Abstract: Social Work and Intractable Conflict: Experiences of Jewish-Israeli Social Workers (Society for Social Work and Research 26th Annual Conference - Social Work Science for Racial, Social, and Political Justice)

437P Social Work and Intractable Conflict: Experiences of Jewish-Israeli Social Workers

Saturday, January 15, 2022
Marquis BR Salon 6, ML 2 (Marriott Marquis Washington, DC)
* noted as presenting author
Ruth Soffer-Elnekave, MSW, PhD student, University of Minnesota-Twin Cities, St Paul, MN
Background and purpose:

Intractable conflicts are a form of political conflict that persist over a long period of time despite multiple attempts at resolution. Members of involved societies live under conditions of insecurity, uncertainty, and stress for extended periods (Bar-Tal, 2013), presenting social workers with unique challenges in their everyday practice (Moshe-Grodofsky, 2019). The Israeli-Palestinian conflict, has long been considered a prototype of intractable conflicts, with low prospects of solving in the near future (Bar-Tal, Halperin & Oren, 2010). As a result of the conflict, Israel’s 30,000 licensed social workers address death, injury, loss and social disadvantages in their own lives, and in the lives of their clients. They are also ethically responsible for developing services that address the root causes for injustices that inflicted by it. However, there is a dearth of research on social workers’ experiences of how the ongoing conflict affects their practice or what roles they undertake.

The purpose of this qualitative study is to explore Jewish-Israeli social workers’ life stories of their professional careers in the context of the intractable conflict using narrative methods. Understanding social workers’ experiences and perspectives of their roles in addressing the effects of intractable conflicts as well as in peacemaking is critical to promoting the profession’s commitment to social justice.


Narrative methods (Lieblich et al., 1998) were used to explore the professional life stories of Jewish-Israeli social workers. Participants were recruited using snowballing to reach a wide range of experiences and perspectives (Cohen & Arieli, 2011). Each participant completed two interviews lasting approximately 2 hours, total, over Zoom and a social history questionnaire. Interviews were recorded and transcribed verbatim. Analysis was initially performed according to Lieblich’s (1998) narrative data analysis plan of reading for content in a holistic manner. Then, a coding system was induced and applied to each interview transcript (Schwandt, 2014). Trustworthiness was strengthened through triangulation, member-checking and thick description of the data.


Preliminary results show that the intractable conflict affects all areas of social work practice. Participants described micro and macro level implications of the conflict on service users, resource availability, the helping relationship and professional decision making. Most participants also described limited guidance on how to address these effects.

Participants’ perspectives on their roles in addressing these effects ranged: most participants viewed their role as alleviating suffering of individual clients, specifically in ensuring their rights. Some participants described their role in promoting the rights of the communities they served, including marginalized Palestinian-Israeli populations, and communities living under ongoing security threats. Few participants described macro level roles of addressing these effects, or in promoting peace.

Conclusion and Implications:

This study sheds light on the effects of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict on social work practice. The limited professional guidance in addressing these effects, as well as social workers’ refrainment from addressing them on macro levels, call for reconsidering the roles of social workers in areas of intractable conflict in order to fulfill the profession’s mission of promoting social justice. New paths for addressing these challenges are discussed.