Frequently Asked Questions
About Palestinian-Jewish Dialogue

In Spring, 2001, after 8 years together, the Jewish-Palestinian Living Room Dialogue Group of San Mateo County, California, was preparing for its 105th meeting. What follows is the limited, still-unfolding experience of a few participants -- citizens who believe that the individual makes a difference.

What is dialogue?
Why did you get involved?
How did you start?
What about those who are neither Palestinians nor Jews?
What did you do when you first met?
Did you have a facilitator?
What was the tone of the first meetings?
What kind of commitment is needed?
Why do people leave a dialogue group?
How does dialogue change people and affect political outcomes?
How do you think dialogue in North America makes a difference?
In dialogue, what is the "action"?
What about those who prefer more political activism?
Can a dialogue participant represent a group or institution?
When did you do your first public outreach activity?
How do you respond in times of crisis?

What is dialogue?
True dialogue is to change the nature of relationships. It is not discussion or debate, or even conflict resolution. Beginning with compassionate listening, it is offering a window to one's own thoughts, mental models, and heart, giving the other person a view into your life experience, reasoning, and humanity. With new, diverse ideas in the midst, and with a spirit of goodwill, divergent views can converge to uncover a new social intelligence for the good of all.

Dialogue is described at http://traubman.igc.org/dialogue.htm.

Why did you get involved?
We began a dialogue group in July, 1992, because our life experience revealed that nothing replaces successful face-to-face relationships. Government peace processes were repeatedly failing. Most Jews and Palestinians had never had in-depth relationships nor heard anything but their own narratives, their own stories. Decisions -- mostly bad decisions -- continued to be made based on stereotypes and half-truths -- ignorance. Creativity, correcting stereotypes, and discovering trustworthy knowledge was not going to come from governments alone, but only with the help of citizens in true dialogue starting with one of the great acts of love -- compassionate listening.

How did you start?
We began with an idea. Then we found a Palestinian partner. Together we gathered enough women and men for a first meeting -- 8-10 willing Jews and Palestinians, and a few "others." We phoned people we knew and those we didn't. We walked into places of business and introduced ourselves. And we returned and returned again to potential participants until they said "no" or walked through the front door into the dialogue experience. In time, the Palestinian and Jewish participants began opening their own living rooms for the monthly meetings, and we now limit the number to about 30. When new groups start now, it can help to invite in a few "seed" participants from an established dialogue.

What about those who are neither Palestinians nor Jews?
These "others," as they call themselves, have been important to our success. They moderate, encourage, and catalyze the dialogue. Their support has been a great contribution.

What did you do when you first met?
We introduced ourselves to one another. Many times. We listened to one another's personal stories and life views, at ever-deepening levels of understanding. Some were more quiet, cautious and protected. Some were assertive to the extreme - clinging to anger and hurt - and unable to hear others or focus on anything but their cause and view. We all shared one common interest for sure - food.

Did you have a facilitator?
After several meetings, we collectively chose to have a facilitator. In our case, a participant-attorney and mediator, neither Palestinian nor Jew, volunteered. He was excellent -- a lion tamer at times -- and deserves much of the credit for the success of our sustained endeavor. Even before choosing for a facilitator, the group made its own agreements about preferred meeting times and places, hosting, and standards for being on time, listening, and courtesy -- translate that to "interrupting each other."

What was the tone of the first meetings?
First meetings can be either courteous or confronting. Each group has a different nature or personality. It is important to make room for flaring, especially when people have been holding their stories within for years, longing to be heard. This is where the others begin to master deep listening.

What kind of commitment is needed?
Meaningful dialogue is "sustained dialogue." It truly is a process and takes dedication and time. Successful dialogue cannot be a passing fancy or hobby. It must be a preoccupation. Commitment to each other and to the process is important, as in any relationship.

Why do people leave a dialogue group?
People come in for different reasons. Some are quite process-oriented and would simply talk forever; some seek collective "action" and even political statements and stands "now." In our experience, especially in the beginning, people came and then left out of disinterest or impatience, or because they were too busy or didn't think the activity would make a difference. Some were afraid of judgment from within their own cultural, religious, or spiritual communities. Some could not open themselves up to hear any but their own narratives. Some simply sought allies for their cause. In time, for us, a devoted base developed and stayed. Through time, some participants have decided to discontinue, and others have entered the dialogue anew, and with appreciation and enthusiasm.

How does dialogue change people and affect political outcomes?
When we hear each other's "stories," we start to expand our identification, and begin to see each other as human and equal. Seeing our oneness -- and differences, as well -- we begin to want the best for each other. We see that we are inextricably interrelated and interdependent -- neighbors forever. If enough citizens begin to have this experience, it will make the environment fertile and right for the government peace process to go to completion.

How do you think dialogue in North America makes a difference?
We can have an important affect on the Middle East, through our government's diplomatic, military, and economic policies. We can also contribute useful perceptions and even wisdom, being at a distance from the emotional centers of conflict. Perhaps most important is our tradition of freedom and creativity with which we can discover new models of thinking and treating one other. Many of us have family and friends in Israel/Palestine to whose thinking and spirit we can contribute, especially with the help of telephone and Internet communication, and a Web site.

In dialogue, what is the "action"?
The action of dialogue is building relationships, and expanding the circle of people who engage in that activity.

What about those who prefer more political activism?
In time, individuals who begin to discover more and identify with a larger frame of reference for themselves may grow impatient with this process and helping others enter it. They might choose to express their conclusions and political stands more publicly. But the true "action" of dialogue is to widen the circle of relationships in which former enemies expand their identification and begin to want the best for each other. Then, political outcomes that serve both peoples equally are more likely to go to completion. Other kinds of expressions about positions, statements, and causes are also important and needed. But they do not correct stereotypes and fundamental attitudes of people toward each other. This is the function of dialogue.

Can a dialogue participant represent a group or institution?
Each participant enters dialogue as an individual speaking only for herself or himself, free from any attachments to other people or groups. Attachment to the positions, interests, or judgment of a whole collective removes the freedom needed for authentic individual participation. It is helpful for people in leadership to acknowledge their affiliations, and simply do the very best they can in dialogue.

When did you do your first public outreach activity?
We did not do any kind of public outreach for until over a year and a half, because we didn't feel we had anything to say until then. We needed time to build trust and to learn, enabling our outreach to be successful. Any earlier action would have been "skipping steps" in the relationship-building public peace process.

See http://traubman.igc.org/pubpeace.htm.

How do you respond in times of crisis?
When your peoples and their governments are in trying times -- violence, disarray, perturbation -- the most important thing is to be there for each other. Do not withdraw from one other. People's expectations may not be met, but it is better to at least share your common humanity -- both pain and hopes -- and widen the circle of those who can begin to identify with each other, than to allow the continuation of the awful stereotypes that push around and paralyze both peoples, in America and in the Middle East. We have illustrated the qualities of Response at:

http://traubman.igc.org/respond.htm

"Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change
the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has."
    - Margaret Mead


Jewish-Palestinian Living Room Dialogue Group, 1448 Cedarwood Drive, San Mateo, CA 94403
Voice: 650-574-8303 Fax: 650-573-1217 E-mail: LTRAUBMAN@igc.org

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