‘Mediation only way to stop fights from escalating'

Ashdod set to establish municipal mediation center in wake of killing over coffee.

Mediation is the only way to stop fights between neighbors or family members from escalating and turning deadly, experts told The Jerusalem Post on Monday, one day after a quarrel between two Ashdod neighbors resulted in an eight-month pregnant mother of three being stabbed to death with a kitchen knife.
Ronit Tzur, director of the Ashdod Municipality’s Social Services Department, told the Post that the city had already begun looking into creating a public mediation center that would deal with disputes between neighbors or even among family members.
“Many times arguments are based on issues that no one really remembers or understands and it is a universal approach, no matter what the argument is, to sit down and try to sort it out. Sort it out by talking it through,” said Tzur, adding, “I am a big believer in mediation.”
“Many times mediation can provide a creative solution to small problems that just don’t need to get any bigger,” she said.
According to Tzur, Ashdod Mayor Yehiel Lasri gave the green light for the creation of a public mediation center to be run by the city’s welfare department more than two months ago, and Tzur’s team has been in the process of researching suitable models for the city, which is the fifth largest in Israel.
The center, which will provide either free or low cost mediation services to city residents, is expected to start operations only next year – too late, however, for 34-year-old Tali Atia, who was stabbed to death by neighbor Mazal Bar-Osher on Sunday during a fight over spilt coffee. Doctors at Kaplan Hospital in Rehovot managed to save Atia’s unborn baby, but the mother of three other children succumbed to her injuries.
Tzur pointed out that Bar-Osher, a single mother of two who is well-known to the social services department, had only moved into the neighborhood “a few months” earlier. The dispute was not an on-going feud between neighbors, she said.
“This case was extreme and I am not sure if mediation would have solved the problem,” she said.
Ran Peleg, Director of the Evens Mediation and Conflict Resolution Center at Tel Aviv University, which offers a secondary degree in mediation and also provides counseling services to the public, expressed doubt at the idea that mediation could not have solved the dispute between Bar-Osher and Atia.
He told the Post that almost all disagreements between neighbors could be solved via mediation.
“We have a high success rate at sorting out conflicts between neighbors,” said Peleg, who has been working in the field for more than eight years. “I am sure the disagreement was not only over spilt coffee [as referred to in many local headlines], this was an ongoing disagreement.”
He added: “Arguments among neighbors can be extremely frustrating;being annoyed day in day out really can play on someone’s nerves andthese disputes can continue for many, many years. It almost becomeslike a competition to see how much you can hurt your neighbor and winthe fight.”
Peleg, who has carried out several studies on the effects of creativemediation between disputing parties, explained that just as theneighborly disagreements can continue for a lengthy period of time sothe “mediation between neighbors is usually a very lengthy process,too.”
As for those who find themselves in an uncomfortable situation with aneighbor, Peleg said that for most, going to the police is just not anoption. Even in the Ashdod case, several complaints had been made tolaw enforcement, but to no avail.
“Sometimes going to the police only worsens the situation – people takeadvantage because they know the other person could end up with acriminal record,” he said.
“Mediation can deal with the situation before it reaches that stage,”said Peleg, adding that there is growing awareness among the public ofthe benefits of mediation although it has not become fully recognizedby the authorities.
“Most complaints are based on noise, but the law is not totally clearand very often these problems end up falling through the cracks.”
“We try to find creative solutions to such problems,” he continued.“Sometimes it’s just a case of investing a little money to fixacoustics or involving a third party to monitor the problem. The wholepoint of mediation is to get those involved in the fight to talk abouttheir issues openly and to explore the roots of the problem.”