DOI: 10.5553/IJCER/221199652015003002003

International Journal of Conflict Engagement and ResolutionAccess_open


Redefining Success in Arab–Jewish Dialogue Groups

Learning to Live in Both Worlds

Keywords peace building, shift, interethnic dialogue, success in dialogue, dialogue groups
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Nurete Brenner and Victor Friedman, "Redefining Success in Arab–Jewish Dialogue Groups", International Journal of Conflict Engagement and Resolution, 2, (2015):136-157

    Despite the ongoing debate about the effectiveness of intergroup dialogue for conflict resolution, there is surprisingly little conceptualization of what constitutes successful dialogue. On the basis of a qualitative analysis of three US-based Arab–Jewish dialogue groups, using phenomenological methods and a comparison of case studies, this article presents three main dimensions of success: (1) a shift among group members to ‘living in both worlds’, which means that participants learn to accept the others’ views while still maintaining their own; (2) expansion beyond the group boundaries to include people outside the group such as family members, the larger community members and others and (3) resilience, which means being able to stay in relationship with rival group members without necessarily resolving the conflict. These three dimensions, which are linked together, provide potential criteria for evaluating the effectiveness of dialogue groups. The concept of shift is discussed and refined and contrasted with the more general concept of change. Ideas around generalizability are discussed, and the concept of expansion or ‘rippling out’ is suggested instead. Finally, resilience rather than resolution is offered as one of the main objectives of a successful dialogue.

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    • 1 Introduction

      Dialogue is a central concept in peacebuilding (Raines, 2012), and, specifically, grass-roots, person-to-person dialogue encounters are considered an essential component of conflict transformation (Gawerc, 2006). There are many approaches to person-to-person dialogue encounters, of which some address processes, others study theory and others examine outcomes. Despite the growing body of literature on techniques and methods of dialogue (Raines, 2012), there are still many sceptics who say that dialogue is a ‘feel good’ activity that does not change minds or the reality of politics, but in effect maintains the status quo (e.g., Halabi, 2000). And indeed, many question whether it is worthwhile even to bring such groups together (e.g., Halabi and Sonnenschein, 2004) as they do not change political and general opinions and do not change the conflict as a whole. Moreover, Dessel and Rogge (2008) discuss the difficulty of evaluating intergroup dialogue, stating that “…[e]valuators of intergroup dialogue must first define indicator variables of successful process and outcomes…. Outcome measurement tools and program evaluation methods are important pieces of the puzzle as to whether and how dialogue may foster interpersonal and social change. A compendium of dialogue evaluation methods and tools will increase the potential to replicate and improve on current research knowledge (Rubin and Babbie, 2005). Such improvements will strengthen and promote intergroup dialogue in various public settings” (Dessel and Rogge, 2008). It would thus seem that we need to identify criteria to define success of dialogue encounters as a peace-building tool in violently divided societies and thus to understand what can be expected from a person-to-person dialogue encounter so as perhaps to answer the question thoughtfully, yet optimistically.
      This article aims to address the above lack and need and identify criteria to define success of dialogue encounters and to help define a realistic expectation of achievement in a dialogue encounter. It also asserts that dialogue creates a shift in the identity of the participants making room for the other in a kind of deconstruction of the old and reconstruction of a new reality. The concept of shift is discussed and contrasted with the ideas of change in the relationships of conflict parties.

