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<xTITLE>Lessons from Jerusalem: What Attitude Do We Bring to our Conflicts?</xTITLE>

Lessons from Jerusalem: What Attitude Do We Bring to our Conflicts?

by Michael A. Zeytoonian
October 2014

Dispute Settlement Counsel by Michael Zeytoonian.

Michael A.  Zeytoonian

In August, 2014, I spent 12 days in Jerusalem and other parts of Israel. My purpose was to go on a religious pilgrimage with my wife Lisa and a group from St. James Armenian Church in Watertown, MA, the parish I grew up in. The religious and spiritual aspects of my trip were unforgettable and life-changing. But here, I’d like to spend a couple of posts sharing some observations about conflict and resolution, and the intersection of dispute resolution work and spirituality.

Strange as this might sound, I had the good fortune of being in Israel during a war, a declared cease fire and its aftermath, and experiencing how these impacted the people involved. While it was a source of some tension and heightened vigilance, it provided a rare opportunity to experience the shifts and changes that occur when a war stops and a cease fire is in effect, in this place that has been a historical hotbed for conflict. Being a person who has a direct connection to and a stake in the well-being of Jerusalem as an Armenian Christian, but also someone who is not one of the disputing parties gave me a unique perspective on the dispute. My visit also gave me better insights on the depth and intricacies of the historical conflict between Israel and the Palestinians and the other factors at play. Reading about these things is one thing; seeing them and feeling the emotions first hand is altogether different. Similarly, training as a mediator or as a collaborative lawyer is one thing, but being in the middle of the conflict and feeling its tension and energy around you is real.

To say there is more than one conflict going on in Israel between Israel and Hamas, or between Jews and Muslims and their respective positions is a giant understatement. Viewing this conflict as two adversarial positions oversimplifies and disrespects the matter. It is not until we start peeling away layers of stated positions, the past history, and grasp the emotions, the feelings, the interests and the goals beneath these positions, that we truly understand the complexities, what it will take to achieve a lasting resolution, and how insufficient a mere compromise would be.

What is evident here is the choice that people make as to how they view the situation. One choice is to find the common ground, focus on the similar and shared interests and build resolution upon them. Another is to dwell on differences, who has the right to what, and unresolved disagreements, some of which go back to Abraham and his lineage, and draw lines between them.

The more interesting conflict is the one between two attitudes: One is “This is mine, not yours, and that should be yours” vs. “If we can understand, accept and embrace each other and the shared richness of our distinctive yet similar cultures and heritages, how much we could all achieve working in collaboration”. It was interesting that we had two guides on different days of our journeys that reflected the two views. As we toured around Israel, one guide would continually identify an area as “Jewish settlement” or “Arab area”. Often times, when we went to towns like Nazareth or Bethlehem, we found ourselves clearly made aware that these were Christian holy places in Palestinian-controlled towns in the nation of Israel. He also focused on the walls, security checkpoints and fences that separated territories and the minarets that identified Muslim areas.

The other guide talked about the similarities between the peoples, and his appreciation for the cultural differences. He was an Israeli citizen who was Palestinian living in a predominantly Jewish neighborhood. I guess that’s what St. Paul must have been like in Rome. The words he conspicuously used more than any others were the words “friends”, “welcome” and “our home”. The only distinction he made was a geographic analogy when we were on a boat in the Sea of Galilee, a beautiful, fresh, clean, vibrant body of water. The Sea of Galilee is a symbol of faith for Christians, the place where Jesus walked on the water to his disciples and calmed the stormy sea. Our guide compared Galilee to the Dead Sea, which is 26% solid and so heavily salt that you really cannot swim in it and cannot do anything but float on it. In a short message of warmth and compassion, shares with us as we crossed the lake, he urged us to “be a Galilee, not a Dead Sea.”

I’ve since been pondering this thought: What is it to choose to “be a Galilee”, a living, vibrant, breathing source of the flow of the waters, rather than to default to being a Dead Sea, the dead end where the flow stops and gets overtaken by salt?


Michael A. Zeytoonian is the Founding Member and Director of Dispute Resolution Counsel, LLC and is a lawyer, mediator and ombudsman. He is formerly a partner and now Of Counsel at Hutchings, Barsamian, Mandelcorn & Zeytoonian, LLP, in Wellesley Hills, MA. He specializes in employment law, business law, special education law, mediation, collaborative law and administrative law. He is admitted to practice in the state and federal district courts of Massachusetts and New York (Southern District) and the state of Connecticut. He has served as a mediator on the MWI panel in the district courts and on the BBA panel in the Boston Municipal Court.

He is a member and Massachusetts Bar Association and is chair of the MBA’s ADR committee and a member of the labor/employment section. He is a Past President (2006-2007) and member of the Massachusetts Collaborative Law Council, the International Academy of Collaborative Professionals and the New England Association for Conflict Resolution. He writes frequently on collaborative law and alternative dispute resolution (ADR) and has trained lawyers and presented in collaborative law and ADR around the U.S., Canada and Ireland. He has lectured at Northeastern University School of Law, Suffolk University School of Law, New England Law Boston, UMASS School of Law and Roger Williams University School of Law.

He served as Assistant Attorney General in the Office of the Attorney General of the State of New York, as a deputy overseeing litigation in the State Counsel Bureau in Westchester, Rockland and Putnam Counties and working on consumer advocacy cases. Prior to his work at the Attorney General’s Office, he was an Assistant County Attorney in the Westchester County (NY) Law Department, in the litigation and family court bureaus. His litigation work at both the County Law Department and the Attorney General’s office included cases in employment; labor; state, county and local municipal matters; environmental law; construction, administrative and tort law, and the prosecution of child abuse and neglect cases. His undergraduate education was at Boston College and Iona College, where he received his Bachelor of Arts degree is history and education. He earned his J. D. from Pace University School of Law with a Certificate in Environmental Law in 1990.

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