Peacing it together

sraeli children, who grew up with poet Leah Goldberg's "Flat for Rent," a tale in which a dove teaches the other occupants of a building a lesson in g

sraeli children, who grew up with poet Leah Goldberg's "Flat for Rent," a tale in which a dove teaches the other occupants of a building a lesson in getting along, might recognize what happened recently in an old, established Jerusalem neighborhood. A young couple moved into the third-floor of an apartment building. An older couple who fed all the cats in the neighborhood had lived on the first floor for many years. Tensions between the three floors increased and eventually the first-floor residents accused the newcomers of poisoning a stray cat and demanded an autopsy be done to confirm their suspicions. In came the dove Australian-born lawyer Nurit Bachrach, who recently established The Mosaica Center for Conflict Resolution by Agreement (MCCRA), a volunteer community mediation center. Located in Talpiot, MCCRA was founded by Aviad Hacohen and the Mosaica Institute Research Center for Religion, Society and State, an organization dedicated to inter-religious cooperation between Jews and Muslims . "All the neighbors were living in misery, nobody would listen to one another," Bachrach relates. Referred to the center by a community organization, the three couples agreed to come in for mediation. Four meetings later, they came to an understanding: they may not like one another, but they can all live together in peace. Mediation, the effort to bring about a peaceful settlement or compromise between disputants through the objective intervention of a neutral party, isn't new to Middle Eastern culture. Traditionally, Jews have often turned to the local rabbi to settle disputes, rather than resorting to the formal courts, while in Arab culture, third-party mediation in communal peacemaking is often brought in to reach a sulha between feuding families. But modern mediation as such was only introduced to Israeli society in the late 1980s, together with the Israel Family Therapy Association. In 1993 mediation became a voluntary legal option that judges could suggest to litigants in civil cases, and in 1996 criteria were set in order to include mediators on court rosters. Training courses were set up in the late 1990s, run by foreign-trained mediators. In 1998 the Ministry of Justice created the Center for Mediation and Alternative Dispute Resolution. Today, all mediation training courses are run by private mediation centers and by the Israeli Bar Association, and all are supervised by the Ministry of Justice's Mediation Center. There are currently between 5-10 professional mediation centers in Jerusalem. However, despite the fact that Israeli Chief Justice Aaron Barak forced the court system to integrate Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) into its fold by creating a new department for screening and referring cases to mediators, litigants and attorneys have proven to be far less enthusiastic, and the rate of refusal was and still is between 50 and 60 percent. Volunteer community mediation centers have not been terribly successful either. One such mediation center existed in Talpiot Mizrach, another was run by the Jerusalem Municipality and still others have opened and closed over the years without making much of an impact. Of the few that have opened over the years, some have failed because of lack of interest, and others because the mediators employed were not professional enough. In most western countries mediation has been a legal option for solving disputes without going before a judge for years. Why did it take so long to come to Israel, and why has it been so unsuccessful?