    • 2 Literature Review – Evaluating Dialogue Group Success

      The word ‘dialogue’ itself has many definitions, depending on the context, background and perspective of the speaker. However, most would agree that dialogue is a kind of talk that goes beyond informal conversation. Dialogue contains emotional and cognitive components, and, at its best, it is a set of interactions between two or more people in which both or all sides are changed by the exchange (Bohm, 1996; Buber, 1965; Dixon, 1996; Isaacs, 1999).
      Specifically, the literature uses the term intergroup dialogue in conflict situations to signify “a form of democratic process, engagement, problem-solving and education involving face to face facilitated, and confidential discussions occurring over time between two or more groups of people defined by their social identities” (Schoem and Hurtado, 2001: 6). Other scholars emphasize the structured and facilitated aspect of the intergroup dialogue and the importance of sustained contact over time, an opportunity to share experiences and engage in active listening of the other’s personal experience and reflect on the other’s experiences (Ben Hagai et al., 2013; Dessel and Ali, 2012; Dessel and Rogge, 2008; Khuri, 2004; Ron and Maoz, 2013). Ultimately, intergroup dialogue is about “relationship building and thoughtful engagement about difficult issues” in a small group (Schoem and Hurtado, 2001).
      For many individual or intergroup dialogue scholars the implicit success in dialogue is that change will take place (Dessel and Rogge, 2008). Martin Buber (1970), for example, claims that if appropriately facilitated, dialogue can change and enhance “understanding, learning, medicine, family life, business, politics and more” (pp. 82-85). Theoretical physicist and philosopher David Bohm also describes dialogue in terms of change and transformation. For him, though, dialogue brings an ascent to a higher level of consciousness, both individually and collectively. This possibility of change is echoed in another dialogue theorist, Jurgen Habermas, who also believes in change through communication. Habermas himself says that “a certain form of unrestrained communication brings to the fore the deepest force of reason which enables us to overcome egocentric or ethnocentric perspectives and reach an expanded … view” (Stephens, 1994).
      However, there are very few empirical studies that focus on defining success in an intergroup dialogue. Since dialogue often does not have a single objective or outcome (Singh, 2001), it is difficult to set an all-purpose standard for success. Generally, the way to measure success is through the tools that evaluators of programmes use: namely, setting goals and trying to achieve them. If the goals are reached, then the programme is deemed a success. But since the whole purpose of dialogue is to see what can be reached, to allow a free range and let the conversation go where it will, dialogue becomes particularly difficult for evaluators to measure through traditional tools.
      Some dialogue practitioners have attempted to set some standards for success in dialogue encounters. One such attempt can be found in the School of Peace approach developed by the Oasis of Peace (Neve Shalom/Wahat el-Salam: a cooperative village and peace educational institute in Israel founded by Jews and Arabs). For them, a successful dialogue encounter is when the group becomes a microcosm of the larger society. In this model, participants come to see themselves and the rival group members as representing the larger group (Halabi, 2000). In the School of Peace approach, the encounter raises the participants’ awareness of their social and political identities within the conflict (Halabi and Sonnenschein, 2004). Here success lies not in bringing Jews and Arabs closer together but in fostering the development of participants’ national and political identity (Halabi, 2000: 87).
      In contrast, Gergen (2001) offers a constructivist approach to transformative dialogue in which participants create a new reality by expressing themselves, listening to the other and empathizing with the emotions, experiences, views and values of the other, and through such a process reconstructing their views of themselves and the other. As Gergen (2001) affirms, meaning is made not by the individual but by the relational: “meaning is a byproduct of relationship … the individual agent is de-emphasized as the source of meaning….”
      A third approach is the encounter group model – also called T-groups – originated in the 1960s by Kurt Lewin, Carl Rogers and others. Encounter groups emphasize the emotional and psychological aspects of a dialogue encounter, and set as a goal a better understanding in dealing with the others in the group. Members of encounter groups learn to deeply examine their behaviour and values, develop conflict-resolution skills and become more successful in interpersonal relationships (Rogers, 1970: 2-3). In the original T-groups, individuals were taught to observe the nature of their interactions with others and the group process in order to better understand their own way of functioning in a group and the impact they had on others. Dialogue groups, similar to T-groups, are planned, intensive groups with the goal of cultivating relation skills, and the development and improvement of interpersonal communication in an experiential process (Rogers, 1970).
      Ross and Rothman (1999) undertook an empirical study of definitions and measures of success in conflict resolution throughout the world. They pointed out that, since grass-roots initiatives do not attempt to resolve conflicts at the highest political level, “it makes little sense to judge them in terms of whether or not the larger conflict is settled in some definitive way” (Ross and Rothman, 1999: 2). They went on to say that “it is analytically useful to distinguish between internal criteria of a project’s success and failure and external criteria which are those linking a project’s activities to the conflict as a whole” (Ross and Rothman, 1999). Ross and Rothman ultimately find no “single list of criteria of success useful in all interventions”. Their research shows the importance of “context-based criteria designed to address conflicts in specific settings” (Ross and Rothman, 1999: 11). The definitions of success of the various interventions were contingent on the nature of the conflict and the desire of the stakeholders (Rothman et al., 2006).
      Thus, the jury is still out on what constitutes an appropriate goal for dialogue, and specifically for intergroup dialogue. This study would come to address that gap and offer three outcomes that could indicate success in any dialogue.

    • 3 Methods

      The criteria for success proposed in this article is based on the analysis of case studies of three Arab–Jewish dialogue groups that have been meeting in different cities in the United States for a sustained period of time. The interviews were conducted by author 1 in 2006-2007, at which time the first group had been meeting for over 18 years, numbered 30-40 participants (with membership shifting over the years) and had become active in disseminating information, encouraging new groups and maintaining a network of dialogue groups. The second group was an all-women group of Arabs and Jews that, at the time of the interviews, had been meeting for over 10 years and that numbered approximately 15-20 participants (also with shifting membership). The third was an Arab–Jewish dialogue group that met for a year and numbered approximately 25 regular participants.
      Research for this article involved meeting with and active observation of these three groups and interviews with 28 individual members of these groups. The interviewees were 12 Arabs, 9 of whom were Palestinians, and 16 Jews, 3 of whom were Israelis. All three groups can be viewed as true grass-roots groups in that there was no agenda and no sponsorship by any political or interested party (see table in Appendix)
      The interviews were recorded, transcribed and then thematically analysed using both phenomenological methods and comparative case study research, both of which are approved qualitative research methods. Phenomenological research derives knowledge about the essence of an emotional experience. The aim of phenomenology is “to develop a complete, accurate, clear and articulate description and understanding of a particular human experience or experiential moment – a rich, deep ‘snapshot’ of an experience that includes qualities at many levels of experience (i.e., bodily, feelings) but especially at pre-reflective levels” (Braud and Anderson, 1998: 264).
      Case study research attempts to obtain a richly descriptive verbal picture of the context and content of the cases studied. The multiple perspectives that the case study requires provides the researcher with a rich database from which to discern themes and notice differences, thereby enabling “pattern-matching”, which can establish meaningful relationships, and link the data to propositions and theory in an inductive process via “explanation building” (Campbell, 1975; Yin, 1994). Further, since research was conducted at three separate sites, the comparative case study allowed the researchers to add variability to the sample and to formulate a theory in one setting and confirm or disconfirm the theory at the next setting.
      The three collective interviews helped elicit the story of the group, while the 28 one-on-one interviews were designed to elicit the individual participants’ personal perspectives of the changes they had experienced as a result of their participation in the group. The collective interviews were conducted as a free-form focus group with questions such as: “tell me about the origins of your group” and “at one point did you feel most excited to be part of this group?” The one-on-one interviews were conducted with a selection of participants from each group. The researchers, who were both Jewish, attempted to meet with and interview one-on-one the most active members and those who had been attending for the longest time. The one-on-one interviewees were selected by the facilitators of the groups. The interviewees were told that the research goals were to learn about the best practices of their group in order to share this information with other grass-roots dialogue groups forming throughout the country. The intention of this article is to fulfil the promise made to the interviewees.
      The collective and one-on-one interviews were analysed with the researchers seeking themes, recurrent motifs and patterns leading to an embryonic theory that was then applied, nurtured and refined with the analysis of each subsequent interview. Since the interviewees were promised that their interviews would be anonymous, capital letters will be used in referring to their interviews.
      The backdrop in the Middle East during the time these interviews took place, 2006-2007, was as follows: fighting on the Israel–Lebanon border, resulting in the deaths of over 1,191 Lebanese and 165 Israelis. In October 2006 there was rocket fire from Gaza into Israel, and Israeli air force bombs dropped over Gaza City. In November 2006 Israel shelled Beit Hanoun, killing 19 Palestinians; escalating conflict between Hamas and Fatah. In July 2007 Hamas forces took control of Gaza after fighting against Fatah forces. In September 2007 Israeli fighter aircraft entered Syrian airspace and allegedly launched a raid on a nuclear facility (Timeline, 2008).

    • 4 Findings

      This study has found three main dimensions that could become criteria for the success of any intergroup dialogue: (1) a shift from one-dimensional thinking to an ability to live in both worlds; (2) A ‘rippling out’ momentum – or expansion – to include people outside the group and the larger community and (3) the resilience that enables the group to stay in relationship despite conflict.

      4.1 The Shift

      The groups discussed here are examples of organized meetings in which dialogue has led to profound shifts in how the participants perceived themselves and others. The shift is usually caused by the activity of hearing the personal stories of others (Bar-On, 2000; Bar-On and Kassem (2004); and Senehi, 2002). Hearing the other’s stories had a powerful effect on the members’ perception of the conflict. For example, a Jewish woman from the West Coast group recalls:

      What changed me was hearing the stories of the Palestinians and realizing there was a different story from what I learned in Hebrew school and from the Jewish press and even from the American media. (Interviewee A, conducted on 17 November 2006)

      Hearing the personal narratives of others enabled members of the dialogue groups to get a different and more personal view of the history of the conflict. This process triggered a number of significant shifts in the thinking of participants. The following are examples of how dialogue participants (1) shifted their perception of others, (2) and subsequently their perceptions of themselves, (3) resulting in an ability to ‘live in two worlds’, or, in other words, to expand their consciousness to include two competing narratives.

