Libby and Len Traubman on Jewish-Palestinian Dialogue

. . TOLERANCE AND SOLIDARITY . .

Excerpted from an article in Elders Action

. . . The compelling year-long meal sharing and earlier Soviet-American successes prepared Libby and Len to begin facilitating dialogue between Jews and Palestinians, thus catapulting the couple into another of the world’s serious communal conflicts. Libby explains, ‘By the late ’80s and early ’90s we were meeting some Israeli and Palestinian citizen-leaders who aspired coming to the United Sates for talking with each other—illegal where they lived. We, with others in the Beyond War community and Stanford University said “yes.” ’


See video of “Twenty years of the Palestinian Jewish Living Room Dialogue”

The Israeli and Palestinian women and men were brought to the California redwoods for a powerful week-long conference resulting in writing and signing the historic 1991 Framework for a Public Peace Process. Len cancelled his patients and the Traubmans travelled to Jerusalem to help gel the new team. They assisted participants circulating their Framework document to their individual governments and peoples.

Back in the USA, the couple promptly applied the new strategies. Len recalls: ‘Libby said, “You know we’ve done this globally, now we have got to figure out how it works where we live.”‘ The year of interracial dialogue in their home had laid the groundwork for the Jewish-Palestinian Living Room Dialogue beginning in July 1992 in their home.

Len recalls early difficulties: ‘Libby spent a year looking for brave local Jews and Palestinians—Muslims and Christians—willing to sit together. It was not a popular thing to do.’ Libby agrees about their biggest hurdle. ‘We searched tirelessly for people willing to face one another. It was almost unheard of. They’d say, “This is the enemy, are you kidding?” The Arabs and Jews were taking a risk by just sitting together, a taboo for many.’

Len explains that the Living Room Dialogues revealed that ‘the real fear is often not of the other side, but of one’s own people’s rejection as naive, sympathizer, unfaithful. That’s where the terror is: “What will people say?”‘

Libby adds, ‘So some feared their own people. Some feared the Other. And many questioned what good dialogue would do. Some said, “I’ve moved to America, and I don’t want to think about it anymore.” Palestinians’ and Israelis’ lives had become so comfortable in America.’

At first participants came to vent and then left. Later arrivals exhibited more dedication to deep listening and empathy. After 18 months a reliable core of respectful yet passionate women and men were dedicated to quality communication. ‘That was twenty-two years ago,’ says Libby. ‘Now eager would-be participants must be asked to wait until a rare opening occurs and the group needs a new member to restore balance.’

(Article continued in the right column)

Question for this article

How can a culture of peace be established in the Middle East?

(Article continued from the left column)

Len remembers key ingredients for Living Room Dialogue success: ‘We were dedicated and didn’t give up. Always there for the people, we kept respecting that at first most people dearly want to be heard. So the participant with the will and skill to listen is really the one with the power to transform the relationship. Listening dignifies both listener and the person whose story is being heard. Again, “An enemy is one whose story we have not heard.” We experience story as the shortest distance between two people. It is story and not information that goes to the heart and is best remembered. With this connection of hearts then brains, people experience each other’s equal humanity and begin wanting the best, not only for self but for the other person equally. Magic results from being together and connecting at the heart that then messages the brain that it is safe and the relationship is working properly. This face-to-face connection is simple yet the most effective human experience to redirect relationships.’

Libby continues, ‘At first we didn’t appreciate story as an entry point to Dialogue. We’d begin with political issues and hot topics, provoking ranting, blaming and battles over versions of history. Yet we failed to discover the personal and family stories of the human beings in the room with us. Slowly we discovered the primacy of personal intimacy and spending generous time with people telling their own narratives – sometimes bottled up inside a whole lifetime until then. That is really what we did that first year together of going round and round telling our own histories, ever more deeply learning more about each other. Familiarity, trust, and friendship grew. In time we could begin to approach more difficult issues.’

If listening ensures dialogue, then what makes someone a good listener? How can you make someone into a good listener? Len says simply, ‘You first listen to them.‘

‘You provide them that experience,’ explains Libby ‘And when they come into the dialogue circle, you have to be clear about the rule – what dialogue is and is not.‘

With skills from the Jewish-Palestinian Living Room Dialogue, Len and Libby then facilitated and filmed Dialogue at Washington High in which Miriam Zimmerman, a Holocaust Jew, and Elias Botto, an original 1947 Palestinian refugee from Jerusalem, shared their poignant stories. Used for instructional purposes ‘…that film then touched hearts and passed on skills to citizens in Africa and worldwide, helping people to relate differently’ explains Len. ‘It reminded us not only to enact the dialogues but to also tell the story of it. The power today is in story and the choice of stories. Today people are fed mostly human failure stories that we see on the five o’ clock news. Elie Wiesel, the Holocaust survivor and teacher, says: “People become the stories they hear and the stories they tell.” We have to decide what is for life and what is for death, what is for relationships and the health of the planet, then tell the stories of people who live exemplary lives.’

[Note: Long-time readers of CPNN will recognize Len and Libby Traubman from their articles reprinted in CPNN:

Jewish-Palestinian Dialogue: Turning enemies into partners


Planting Peace Seeds on the Road to Jerusalem


Two Free Videos for Relationship-Building Worldwide

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *