Academic Research: Equality Among Arab and Jewish Nurses in Israel?
Can you promote academic research promoting peace if you do not tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth? Even if aiding and abetting distortions is an inconvenient result of being ignorant of the context in which the research was conducted?
This is a critique of the second article that I opened in the journal, Peace and Conflict: Journal of Peace Psychology. Two of the three authors are at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and the third is at the Yezreel Valley College. I have no idea, of course, of the identities of the professionals who reviewed the paper and accepted it for publication.
Title of the academic research paper: Working Together in the Context of Protracted Asymmetric Conflict: Israeli Jews and Palestinians in Joint Medical Work Teams
The abstract states the purpose of the study:
… it investigates Jewish and Palestinian nurses’ experiences of working together in a hospital in Israel in the context of the protracted and asymmetric conflict between Israeli Jews and Palestinians.
It goes on to state that they found that both Jews and “Palestinians” felt they suffered “inequality and unfairness” even though they had similar status and professional goals. The authors conclude that: “the influence of the broad sociopolitical context prevails and constitutes a hindrance to an effective intergroup contact in a mixed work environment.”
First of all, let me say that I think this is a worthy area of study. But in order for it to bring useful information and conceptualizations to the discussion of domestic inter-group relations under difficult (to say the least) conditions, the researchers must demonstrate that they approached the topic with full consideration of their own biases. This is so that the reader who is unfamiliar with the local complexities can truly understand the situation and apply the results of the study where relevant to other locales.
Academic Research that Reifies False Names
Now let us note their use of names. Throughout the paper, the authors — all Jewish — refer to Arab citizens of Israel as Palestinians. This is in contrast to their interviewees, Jews and Arabs alike, who, in the quotes given as sample responses, refer to Arabs as Arabs. Why do the authors refer to the Arabs as Palestinians? While some Arabic speaking citizens of Israel refer to themselves as Palestinians, many (perhaps most) do not.
And why do the authors make no mention of the fact that the Arabic speaking minority populations in Israel do not comprise a monolithic entity? There are Christians who do not consider themselves Arabs even though that language is their mother tongue, the Druze who likewise speak Arabic are not Arabs, and there are other smaller groups. Not all Muslims form a singular group as well – the Bedouin serve in the army for the most part, while non-Bedouin Arabs usually do not; their attitudes toward Israel and toward their citizenship as Israelis often differ dramatically. The authors, therefore, should have discussed these aspects and how they are salient to the issues they raise.
Coincidentally, the Jewish population comprises subpopulations of various different ethnic origins as well. There are Russian immigrants, Ethiopian immigrants, Israeli Jews whose families have been here for many generations, or who immigrated from Arab countries, Latin America, etc. What is the nature of the Jewish sample in this study? And is it possible that the cultural composition of the sample of Jewish nurses impacted upon the findings? The authors say nothing about that.
The authors also write about the “West Bank”, the occupation name assigned by Jordan, rather than using its real name, Judea and Samaria. They could, at least, have written Judea and Samaria in brackets.
Premises of the Study
The introduction to their academic research article states an important and worthwhile subject of study, exploring relations among Jewish and Arab Israelis in the workplace when Israel is in a state of enduring conflict with the Palestinian Authority (PA). It is not surprising that many Arab Israelis feel a sense of conflict between their being citizens of the state of Israel in which they live and work and having family connections with residents of the PA, or at least the sense of being part of the Arab Ummah.
The authors of this article state that much research has been conducted on voluntary Jewish-Arab interactions in peace-promoting events or those seeking to break down group barriers (such as among white and black South Africans). This condition is quite different from inter-group relations in the naturalist nonvoluntary environment of the workplace and their study is the first to do the latter. They refer to the situation as a paradoxical reality and that seems appropriate: two peoples in conflict who are supposed to work together as a united team in the workplace. However, not once in their introduction do they raise the possibility that relations may be fair and friendly, with individuals relating as individuals in spite of all the political noise going on around them outside the hospital. They seem to imply that relations will inevitably be contentious and on this basis, it appears, they set out to do their study. This bias may have produced a self-fulfilling prophesy if they were not careful to conceal their expectations better in the interviews than they did in the write-up of this paper.
Furthermore, had they related to the above-noted diversity of the Arabic speaking minority in Israel, their study may have produced more interesting and profound basis for discussion.
Equally amiss is their apparent failure to record what the interviewees’ opinions are regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and potential solutions. If they seek to conduct a study of colleagial relations within the context of the conflict, they should have asked their research participants what they think of that conflict. Their interpretation of their results (and perhaps even the tone of the interviews themselves) may have been different had they been open to the possibility that many of the Jews and non-Jews alike were more or less in accordance with each other, or not. The authors leave the impression that the conflict follows them into the workplace as if they are representatives of the opposite sides of the conflict and that may not be true.
Is There Structural Discrimination?
There are other details with which I take issue, but in order to prevent this critique from being too lengthy, let me just point out one blaring final problem: all interviewees are aware of policies in place in the hospitals in which they work, and, in fact, in the country as a whole, that make discrimination and inequality illegal. However,
The Palestinian employees feel that their inferior and asymmetric status as a minority group in Israel places them at a disadvantage in the medical work team that reproduces their minority status vis-a-vis their Jewish counterparts.
In contrast with their Palestinian coworkers, the Jewish employees do not feel that the status of the majority in Israel is maintained and replicated in the relationships at work [suggesting that this is what they desire?]. They view their majority status as a disadvantage granting power and benefits to the Palestinian minority, and consequently they perceive themselves as victims in the joint team [because they will be accused of racism if they criticise an Arab member of the team]. … They are presumably blind to their privileged status, which nourishes the Palestinian employees’ fear that other employees are trying to stop them from gaining institutional power. [emphasis added]
While I have no doubt that there are tensions among some of the Jewish and non-Jewish colleagues, it is hard to say that the latter are discriminated against and prevented from “gaining institutional power”. An examination of the websites of five hospitals in northern Israel, one of which provided the interviewees for this research, shows that, while about 20% of the Israeli population are non-Jews, between 15% and 66% of the director chairs of medical units and departments are held by citizens who are members of minority populations (Rambam – 15%, Carmel – 16%, Bnei Zion – 29%, Ziv – 35%, Nahariya – 66%).This fact should have been included in the discussion. If, in spite of the fact that many minority individuals rise to positions of power within the medical institutions in which they work (some almost to the proportion they are of the general population and some far beyond that), yet many still feel discriminated against, that is certainly worthy of examination. It would be important to parse out how much of this is likely due to social factors and how much to individual factors. I am sure it is a combination of both, but to conclude that this is because of the influence of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is to simplify the issue so much as to render this article unhelpful in any way.
Finally, the authors use the word “victim” three times and “victimhood” once and all times with regard to the Jewish interviewees. None of the research participants quoted attached this term to themselves and it is a strong word to use. I wonder if the interviewees would agree to having that term applied to themselves; I wonder if they see themselves as “victims” and what lies behind the use of this word on the part of the authors of the academic research paper under consideration here.
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The first article I critiqued from this journal is found here.