      4.1.1 Perception of Others

      The following quotations illustrate how both Palestinian and Jewish participants shifted their perceptions of each other. A Palestinian woman of the Midwest group remembers:

      I used to hate Jews, Israel and Zionism. But then I got to know Jews and I realized they weren’t my enemy. But I still held onto my hatred of Israel and Zionism. But then I began to understand Israelis and I began to see that some Israelis were doing the right thing, so at least I could still cling to my hatred of Zionism…. But then I started to realize that when people talk about Zionism they mean different things. To me, Zionism is what hurt me. And I resent it. But then they would say, there’s this other kind of Zionism and then I would say, I’ve been struggling to define my enemy not as a Jew, not as an Israeli, give me a break, let me at least have Zionism [laughing]…. Talk about expanding….” (Interviewee B, conducted on 6 October 2006)

      As this quotation illustrates, the person began with a perceptual world in which there was a clear boundary between herself and groups defined as enemies. Through the dialogue process this boundary began to blur, and her world began to expand so as to include members of those groups that were formerly defined as enemies. Eventually this expansion reached the point where she was led to reconsider the very need for a clear division between friends and enemies.
      A Jewish woman from the West Coast group relates:

      I shifted from a fundamentally adversarial approach – and I’m still against the Occupation and my politics are still in the same realm – but I’m less interested in doing that kind of work. It has become more to me about making the table big enough for everyone to sit down at it – right-wing people, left-wing people center people and people who don’t even want to put themselves on the spectrum…. My politics haven’t changed, but my approach has. (Interviewee C, conducted on 17 November 2006)

      The expansion described earlier is also reflected in this second quotation in the shift from being ‘adversarial’ to being ‘inclusive’, by which she meant engaging with people whose views were very different from her own. It is interesting to note that this shift from adversarial to inclusive occurred without necessarily involving a change in her fundamental political positions. Rather, it implied a willingness to establish relationships and to look for ‘solutions’ that would, as she put it, make room for everyone at the table.
      In dialogue this process of expansion goes beyond simply hearing and becoming acquainted with former adversaries. As the following quotations illustrate, dialogue members began finding deep commonalities with the other members in the group and making friends. An Israeli man from the West Coast group described it thus:

      I’ve been enriched – the friendships and the connection with the other’s culture, the events and the people we meet and the bonding. Because they are very strong friendships. …the dialogue enables you to go deep – there are very few people to talk to about these things. And often it isn’t your spouse. …most people in our society are either on one side or the other. …so we had this sacred space, where we could talk about things, try to grapple with them, try to understand better…. (Interviewee D, conducted on 17 November 2006)

      As this quotation illustrates, as these relationships formed and grew deeper, participants brought to bear areas of themselves that they had not even shared with their spouses. The world of the dialogue group participants expanded, their personal boundaries changed and they now had access to regions that were previously unknown or considered to be off limits.
      An Arab member from the West Coast group asserts:

      We … act differently after a meeting like this. We interface with other people in a different way, we’re open to having new kinds of friends … new thinking…. (Interviewee E, conducted 17 November 2006)

      This quotation also shows how the formation of relationships within the group had an increasing impact on relationships outside the group. When the first dialogue participant spoke of a sacred space, one possible interpretation is that she meant a space that is designated, separate from the outside world in which the conflict cannot enter in a destructive way and in which relationships can grow.
      One of the Jewish participants from the West Coast group relates:

      One of the really interesting things that happened last year is that our most politically conservative Jewish participant and one of our most left-wing Palestinian Muslim participants became close friends outside the group. They were totally far apart on politics. I mean as far apart on politics as you can get and they became real friends outside the group. (Interviewee F, conducted on 17 November 2006)

      4.1.2 Perception of Self

      As the dialogue group members’ perceptions of the other changed, so did their perceptions of self. The following statements from the participants demonstrate various ways in which participants found their identity changing as a result of the encounter with the other. A Jewish woman from the Midwest reflects on how her Jewish identity changed:

      I feel I’ve become much less strident. All my life I thought that Jewish people were superior, that they were Chosen People, and that they were better and they were ethically superior and morally superior and they weren’t criminals and they didn’t do all those horrible things that other people do…. And I see that differently now. I’ve become more of a humanist than a loyal Jew. And still, I don’t hide my Jewish identity. I am proud of my Jewish identity. But it’s changed. (Interviewee G, conducted 6 October 2006)

      Another Jewish woman from the Midwest group describes how her Jewish identity was strengthened:

      I became much more in touch with my own identity as a Jew. Whereas before I thought very little about it. I had originally joined the dialogue group as a facilitator and then became more aware and more conscious of myself as a Jew. (Interviewee H, conducted 6 October 2006)

      The oldest Jewish woman in the Midwest group reveals her own complex identity shift as a Holocaust survivor who is also a peace activist:

