group - organized only a about a year ago, recently held a big public dialog in New
Dialog Success Story
Robert Levin of Albuquerque New Mexico, USA, tells how the Arab-Jewish Dialog of New Mexico got started, and how, within about a year, an organization that began as a small group of friends was able to organize a successful public dialog event that helped change community attitudes.
Rabbi Lynn Gottlieb of Albuquerque, had on her own spent several years seeking Palestinian connections in the community, getting to know them, gaining their trust. She was able to team up with Manhassen Shukry and about a year ago they invited a group of us to form the dialogue. About a dozen of us began meeting monthly, got to know each other, educated each other and bonded as a team. Particularly Ahmed Lobad had gotten onto the Palestinian and Jewish e-Mail lists, forwarded information to all of us, and then I started getting online and doing the same.
We have come to friendship and agreement and trust, and recently turned our attention to the question: how can we get the mainstream Palestinian and Jewish communities knowing, talking and listening to each other?
This was difficult. We ran into the same mythologies that you report others experienced. The Arab Anti-discrimination Committee flatly turned down getting into it because "all Jewish organizations are controlled by the Israel government" The "establishment" Jewish community, although having true concern, also basically stonewalled us and many of its leaders badmouthed Rabbi Lynn Gottlieb for taking the issue of Israeli human rights violations to the public press. Some Jewish leaders said, â??All Palestinian children are taught in their homes to hate. There are no Palestinian peace activists to talk to." However, we persisted and gradually the situation turned around.
The major Albuquerque daily newspaper gave an indirect assist. The idea of a dialogue and the attack on Rabbi Gottlieb for going outside the Jewish community on the human rights issue had obviously gotten merged in the public mind. There was much public misunderstanding and there were many "letters to the editor." The newspaper put a reporter on the story and he called the many public figures involved. The uniform answer, as could be anticipated, was "Of course there should be dialogue, BUT....." The newspaper ended up with a lead editorial "Let the Dialogue Begin."
The Albuquerque Chapter of the ADC reversed itself and Scott Tyson, chairman of the Jewish Human Relations Council, an instrument of the Jewish Federation, convinced the Federation that this was an important part of the community to relate to. Scott and ADC board members joined our planning group. This coalition is the group that planned the big public event that more than 300 people attended that you know about. This planning process was extremely difficult and was on the brink of falling apart or being "indefinitely postponed" several times. Scott, however, did a good job of working with the Jewish Federation executive and brought a small Arab-Jewish delegation together with him in which the remaining issues and fears were hammered out.
The coalition sponsored a public forum, "Palestinians and Israelis: Roads to Peace." We formatted it to be a series of speakers, one representing the Israeli government point of view, one the Palestinian Authority's, and a Palestinian and an Israeli peace activist. This was not formatted as a debate; each was to state his or her own experience and view of the road to peace. There would be a question period, and then the audience would break down into mixed groups of ten, each with a facilitator to get to know each other through each group discussing the same three questions, stated in brief " What experience and interest brought you to this meeting? What new did you learn? What do you think we should do next?".
Our target audience consisted of people who had only heard their own stories, never talked with the other, therefore never experienced the humanity of the other and the potential of working together for solutions that respected everyone. Thus, our objective was not to discuss specifics, except as they were presented as background of issues that must be resolved in the process: water rights, specific boundaries, the various possible detailed political terms of the peace, Jerusalem, settlements, etc. Our only objective was educational: hopefully to open minds.
From reports that you already have received, obviously it worked. Of the 300 people who attended, more than 60, from all sectors of the community, indicated that they definitely wanted to continue the dialog process. Both groups, the Arab-Jewish Dialogue and the Arab Jewish Planning Coalition, are now holding meetings to consider "what next?".
To me this is a classic story of what can be accomplished when an idea's time has come, despite the fact that most people are stuck in fixed positions that may have a lot of justification, and just a few people stick together and persist, even if it takes years of work. Like the others upon whom you report, we too, when we started, thought we were alone. During the process, through the Traubmans and the network that opened up to us, we discovered all of the rest of you that were working the vineyards, learned much, gained much hope to continue.
We are going to go on, (how could we not?), and you will be hearing more from us, as we want to hear from, and learn from, you.
A Dialog Program
Dialog experts helped the Albuquerque group prepare the meeting. Each person got a form like the one below:
AN INVITATION TO DIALOGUE
An important part of today's program will be discussion groups, in which you will be invited to explore Roads to Peace in a new way. These facilitated groups will emphasize dialogue rather than debate.
What Is Dialogue?
Dialogue is a form of communication in which understanding and respect are goals. It is different from other forms of communication in several ways. In dialogue we . . .
Good dialogue requires a diversity of perspectives, and we are planning groups that include a mixture of various points of view and different kinds of personal experience. At the top of this sheet is a table number, and to achieve diversity we are requesting that you sit at your assigned table.
What Will Be Discussed in Dialogue Groups Today?
During the dialogues, you will be asked to discuss three questions:
If there is time, groups will be encouraged to explore other issues related to the Road to Peace.
The Pass Rule: You are not required to address any question and may pass without explanation. Please allow others to remain in a listening role without pressuring them to speak.
We hope you find this dialogue experience a constructive way to explore diversity and common ground. If you would like to participate in ongoing dialogues on this topic, you will be able to sign up at your table.
Thanks for coming and participating today.
Middle East Gateway