria said, especially when the other side shared his ideas. He goes on to say, “even though I’m a facilitator, I’m part of the conflict.”
Agbaria was raised in a small village of about 4,000 people in Israel. Having lived through the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, it has always been something that has caused him inner conflict.

Agbaria feels that during productive discussion it is important to say everything within the group. The discussions will become heated, he said, but a good facilitator will not allow the atmosphere to become so vehement that people feel they need to leave the room. If a participant does leave, a facilitator will talk to them individually and try to bring them back. Agbaria has found that a facilitator’s most important job is to be there for those involved in the discussions and to avoid being preoccupied with one’s own agenda.

At Seeds of Peace, Agbaria and other facilitators observe and give feedback to the discussion groups. Agbaria has seen close friendships form and affect real change in the participants from start to finish. Many participants return to their parents with such drastically new ideas that Seeds of Peace has created programs for parents in order to allow them to look at their own way of thinking.

In several years, the young Israeli Jews will go into the Israeli Army and face Palestinians in combat. The prospect of such physical combat raised ethical concerns from the audience. Agbaria stated that Seeds of Peace allows participants to give a human face to the enemy and learn about the history of both sides. Without programs like Seeds of Peace, Agbaria believes that people will continue to hold onto their old way of thinking and fail to challenge their society’s belief. Regardless of whether or not participants remain involved with the program, Agbaria feels discussion itself leaves a lasting impact.

“Even just a few days in, a facilitator discussion setting does help people,” Agbaria said. “The basic idea is that we are dealing with Israeli and Palestinians [and] the alternative to discussion is to just leave it [the situation], and we can’t do that.”