      …I am a Holocaust survivor, and I have been trying to move away from my identity as a Holocaust survivor…. I find that Holocaust survivors are very, well, they’re paranoid. The anxiety has become permanent and they’re usually staunchly pro-Israel. I’m pro-Israel too but not pro-Israel’s policies. And so I have a harder time now to relate to the survivors when I meet them, because there’s a … chronic anxiety that this is going to happen to us all over again. …so in that sense, I’m trying to pull away from the archetype of Holocaust survivors. On the other hand, I’m very much involved in talking to kids [about the Holocaust] and then – also I want people to know that there can be such a thing as a Holocaust survivor who is pro-co-existence. (Interviewee I, conducted 6 October 2006)

      An Arab member of the Midwest group describes her identity shift thus:

      Intellectually, I felt that I understood the other, but I didn’t realize how personally touched and moved I would be by really having friendships with the other … knowing people fully and all the nuances and just how enriching that was, and not just about this but sort of how that translated into other things too…. I have called myself a life-long activist, but I don’t feel attached to that phrase any longer. I think I’m more comfortable with the idea that change needs to be more organic, more personal and that is a result of this dialog group experience…. (Interviewee J, conducted on 6 October 2006)

      Some participants experienced a strengthening of their cultural identity, whereas others experienced a strengthening of their humanist identity at the expense of their cultural or ethnic identity. The point is that the perceptual shift did not simply involve seeing others differently, but reflected back on themselves. The shift and expansion of perception had been described by John Paul Lederach (2005: 36) as “paradoxical curiosity”, which means the capacity to hold two contradictory truths in mind in order to arrive at a greater truth that transcends both. Paradoxical curiosity is the capacity to see the truth in the opposing viewpoint. As Lederach has found in his peace-building efforts, paradoxical curiosity is a key component in transcending cycles of violence, in rising above “dualistic polarities … refusing to fall into forced containers of dualism and either/or categories” (Lederach, 2005: 36).

      4.1.3 Living in Both Worlds: The Expansion to Being Able to Hold Two Narratives at Once

      As illustrated above, the shift experienced in a dialogue group often begins with a changed attitude towards the other, a restructuring of one’s social life through the acquisition of new friendships within the group and a change in self-identity. Eventually, these experiences lead to a profound change in the identity of the participant, a change that led to the ability to ‘live in both worlds’, as the Arab group member describes below:

      The stories led me to feel I can live in both worlds, it’s taken me a really long time to get there, but … I see Israel’s security issues and I see the reality of daily life for Gazans. I can see both sides. (Interviewee K, conducted on 17 November 2006)

      This ability to ‘live in both worlds’ means holding both narratives in mind side by side. Without giving up one’s identity, one can now make room for the other story and identify with it at both the cognitive and the emotional levels. The stories are the key in the shift to living in both worlds. The personal narratives brought by members very often contradict what the listener once believed to be true, and the dialogue participants soon realize that the personal narrative they are hearing is perhaps more reliable than what they have heard in the media or at school. A Jewish man from the East coast dialogue group describes it thus:

      The shift was going from a two-dimensional awareness to a broader world view. I didn’t even know Palestinians…. I knew intellectually that the Occupation was wrong, but all I knew of Palestinians was what I saw in the news. It was very caricatured and so, now, I’m getting to know all these Palestinians and there’s a multidimensionality of getting to know people as human beings and sort of beginning to have a sense of the culture, and the vibrancy and sophistication of people just like me. …In fact, it felt like my world had gotten bigger. Not only do I have some wonderful connections and friendships that have enriched my life, but my world view is bigger. (Interviewee L, conducted 21 January 2007)

      Here too we see the recurring theme of a shift and expansion of perception. The stories disconfirm a certain set of beliefs that had previously been embedded without uprooting the original personal narrative entirely. The shift comes from the fact that they can accept both stories side by side despite the apparent contradictions. Dialogue participants become aware of contradictory stories they hold within themselves, and the new-found complexity becomes a part of who they are. While it may not be comfortable, they can no longer simply reject a story that has become embedded in their own world view.
      The following quotations illustrate powerful and moving accounts of the experience of living in both worlds that occurred through dialogue. This quote is from a Palestinian man from the West Coast group:

      When we meet … a Jewish guy calls me brother, and I call him brother, what opens my heart when we embrace every time, we hug each other and this tells me the choice is mine – to be that brother or to look at him as an enemy and to try to harm him…. (Interviewee E, conducted on 17 November 2006)

      The following quote is from a Jewish man from the same group:

      I have peace…. I have Palestinian friends. It’s changed my life totally. I don’t live in war. I don’t hold anybody prisoner…. My life has changed. So, I live in peace. (Interviewee M, conducted on 17 November 2006)

      This shift and expansion do not imply a denial of conflict but rather an ability to incorporate the conflict into a larger world view. The dialogue participant who spoke of peace meant not only an internal peace but also a peace that expanded to the world around him. These are not stages in a linear process but a recursive one that repeats and reinforces itself over time within the dialogue group.

