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Breaking down the barriers to peace
“The untimely death of Prof Yaacov Bar-Siman-Tov, our colleague, teacher and dear friend, has left many of us with a sense of having been orphaned, and it is leaving a gaping hole,” says Dr. Kobi Michael, who worked with Barsi on numerous projects over the years. Here he recalls their collaboration on a volume edited by Barsi, Barriers to Peace in the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, which was published in 2010 by JIIS and the Konrad Adenauer Foundation. 

Barsi’s death has left a cloud of sadness – of a life taken too soon, of the loss of an authority in a world in which many of us as researchers and practitioners are still looking for a path toward agreement, peace and reconciliation. His talents, like his titles, were many but the common thread that could be found in all the stations of his life were creativity, wisdom and writing – and with these he brought knowledge to a broad audience. 

Barsi had the rare gift of being able to find the most appropriate commonalities among people in whom he identified sparks of ability and desire, and to bring them on board for the never-ending mission of learning, research and action – all to make the world a better place, to bring to its leaders a tray brimming with knowledge and tools to deal with the problems and conflicts that faced them in the most educated and humanist way. 

In 1999 he founded the Swiss Center for Conflict Research, Management and Resolution at the Hebrew University – the first institute in Israel to examine conflicts and award advanced degrees in their study. In his 10 years as the Center’s director, he set high professional standards and each year picked the best candidates for the program, and once in he personally mentored, encouraged and supported them in their doctoral journeys – as he did with his many students and other young researchers. Indeed, many of those he once supervised followed in his footsteps, some even becoming partners and colleagues in continued research and writing. 

Upon joining the Jerusalem Institute in 2003, he continued to seek out topics that were worth exploring academically and then to recruit the best researchers – academics and practitioners alike – to join forces on research teams to lead processes that would result in clear and inspired publications that, in many cases, became touchstones for students and scholars in the field. One such example is Barriers to Peace in the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, a collaboration with the Konrad Adenauer Foundation, which appeared first in Hebrew, in 2010, and in English a year later. 

The volume is the fruit of a two-year project run by an interdisciplinary team of researchers who shared their perspectives and ideas and thus were able to present a thorough yet innovative volume of expert articles in which they explained what they believed were the barriers preventing peace in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Barsi, who understood the importance of such a work in the practical world and believed that in academic research ideas could be found that would be of great use at the level of practice and policy making, toiled over this volume to offer a work that was steeped in expertise and could make a major contribution to both the discourse and the decision making.  

In the introduction, Barsi explains the essence of the barriers as tangible or intangible factors that prevent or impede the attainment of peace, classifying them in three categories: strategic, structural and psychological barriers. The uniqueness of the book lies here: in the attempt to paint a rich and full picture of the difficulties both parties – that is, all actors – to the conflict experience in trying to overcome it. With his keen understanding of the multidisciplinary nature of the conflicts, Barsi stressed that the barriers are actually all alike, and he cautioned readers and policymakers alike not to allow one to take on greater importance than another – the picture is most reliable and clear when presented in its totality. 
The chapter written by Barsi himself, on justice in the conflict, gave us a taste of what is still to come in a forthcoming book on that topic, explored over the last three years. 

Barriers to Peace acknowledges just how tough and sometimes unfathomable the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is. Yet it ends with a list of recommendations where Barsi, in his own way, manages to leave us with a ray of hope that yes, a better future does still await us. That was Barsi – professionally and personally he imbued in us a belief of the need to keep going, to work hard and to be creative in seeking ways to improve our world, large and small, for ourselves and the generations to come.    
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