Published in The Trenton Times, 25 May 1998
A missing step in the peace process
by Lionel Traubman
As a pediatric dentist for 30 years, I've learned a lot about
the fear, mistrust, and misunderstandings that keep people
alienated and apart. I've learned how to help children when,
with pounding hearts and wide eyes, they look up at me
fearful for their very lives. I know how to turn "enemies"
into good patients and partners, strangers of any age into
I'M CONVINCED that this is the step that is missing in the
Middle East peace process, and in similar faltering efforts
elsewhere in the world. It is a step into, not away from,
What applies in my pediatric practice applies everywhere.
The hand's touch, the meeting of eyes, the moment of
interested listening can ease the tension, calm the mind,
open the heart, build a bridge across the chasm between us,
and establish the relationship and reunion that people's
souls long for.
Applying this experience, my wife and I began a Jewish-
Palestinian living room dialogue group five years ago in our
home. It was not easy. Some we invited were too busy or too
fearful. Some didn't think it would make a difference. But
others did. Today, 70 meetings later, we are 30 diverse
American women and men, young and old, including Holocaust
survivors and 20th generation Palestinians. We have shared
meals and stories, fought and reconciled, and worked in
concert creating projects to help people and invigorate the
public peace process, here and overseas.
IN A LEAP of faith, last November our small group brought
together 420 Jewish and Palestinian Americans, and others, in
a dinner-dialogue to begin changing the nature of their
relationships. To their surprise, they liked each other, and
many chose to continue meeting. The impossible had become
possible, desirable, practical.
Fortunately, there are many efforts like ours. Almost
unreported in the press -- but quite visible on the Internet
-- growing numbers of citizen groups are bringing Arabs and
Jews together for the first time in their lives, here and in
the Middle East. The lives they are living and recommending
are revealed in their names: Project Understanding; Seeds of
Peace; Building Bridges; the Cousins Club; the Jewish-
Palestinian Compassionate Listening Project. In Israel, Neve
Shalom/Wahat al-Salam, "Oasis of Peace," is a model village
where Arabs and Jews live and educate their children
This is hard work, requiring totality and preoccupation. If
it's just a "hobby," it won't work. It needs a dedication we
usually associate with war, but with a new motivation --
compassion -- and a new method -- face-to-face listening,
understanding, and collaboration.
Instead of military methods, with our creativity and energy
we are building human bonds, one at a time. The new warrior
is each of us, not just professional politicians and
soldiers, a reality that has been validated by government
professionals themselves. Dr. Harold Saunders, former
Assistant U.S. Secretary of State, and negotiator of the
Camp David Accords, said:
"THERE ARE some things that only governments can do, such as
negotiating binding agreements. But there are some things
that only citizens outside government can do, such as
changing human relationships."
Today's best memorial to war is to use that freedom which
politicians don't really have. Let our empathetic listening
and creativity begin, with growing numbers of citizens
building bridges to each other, wherever conflict exists.
Every passing day, the call is clearer that we can no longer
disregard one another. The needy, neglected, threatened, and
disenfranchised can, if we do not listen, cause great damage
unless and until they are heard and respected. We must
reject violence, come into relationship, and live our lives
This Memorial Day, I cannot put out of my mind a line from
Herman Wouk's War and Remembrance: "Either war is finished
or we are."
The human contact that works with my patients, employees,
marriage, and community also works between nations. It's all
one. It's for everyone. And it's time.
Lionel Traubman, DDS, MSD, practices Dentistry for Infants
and Children. He and his wife, Libby, live in San Mateo,
Calif. They are on the Web at http://www.igc.org/traubman/.
Len and Libby Traubman
1448 Cedarwood Drive, San Mateo, CA 94403
Voice: (650) 574-8303 -- Fax: (650) 573-1217
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