      4.2 The Ripple Effect: How the Shift Has Impact beyond the Group

      Once the ‘living in both worlds’ shift has occurred, the dialoguers find themselves applying the shift that started within the group to other people outside the dialogue group, as the following quotations demonstrate. A Palestinian man from the West Coast group explains:

      …I joined the group because I wanted to express how I feel to some Jewish people, what happened to me and to my family and to my people and to my country, as a Palestinian, but dialogue changed my attitude – not just between Arabs and Jews but in dealing with all people. (Interviewee N, conducted on 17 November 2006)

      Eventually, the relationships within the group ripple out and impact the wider community. These quotes link the internal friendships within the group to the wider public space. A Jewish man from the West Coast:

      By gaining friends you become welcome in the other person’s community too. “I would be a welcome guest among them.” I know the door is open for me. And I would welcome them into my home and my community. (Interviewee M, conducted on 17 November 2006)

      An Arab woman from the Midwest group states it thus:

      I see myself now in many ways dialoguing all the time outside the group too. The way I relate to people is different. (Interviewee J, conducted on 6 October 2006)

      Thus, the arc of movement of the successful dialogue group swings from internal to external, introspection to outreach, from delving within to orbiting out. This is a process of reconstructing the social space, which occurs in the interaction between the internal world of the individual, which is bolstered by the enclave and safe haven of the dialogue group and is finally ready to interact with the external world. Rather than seeing the two as separate realms (as if the internal world is ‘me’ and the external world is something given, ‘imposed’ and ‘outside’), it becomes increasingly clear that the internal and external are linked.
      In interviewing members of various dialogue groups – especially those that have disbanded after a short while – it becomes clear that moving hastily and artificially towards activism can undermine a group’s success, but when the move towards external activism occurs as an organic process in the group, the events can deepen and broaden the experience of shift. These members describe the orbiting out experience. The following quote is from a Jewish woman in the Midwest group:

      We move out. We move out to the public, we move out to the schools, and we engage with the radio, and television, and classrooms, and the Muslims and the Christians and the Jews and the universities and we help other engage and move out of their front doors, because it’s not enough to stay inside of our front door…. Expand the circle to the planet…. And so, I do feel that this group does reach out to the planet. …that’s one of the things that gives it enough meaning to want to come back and to keep it going. (Interviewee H, conducted on 6 October 2006)

      The following quote is from an Arab man in the West Coast group, which placed particular emphasis on disseminating information about their group to the public:

      …You can’t bring everybody into this dialogue but we can take this experience out into a larger arena so more people know about it, hear about it and maybe start their own groups. (Interviewee N, conducted 17 November 2006)

      And, as the following quotes demonstrate, many of the dialogue group members speak of the feeling of empowerment gained by being heard by the community and the sense of educating the community. The following is a quote by one of the Jewish women in the Midwest group:

      We went to the women’s studies day event at [nearby] University. It was exciting to see the public interest in what we were doing and the public affirmation and to see that this thing that we had been doing privately was resonating with people was very affirming and exciting and energizing. We also went to a high school here in North Town and the whole high school saw the movie [this group has produced a film about its experience as an Arab–Jewish dialogue group]…. I think the public sphere can be very powerful as a way of affirming the group’s importance. (Interviewee G, conducted on 6 October 2006)

      The quote below was expressed by a Palestinian man in the West Coast group:

      I am the lucky one, I am fulfilling what I always dreamed about, I am given the platform to be able to express my feeling, to speak on behalf of my people…. (Interviewee O, conducted on 17 November 2006)

      As the quotes above demonstrate, when dialogue group members have the opportunity to expand the reach of their work to families, friends and the community at large, it engenders a sense of accomplishment, a sense of purpose and a sense of empowerment; thus, ‘rippling out’ becomes another criterion of success for a dialogue group.

      4.3 Resilience of the Group

      When a dialogue is maintained over time it creates a semi-permanent space, which can allow the shift to take place. Two of the three groups continued to meet over years (20 and 10 years), during which time they created a resilient space for sharing lives, for conversation, for introspection, for cultural conversations, for political conflict both local and international, and they each survived internally driven as well as externally triggered crises. Resilience in this context is defined as remaining in dialogue and conflict at the same time. Differences continue to exist, but the ability to live in both worlds gives these relationships the ability to withstand the pressure of conflict. Conflicts are not necessarily resolved, but people can live with the conflicts without ending the relationships. Resilience is the group’s ability to ‘live in both worlds’ or to maintain a relationship in conflict without needing to resolve the conflict or to split apart. This is the key to the sustainability of a group.
      One of the groups encountered a severe internal controversy that highlighted the different attitudes held by group members. The controversy revolved around a local grocery co-op (of which many of the dialogue group members were also Board members). A vote was put forth by the co-op to boycott Jewish–Israeli products. The vote immediately divided the Arab and Jewish members of the group along ethnic lines. One Arab member expressed her views:

