A Jewish dentist and a Palestinian businesswoman, we with others in our 5-year-old Jewish-Palestinian Living Room Dialogue Group have learned a lot about reconciliation. And we know it isn’t easy.
But after 57 meetings, we have moved from fear to trust, from alienation to cooperation. We can talk. We can listen. We can cooperate. And if we can do it, so can others.
We began in 1992 with a handful of Bay Area families. Rejecting the popular gloom and hopelessness of the endless Middle East violence, we wanted to capitalize on our successes of the ’80s working with the Beyond War movement’s grassroots team-building between “enemies” — prominent Soviets and Americans, then Israelis and Palestinians.
We saw how face-to-face dialogue changed people’s minds and hearts. We knew model-building worked. Realizing that American citizens and government are strongly connected to Middle East events, it was time to put our global experience to use in our own community.
Today we are 30 Americans — Jews and both Muslim and Christian Palestinians, with several “others” who moderate and offer important support. We are in education, medicine, manufacturing, family businesses, and volunteerism. Among us are Holocaust survivors and 20th generation Palestinians.
While learning to work together in our local community, our many concrete projects have included material assistance to hospitals and schools in need, equally, in Israel and Palestinian Gaza and West Bank.
Descendants of Abraham with sister root cultures and languages, we have experienced our cousinhood. And we like it. By meeting face to face, we no longer just “study” or “hear about” each other. We now “know” and thus understand and want the best for one another. It has changed our lives.
“These are the worst of times, so why aren’t you hopeless?” people ask us. “Why do you do it, when others want to quit?”
When we are impossibly separated by our history and suffering, overcome with anger and pride, even deeper inside ourselves we find a stronger belief and knowing. It is the ancient insight of our common ancestor, Abraham, that all is one — we’re totally interdependent and interconnected, neighbors forever. So we want to learn to live together that way, and not waste valuable time.
Also, we Palestinians and Jews believe what sociologist Margaret Mead said: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”
Our small dialogue group believes if we can talk, listen and cooperate, so can anyone in the world. Yes, even in the Middle East! It’s just a matter of time.
Like a newborn baby — Jewish or Palestinian — we have crawled, then walked. We’re on our feet, but now feel rushed by what Ambassador Edward Djerejian, former Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs, calls “the worst case scenario,” when violence from both sides is on the rise and the peace process is not moving forward.
“Take bigger strides, walk faster,” crises beckon to our Semitic peace child. “Pick up the pace. Grow up ster,” come the calls from our brothers and sisters and cousins in the Middle East.
Hearing the urgent call for a mature step onto new ground, we could do no less than propose the once unimaginable, unacceptable, impossible. The needed, the dreamed of, the desired — the possible.
So on a Saturday night this November, in a hotel near the shore of San Francisco Bay, 400 Jewish and Palestinian Americans, and others, will meet around dinner tables to begin “Building A Common Future,” to change the nature of our relationships. Perhaps nervously and with shaky legs at first, but with eyes fixed on what we know is possible. And Ambassador Dennis Ross, U.S. envoy to the Middle East peace process, will be there to acknowledge the hopes and limits of government negotiations, and to call forth citizens to participate in reconciliation.
It was Dr. Harold Saunders, former Assistant Secretary of State and negotiator of the Camp David Accords, who defined the “public peace process” and asked citizens to ascend to participate fully, in partnership with governments. “There are some things,” Saunders said, “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.”
In that spirit we will be together on that special Saturday night. We’ll walk toward one another on tried but not yet mature legs, seeking the common ground and relationships we’ve never had but need.
What do we expect? Maybe a few, maybe many, good women and men will go home and redirect their ideas and energies, resources and philanthropy — even their institutions and lives — away from the illusion of individual survival, and toward bridge-building activities. Hopefully, we will make a difference, a ripple of intelligence and inspiration to travel out beyond us, even to the Middle East.
Would a miracle help? Yes, it would. But let’s no longer doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Especially when it’s time.
Nahida Salem is president of the Ramallah Club and its previous Woman of the Year. She lives in Belmont, Calif. with her husband and three children. Lionel Traubman has a practice of pediatric dentistry in San Francisco. He and his wife live in San Mateo, Calif. They have two grown children.
More information about the November 15th relationship- building evening, “Building A Common Future,” is on the Web at http://www.igc.org/traubman/hope.htm. You may call Nahida and Adham Salem (650-593-5769), or Len and Libby Traubman (650-574-8303).
Lionel “Len” Traubman, DDS, MSD
1448 Cedarwood Drive, San Mateo, CA 94403