Truman tank fills up on peace

June 6, 1997

"Thinktanks sound ambitious, a type of armour that no else has," says Edy Kaufman, executive director of the Hebrew University's Truman Institute.

Named after former United States president, Harry S. Truman, and founded 30 years ago with the aim of working for peace through academic studies, the Truman Institute runs conflict resolution programmes.

Kaufman says it was the "one peace institute in the Middle East" during the intifada and before the Gulf war.

Its "open-door policy" towards Palestinian academics made it a pioneer in cooperative academic peace projects. It has been working on joint projects since the early 1980s and its researchers have also recently started to cooperate with Jordanian academics.

"The reason that Palestinian academics were willing to come here was that we had Palestine Liberation Organisation publications in our library at a time when the PLO was considered illegal by Israel," explained Kaufman. "It was the first research institute to have Israeli Arabs as researchers: today there are three Palestinian researchers.

"We have a group of Israeli researchers: we have been building bridges with Palestinian academics since the early 1980s to understand reality," he continued.

"The liability of working for such an academic institution is that there is no quick fix. You have to do a diagnosis and a prognosis before you have a programme. Unlike political think-tanks in the US the Truman is not always 'policy relevant', its aim is not always to come up with solutions for the government."

The institute runs projects on human rights and conflict resolution; the potential use of treated waste water; analysis of Palestinian and Israeli textbooks, focusing on their values and how the "other" is portrayed; a joint study of alleged collaborators with Israel, which has the support of the Palestinian authorities; healing in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict; and the friction and possible solutions surrounding Jerusalem.

Funding consists of endowments from the US (hard money) and research grants (soft money). Its annual operating budget is $1.2 million for administration, library and research (excluding researchers' salaries).

The most important thing, says Kaufman, "is that you have to build trust. Those projects which didn't build deep trust are in trouble. We have put our professional academic life on the line for principles of academic freedom.

"We are the outpost of the Hebrew University towards the Orient. Our habitat is the Orient: the habitat of other Tel-Aviv-based think-tanks is weapons and security.

"Our motto has been 'know your enemy, but understand your neighbour'."

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