      I felt that it was a no-brainer, sending a message, and taking a stand, and saying OK [we should support the boycott] … not that it’s going to hurt the Israeli economy … but I felt it’s the message, and it’s the moral stand that we take…. I feel what Israel is doing to the Palestinians is immoral and we need to take a stand on that. (Interviewee J, conducted on 6 October 2006)

      The Jewish members, on the other hand, saw it differently. Most of the Jewish women voted against the boycott:

      …all of us are agreed on the intent of the boycott. Even though it’s strictly symbolic [since its small scope could not possibly impact Israel’s economy], …. It’s the method and the process. But I feel that it’s not that the intent is wrong. But to me, the North Town group is peacemaking. That’s what I am in the North Town group for, that’s my main goal. So … boycotting gets people further apart, and there’s hostility and intimidation … I think the conflict is really a wound. And my role is to heal the wound, and I can’t vote for the boycott. (Interviewee P, conducted on 6 October 2006)

      A group that had only been meeting short term might have broken apart over the tensions and divisiveness that occurred as a result of this controversy, but this group had been meeting for seven years when the controversy occurred and had already undergone the transformation described above and had developed resilience, which allowed it to maintain contact and remain together as a group.
      As the Palestinian member recalled when asked if she would give up the group in the face of this controversy:

      …And then (sigh) – I don’t think we’ll give up. I don’t think I will give up. Because I really have made a connection with these women. I would want to talk more and keep working with them to see why they don’t see that…. And I really have the feeling that if you put it right down to that, they might be on the same side I am. (Interviewee J, conducted on 6 October 2006)

      The group all agreed that despite the controversy, they could continue to meet and to dialogue. They felt that the controversy, though painful, did not create animosity and that remaining in the dialogue was essential. Remaining in dialogue also affirms, as the member above points out, that in dialogue we expand beyond two sides, to be able to hold within us more than one point of view. The following group member discusses how the controversy was eventually resolved:

      Well, I think it was difficult. It was difficult for the Arab women … there were definitely some painful feelings … it actually did get resolved, because they wrote a letter to the board of the Co-op … it was some way of bringing to resolution the divisiveness and polarization that had occurred…. We sent a note encouraging the Board [of the Co-op] in some way to … find balance…. (Interviewee P, conducted on 6 October 2006)

      The group was able to find a unified voice in the writing of the letter, as this Jewish member of the group explains:

      … it’s basically not about changing minds. I think that’s one of the hallmarks of the chemistry of our group, and maybe that’s what makes it dialogue. We don’t try to change anybody’s mind. The boycott was more like, ‘this is my position, and how come you don’t have that position?’ I think mostly we don’t stay on the level of positions, because we kind of realize that those don’t really prove to be very fruitful conversations. (Interviewee Q, conducted on 6 October 2006)

      Despite the conflict, the members of the group knew the group would not fall apart, and none of the members left the group as a result of it. The commitment to dialoguing, to each other and to the group itself, which has now become a ‘sacred’ place they belong to, was not compromised. The group had developed resilience after many years of sustained dialogue. The story also demonstrates the link between all three levels of success that we put forth here: The shift, the resilience that is a hallmark of the shift that these members had undergone and the ultimate resolution was in expanding the circle, writing the letter that was sent out to the community as a kind of outlet for the tensions that the controversy caused. The fact that the group remained in dialogue despite such a divisive controversy is heartening. Differences do not go away, but remaining in dialogue, in communication, in compassionate communion is still possible.

    • 5 Discussion

      As we have asserted in this article, there are three main dimensions of successful dialogue that are linked together in an arc that begins with the intragroup shift to living in both worlds, then continues and expands beyond the dialogue group to include others outside the group (rippling out) and eventually culminates in a resilience, which means being able to live with conflict without necessarily resolving the conflict in all its magnitude. When the group reaches the point of resilience – of maintaining the dialogue despite conflict – this is a sign of advanced success in the dialogue. In this section, we compare and contrast the concepts of shift and change, ‘rippling out’ and the question of generalizability, the ideas of resilience and consensus and, finally, reframe the process.

