Jewish-Arab Coexistence in Israel: The Role of Joint Professional Teams

Peer-reviewed Journal Article

Desivilya, Helena Syna (1998) Jewish-Arab Coexistence in Israel: The Role of Joint Professional Teams , Journal of Peace Research 35(4): 429–452.

This study sought to evaluate the success of professional coexistence between Jewish and Arab citizens in Israel, as reflected in joint medical teams, and to explore the generalizibility of coexistence within the teams into mutual national images. Can positive experiences within work-groups mitigate intergroup stereotypes and prejudice, thereby strengthening the Jewish-Arab bond and commitment for peace in the region? We examined the relative strength of the two forces: one stemming from team members' national identity and potentially hampering cooperation caused by adverse residues of protracted antagonism between Jews and Arabs; the other derived from their professional identity and possibly enhancing joint problem-solving among team members. This was a new departure that combined several research domains - research in the area of conflict management, studies on social identity, and research on biases in cognitive processing - that have not yet been integrated. It further entailed a pilot systematic effort to examine the possibility of generalizing from coexistence within joint, binational organic work-teams into overall patterns of relationships between these polarized groups. The study was conducted in a large regional medical center and several ambulatory clinics in Northern Israel. A semi-structured interview and a self-report questionnaire served as the research instruments. We found that the success of Jewish-Arab coexistence appears confined to the 'local' boundaries of the joint professional teams. No clear evidence was obtained showing that it generalizes into the overall national images and alleviates the protracted antagonism, stereotypes and prejudice. Three categories of explanations are offered for the lack of transfer of successful professional coexistence into global attitudes: these explanations derive from social identity theory, conflict resolution models, and cognitive biases.