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 friends.
     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, face-to-face relationships.
     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 together.
     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 together.
     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

Len and Libby Traubman
1448 Cedarwood Drive, San Mateo, CA 94403
Voice: (650) 574-8303 -- Fax: (650) 573-1217

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