I believed therapists were better qualified to let people talk and make others listen, with open hearts and minds. Ten years later narratives were the trend and you could hear all sorts of stories on the radio and in books, and every week you were flooded with narratives. I realized that we needed to listen to people and hear what they had to say, not only listen to ourselves. These were very interesting exchanges, and some of the things said were very good, but I sensed that it didn't make a difference, didn't change attitudes or reduce stereotypical thinking.
A few years later, I cooperated with another Arab-Jewish dialogical center based in northern Israel. To make a difference, I now believed we needed programs for young people, not adults, to build young leadership, the next generation. Socrates said that children are the basis of society. The program I initiated for these young people was based on the heritages of Muslims, Christians and Jews. It enhanced the identity of the participants, created mutual respect and a common ground for dialogue. That's why it was successful.
I was in touch with academics, scholars of folklore, folk literature, beliefs, customs. I believed that we needed to learn about the folklore of the 'other', we needed more than dialogue programs on the human level—you are a woman and I am a woman, and he is a man and we have children, brothers, families, we are the same, so let us be friends. No. Our geographical region, the Middle East, is characterized by a rich diversity of cultural, religious and national differences, and social traditions. There can be real dialogue when we understand the other side's intellectual, emotional and social identity. It isn't enough to talk about how we fast during Ramadan
or on Yom Kippur,
how we visit family and bring gifts. It is superficial. What needs to be understood is more profound: it is what makes the other "tick", what they deem important and what their values are as a result of their heritage and their social structure, what values are important to them, and how these values must be understood and respected. Only then can we hold a real dialogue with the "other".
Can you give an example of such a meeting?
Yes. There are practical considerations: you mustn't invite women for a meeting at night. They [Palestinian women] don't go out at night, they don't go out alone. You need to consider the social position of the women with whom you work, their social limitations, familial constraints, and understand and respect these. An example: I organized a seminar in Jerusalem in 1997-1998, and there were many people there, many of them women. The goal was to initially strengthen the Palestinians’ identity and the Israeli Jews’ identity before holding a meeting or beginning any joint activities. The goal was to empower the participants before their encounter. There cannot be a situation in which one side feels strong and the other feels weak or inferior. That isn’t a good basis for dialogue.
We initiated the program on their ground, in East Jerusalem. The location itself was important. The program lasted a year. Even though it had its problems, it was fairly successful. At times, there was no place to meet, or this person couldn’t come so someone else filled in—the logistic problems every activity encounters. On the whole, the program was successful. People I meet remember it to this day. Within the framework of the program, I was invited to an Arab village in the vicinity of Jerusalem for a holiday celebration. The teachers had chosen children’s stories that they learned, Palestinian folk tales, and parallel Jewish folk tales and put together a play, a celebration in honor or Id el-Adha. By the time I found the place it took a while and I arrived a little late at the school and stood at the entrance of the gymnasium. One of the teachers spotted me and said, “Come in! This is Id el-Adha, like Pesach.” On stage, there was a performance on Juha and Hershele, which are humorous stories. They were making the point that the stories are the same in different versions, and the audience applauded—parents, children. It was a happy affair, a wonderful meeting.