Intractable political conflicts that extend across generations have affected our communities since the dawn of humanity. Members of involved societies live under conditions of insecurity, uncertainty, and stress with limited hope for the future (Bar-Tal, 2013). Despite social work’s ecological framework, the main prism through which local social workers address these effects is often limited to the helping relationship at the micro level, with little attention to how social workers might engage at the macro level, or to the societal role they may take as agents of social change and peacemaking (Moshe-Grodofsky, 2019, Ramon, 2008). Furthermore, relatively little social work research focuses on the political context, including clients’ and practitioners’ political positioning (Baum, 2010; Campbell, et al., 2018).
The purpose of this qualitative study was to explore Jewish-Israeli social workers’ experiences and role perceptions in the context of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. This is a first step in promoting the professions’ commitment to social justice and establishing a politically-aware framework for social work practice. We asked: What are Jewish-Israeli social workers’ perceptions of the role of social work at the macro level, specifically, to promote peacemaking?
Narrative methods (Lieblich et al., 1998) were used to explore the professional life stories of 16 Jewish-Israeli social workers. Participants were recruited using purposeful sampling to encompass a wide range of experiences and perspectives. Each participant completed two, in-depth interviews over Zoom and a social history questionnaire. Interviews were recorded and transcribed verbatim. Analysis was performed according to Lieblich’s (1998) narrative analysis plan of reading for content in a holistic manner, followed by inductive coding. Trustworthiness was strengthened through triangulation, member-checking and thick description.
Participants in this study varied widely in their views of the profession’s role in addressing the effects of the political conflict, and in promoting peace. Three participants had limited views of roles beyond the micro-level. Thirteen participants identified a range of roles social workers could or should fulfil. Eight of these participants, however, expressed ambivalence as to macro level roles. Their life stories provide an opportunity to understand how their engagement with the political conflict, as well as their professional narrative, may be limiting their choices to act upon their role perceptions. They hold a strong social justice perspective for the profession and believe in the need for a peaceful resolution of the conflict. Yet years of enduring an intractable conflict, and an extreme right-wing political climate, have undermined their ability to actually take an active role at the macro level to address the implications of the conflict and promote peace.
As war in Europe and other regions of the world persists, this study provides an opportunity to understand social workers experiences and perceptions in times of political conflict. Employing a politically-aware framework could provide social workers the language and skills to address effects of political conflict on all levels of practice and promote the professions’ commitment to social justice, as well as to take an active role in promoting peace.