Restoring justice

Nava Kedar may be retired, but she’s hardly at leisure in her work with conflict resolution.

February 12, 2010 16:53
3 minute read.
Nava Kedar.

nava kedar 311. (photo credit: Gloria Deutsch)

Nava Kedar was the national director of the Youth Probation Service until her retirement five years ago. But rather than opting for a leisurely life and being a grandmother to her five grandchildren, she found herself deeply involved in the Mosaica Center for Conflict Resolution, where she volunteers to mediate between victim and offender in its restorative justice program.

Restorative justice is a relatively new idea which began in the late 1980s in Australia, New Zealand and the US.

It came into being with the realization that even if the perpetrator of a crime is brought to justice, the pain of the victim is sidelined. Justice consists of the state versus the criminal, while the victim is seen as nothing more than a witness. It was inspired in part from the customs of the Maoris, the indigenous people of New Zealand, who bring the perpetrator and victim together to talk and try to fix the damage.

As an example of RJ at work here, she tells the story of an Arab taxi driver who was beaten up by a mob of Jews celebrating Purim who also destroyed his cab.

A meeting was arranged between the offenders and the driver and included rabbis of the community from which the offenders came. The end result was monetary compensation of NIS 20,000 collected by the community and, more importantly from the point of view of Kedar and the Mosaica management, an article was published on the front page of the community newspaper stressing the importance of the agreement and trying to make sure it would not happen again.

“It’s a very complicated process,” says Kedar. “You can’t just sit down and tell people to start talking. For one thing, not every victim wants to confront the person who caused him harm.”

While the program does not deal with crimes like rape and murder, it does bring about reconciliations between victims of robbery and violence and often is approached by defense lawyers who feel, usually correctly, that if the offender has expressed remorse and apologized to the victim, the punishment meted out will be lighter.

This was the case with the story of three young men who attacked a boy in a fight over a girl. “They wanted to apologize to the boy, so we persuaded him to meet them. He received some financial compensation and the court sentenced them to community service rather than prison.”

It can only work if both sides agree to meet and it is usually the victim who is reluctant to face his attackers. “We have to try to convince them that it really can help face up to the trauma and repair the damage,” says Kedar. “Those who do it are very grateful usually. And as far as the offenders are concerned, they often still get a jail term but they are glad they did it and international research has shown that there is less recidivism among criminals who have been in a RJ program.”

She spends many hours of her day organizing these meetings because the process is so complicated. The victim and offender must agree on the facts of the case, they must each bring a supporter or family member and the representatives of the community are also invited.

“The idea behind that is that when a crime is committed, the community suffers – it gets a bad name and people don’t want to come to the neighborhood. In the case of the three boys, they had been thrown out of their community center for rowdy behavior and had nowhere to hang out, which aggravated the situation.”

Sometimes there are as many as 15 people involved in mediation. The meetings take place at the Mosaica headquarters on Derech Beit Lehem in Jerusalem.

“We try to show we are completely neutral,” says Kedar. “We are not the police, not the law courts; we’re simply volunteers trying to mend the damage. The offender tells his story and usually apologizes. No I’m not in the least afraid of criminals, I’m used to them.”

Kedar also coordinates the work of all the other volunteers. Many have no background in legal or criminal work and every volunteer has to complete 120 hours of training. The Justice Ministry supports the work professionally but not financially, and the organization subsists mainly from donations from abroad.

“Today whenever I meet victims I get very good feedback and I must say that being able to help them in this way gives me a lot of satisfaction,” says Kedar.

If you know of someone who volunteers in a worthy and unusual cause, please contact [email protected]

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