Published by Common Ground News Service (CGNews)
Washington, DC -- November 27, 2002
In this article, CGNews talks to Libby and Len Traubman, the co-founders of the Jewish-Palestinian Living Room Dialogue Group of San Mateo County, California. They discuss their dialogue-centered approach to peace building and the challenges they face in bringing their methodology to the Middle East.
Dialogue and Determination
in the Living Room - and Beyond
By Tim Werner
In the words of Quaker educator Gene Knudsen Hoffman, an enemy is one whose story we have not heard. Libby and Len Traubman take that saying to heart in their work as organizers of the Jewish-Palestinian Living Room Dialogue Group of San Mateo County, California.
As its name implies, the focus of the group is to create dialogue between Jews and Palestinians in America. True dialogue, as the Traubmans describe it, begins with compassionate listening as a way to gain insight into another person’s thoughts, life experience, reasoning, and ultimately equal humanity. Such interactions are meant to change the nature of the relationships between the participants but are distinctly not conversation, discussion, debate, or even conflict resolution.
Like conflict resolution work, however, meaningful dialogue is part of a process. Yet such sustained dialogue takes dedication and time. While many well-intentioned people want to see immediate results from their efforts, the “action” of dialogue is relationship building says Len Traubman: “We believe that nothing replaces successful face-to-face relationships, particularly in terms of correcting stereotypes, understanding historical perspectives, and making lasting friends and partners.”
The dialogue group the Traubmans established ten years ago reflects this passion for building relationships one by one. To date, the group has held more than 125 meetings and remains vibrant with 30 women and men participants. The group has also helped establish numerous other dialogue groups across the country. After 9/11, and especially since the start of the current intifada, the interest in dialogue has never been greater. There are now more than 50 dialogues around the country, and the number of requests for free guidelines, videos, and personal guidance has steadily increased, especially from high school and university campuses.
Unlike others who approach the work of peace building in terms of bringing together certain groups youth, environmentalists, or teachers, for example the Traubmans put their ultimate faith in individuals and the transformative aspect of coming to know and understand the “other” well enough to want the best for them.
They place their work within the context of citizen diplomacy or what Harold Saunders, former Assistant Secretary of State in the Carter administration, calls the “public peace process.” Governments function in an official capacity when they make and sign peace agreements, states Saunders; however, the consent and sustained involvement of citizens those who must actualize peace is crucial to the success of such agreements.
The Traubmans’ approach is also different because they avoid the “old models” of large, centralized organizations, which in their experience can cause individuals and small groups to become dependent and lose their initiative and creativity. Rather, as with the dialogue groups, the couple believes smaller, self-starting, but loosely connected groups can more effectively inspire their own members and maximize a sense of personal responsibility and creativity in their communities.
When it comes to changing the current dynamic in the Middle East, however, this husband and wife team has no illusions about the challenges to overcome in bringing their dialogue model to the region. “People on both sides are scared right now,” says Libby Traubman. “Talk about dialogue seems luxurious.” The fear she describes is not just of the “enemy” but also of those within the same community: “People who are open to seeking dialogue with the other side are afraid to look like collaborators or traitors. They fear rejection from within their own circles as well as the loss of friends, businesses, and livelihoods. This approach takes a lot of courage,” she notes.
Nevertheless, they continue to develop this model to give others an effective tool for listening to and sharing their stories. Their motivation stems from a sincere belief that, in troubled regions such as the Middle East, even-handed, outside assistance can relieve desperation and give hope and inspiration to people paralyzed by the fear and hopelessness of their seemingly intractable conflict. “There will always be those who say that this isn’t the time for dialogue, but any time is the right time for it in our view,” adds Len Traubman. “Ultimately, our faith lies in the idea embodied in a statement by Elie Wiesel: ‘People become the stories they hear and the stories they tell.’”
For additional information about the Jewish-Palestinian Living Room Dialogue Group and its outreach activities, visit the Traubmans’ website at http://traubman.igc.org/dg-prog.htm.
Tim Werner is the editor of CGNews and The Bulletin of Regional Cooperation and is based in Washington, DC.
CGNews has many useful articles about understanding Middle East conflicts, and turning confrontation into collaboration, on their Web site at:
Two other articles that occurred in this same issue were:
1. Ahmed S. Hashim, Ph.D., “Regional Security in the Middle East”
Security analyst Ahmed Hashim discusses the "realpolitik" security outlook of most states in the Middle East, and how the concepts of common security and cooperative security might be applied in the region to build trust and reduce mutual suspicions and hostilities.
2. H.D.S. Greenway, “The Cycle Of Hatred And Violence” I (First of two parts)
Boston Globe columnist H.D.S. Greenway analyzes the sources of hatred and violence between groups, particularly Palestinians and Israelis, highlighting how trauma and feelings of victimization can foster "a sense that one's own pain is so great that it blocks out any sense of another's pain."
Jewish-Palestinian Living Room Dialogue Group
1448 Cedarwood Drive, San Mateo, CA 94403
Voice: (650) 574-8303 • Fax:(650) 573-1217