Healing Hatred: Spiritual Counseling in Situations of Conflict
An interreligious pastoral care training course to equip professionals with tools of spiritual healing to address trauma from national conflict
Years of violent conflict and the fear it engenders have left both Israelis and Palestinians emotionally and spiritually traumatized. Hatred of the 'Other' is regarded as a normal response to the ongoing situation. The growing racism within Israeli society is one example of the fallout of the distress engendered by the second intifada. On the Palestinian side, a sense of disillusionment with the leadership and the profound feeling of futility as the sides fail to show any sign of progress have led to a growing rejection of engagement with Israelis. Each side is increasingly isolated and embittered and this in turn only leads to the creation of further suspicion and fear.
Now JCJCR is partnering with the Hebrew Union College – Jewish Institute of Religion and the Holy Land Trust in Bethlehem to develop a language and practice, both literal and figurative, of pastoral care based on understanding of the religious component of health and healing, to help address the deep trauma experienced by Israelis and Palestinians of all faiths and of all backgrounds, as a result of living in an ongoing situation of violent conflict. Building on years of working in the field of interreligious dialogue, bringing together Israelis and Palestinians, Jews, Christians and Muslims, working with religious leaders, educators, women, youth and young adults, JCJCR and HLT have become aware of the need for a deeper level of dialogue and a more spiritual plane of healing for both individuals and society as a whole. One of the core pillars of the Holy Land Trust is the need for healing for both Palestinian and Israeli societies alike, both traumatized by the years of violent conflict.
A pilot program designed to begin to address that need brought together 14 Israelis and Palestinians, Jews, Christians and Muslims, for 10 sessions from April – June 2013. The pilot course consisted of a combination of spiritual practice, formal teaching and informal group processing. Course participants included both Arab and Jewish social workers, facilitators, religious leaders and youth workers from all over Israel and the Palestinian Authority. The feedback from the course participants was extremely positive, yet emphasized the need for a longer program which would enable participants to address issues more deeply and acquire and practice using the tools of spiritual counseling. It was therefore decided to develop a longer program in order to provide the fuller training needed for work in this demanding field.
The 8-month course, which began in November 2014, consists of 24 day-long sessions. Each session combines formal teaching, informal group processing and case study work. Spiritual supporters use religious sources - classical and modern - and a rich variety of techniques, including prayer, ritual and compassionate listening to provide meaningful support at critical times of life. These are being combined with a variety of techniques from the world of interreligious dialogue and trauma counseling. The new program focuses on issues concerning life in the midst of violent conflict, and will be based on texts from different religious and secular sources, the Talmud, the Bible, the Koran, Mindfulness practices and rituals from various traditions. Another element is the individual and group exploration of an adapted version of the Spiritual Questionnaire developed by HUC, which has proven to be an important element of our methodology, particularly effective in conditions of turmoil and stress.
In addition, the course has been re-framed to allow for the needs of a deeply divided society, allowing more time for uni-national work, in which each national group has the opportunity to meet separately, and address their specific fears and needs.
As part of the expanded program, Sami Awad (HLT) added sessions in non-linear leadership training, which encourage participants to isolate their experiences of trauma in order to break the cycle of revenge and hatred. The participants will continue their work in group dynamics with experienced facilitators, but also meet in small groups with psychologists experienced in the field of trauma counseling, who will accompany the participants in case studies as they practice using the skills they are acquiring.
In addition, the year-long program includes two 3-day retreats in order to enable a more intense and personal group experience.
The steering committee – consisting of the three Directors and the Course Coordinator, as well as the two course facilitators (one Israeli and one Palestinian) and the two psychologists (one Israeli and one Palestinian) - continually assess and adapt the program as it progresses.
Directors: Dr. Sarah Bernstein (JCJCR), Sami Awad (Holyland Trust), Dr. Ruchama Weiss (HUC)
Project Coordinator: Cami Mizrahi (Jerusalem Center for Jewish-Christian Relations)
Course Facilitators: Dorit Shiffin (from Newe Shalom) and Vivian Rabia (JCJCR)
Course Psychologists: Dr. Ahmed Amarnah (from Ramallah) and Dr. Amir Ezrachi (from Jerusalem)
Text teachers: Tomer Persico (Judaism), Fr. Rafik Nahara (Christianity), Saidah Bayatsi (Islam)