Published in the San Francisco Chronicle -- Friday, 28 December 2001
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Events in 2001 caused some people to do an about-face

By Heather Knight


     Like many Arab Americans, Reyad Katwan has found himself in a strange position.  He has always enjoyed talking about his ancestry, his history, his take on the Middle East conflict.  But before, nobody seemed to want to listen. 
     Now, Katwan has an eager audience.  His co-workers stop him in the hall to quiz him on the latest suicide bombings and retaliations in Israel.  Newspaper reporters and television producers have interviewed him about his opinions.  Friends call him on the phone to chat about foreign affairs. 
     "I've always been interested," Katwan said.  "It just seems like other people are more interested now.  I talk until I'm blue in the face about these particular subjects, and I've had friends call up and ask me, 'Hey, can you tell me what the heck's going on? Why don't the Israelis and Palestinians get along?' It's amazing that all this time we've been talking, and they haven't been listening."
     And that's the best way to deal with the year's traumatic events, Katwan says.  Just listening. 
     Much of the attention focused on Katwan comes from his increased involvement in two Jewish-Palestinian dialogue groups.  Formed in 1992 in San Mateo, the informal discussion sessions have spread across the Bay Area.  Katwan attends monthly meetings in Los Gatos and Palo Alto, and keeps in touch with his discussion mates through phone calls and e-mails every couple of days. 
     He had attended meetings occasionally before, but said he has recently dedicated himself to the sessions wholeheartedly because he thinks it's the only way to achieve peace. 
     "Violence doesn't work," he said.  "The only way to solve this conflict is through human interaction.  Talk.  Talk until there's no more words, basically."
     Katwan often disagrees with other members' opinions, but finds himself frequently surprised at his ability to empathize with them. 
     "Someone said an enemy is someone whose story you haven't heard," he said.  "If you close your eyes, and you don't know who's speaking, it sounds like they're telling your story."
     Born on Jordan's West Bank, Katwan remembers visiting his grandmother in another part of town when he was 8 years old.  The area is under Israeli occupation and a curfew was imposed, no one coul leave their homes after 5 p.m. 
     An elderly man stepped outside to use his outhouse, and four Israeli soldiers (who were only young kids, as Katwan remembers) beat him fiercely.  Katwan compared it to the Rodney King beating.  His family left the violence to move to the United States shortly thereafter. 
     The memory aside, Katwan knows fault doesn't lie solely with one side or the other.  That's why he's thinks it's so important to hear each other out. 
     "It's like therapy, in essence," he said of the dialogue groups.  "If you're willing to open your ears and listen, you essentially become part of the solution rather than part of the problem.  I've just become a lot more aware of this situation. 
     "Again, just listening to what other people are saying.  Just listening."

E-mail Heather Knight at 

Reyad Katwan receives e-mail at