      5.1 Shift versus Change

      The implicit definition of success in the dialogue literature is that change can and should occur. In this article we modify the word ‘change’ and call it a ‘shift’. Shift has been called “a positive, qualitative change in the relationship between conflict parties, including changed attitudes toward oneself and the other party, the conflict issues, and the conflict situation as a whole. Shift includes cognitive change (e.g., perceptions, attributions) and affective change (e.g., feelings, evaluations) within and between the individuals and groups involved in conflict” (Carstarphen, 2003).
      In this article, we hone the definition of shift to a movement from an ‘us versus them’ polarized outlook to a ‘both/and’ inclusive outlook. A shift is, in essence, a change in how one perceives the other and a dawning realization that the assumptions one brought to the dialogue may be limiting and preventing the individual from seeing the whole picture. Through the new relationships formed in the dialogue group, participants expand their self-understanding, redefine their own identity and are able to accept the other’s story or world view alongside their own. This leads to a new-found ability to ‘live in both worlds’.
      Shift, however, does not imply a complete change of identity. Many researchers (Saunders, 2001; Maoz, 2003) support the finding that dialogue encounters do not aim to change identity, although they might come to respect an adversary’s identity (Saunders, 2001). Gaertner and Dovidio (2000) propose that developing a common in-group identity does not require groups to forsake their original identities. They argue that the benefits of a common in-group identity can be achieved while people maintain a ‘dual identity’ with their superordinate group and subgroup identities simultaneously.

      5.2 Rippling Out versus Generalizing the Experience

      For dialogue group proponents in intractable conflicts, the problems of transferring the benefits derived from dialogue participation onto the larger population has always been problematic. Forbes states: “Contact may have beneficial effects on the attitudes of individuals and yet have no similar effects on the relations among groups” (Forbes, 1997: 203). In other words, participants in contact situations do not necessarily generalize their positive attitudes and perceptions (Hewstone and Brown, 1986) to others outside the group. They may come to view the participants of the group they have come in contact with in a more positive way but not move above that small group to generalize “beyond the specific situation in which the positive contact took place and the particular individuals they have had contact with” (Hewstone and Greenland, 2000). In this article, we offer as an alternative ‘rippling out’. When dialogues become successful the relationships broaden the circle by influencing the society around them. It is not just that the individuals’ new attitudes have changed, but that their relationships are now more expansive, more tolerant and these new relationships impact the larger society.

      5.3 Resilience versus Consensus

      Furthermore, we want to claim that dialogue is about resilience, not about consensus. In fact, as Halabi has pointed out, consensus is almost the opposite of what dialogue is all about. As researchers propose, “[d]ialogue as conversation is characterized by a generally cooperative, tolerant spirit, a direction toward mutual understanding but not necessarily aiming toward agreement or the reconciliation of differences” (Singh, 2001). And other researchers emphatically state that “… Calls for coming together and finding common ground de facto reproduce the status quo because the ground that is common between participants is that of the dominant culture. This inhibits rather than supports the radical disruption of self that is central to our productive understanding of dialogue” (Deetz and Simpson, 2004: 145). Thus, it is resilience, not consensus, that enables intergroup harmony. Learning to live in conflict but without destroying the relationship means that one no longer attempts to resolve the conflict in a technical way, but instead makes a choice to build relationships within the context of the conflict.

      5.4 Reframing the Process

      Finally, this article attempts to reframe the tension between the School of Peace approach and Gergen’s constructionist approach, while adding the emotional and psychological approach of the encounter group. In all three approaches to conflict transformation, there is an emphasis on change or shift in the perceptions of participants. Halabi’s process is a very painful one of coming to terms with the roles of oppressor and oppressed; Gergen’s process is one of inquiry into identities and a reconstruction of relationships and the T-group approach emphasizes the internal psychological and emotional transformation of the individual within the group. This article would like to borrow from all three by saying that through the process of learning to accept simultaneously multiple viewpoints and narratives, participants reframe their identities, but by doing so they also learn to see the other as less threatening, as more human, which leads to the possibility of restructuring of relationships, which is reinforced through the emotional imprint that the group undergoes. Ultimately, these processes of shift ripple out to impact others outside the group.
      The shifts described here occurred primarily in the groups that met for longer than a year. The group that met for only a year did not achieve the same kind of deep and abiding shifts and did not attain the resilience of the longer-term groups. The need for longer-term dialogue has been observed by many other researchers: “The continuity of new attitudes and energies gained by participants during encounters are often undermined by the short duration of the programs, which last a few days or a single weekend … (‘we send people home more confused…’, Bar et al., 1995). The encounter’s effect is found to be lost or forgotten within a few months, prompting encounter programme participants to return to their previous negative or stereotypical attitudes…” (Abu-Nimer, 2004). However, it is very difficult to pinpoint exactly when the shifts occurred, as even upon reflection, dialogue group participants can only point to it becoming ‘after a while’ a way of life and the need to continue to practise dialogue over time. It takes time for members of a group to create a new reality together, one that encompasses both peoples, both stories, both sides and expands them into a whole, a composite, an integrated new story.

    • 6 Limitations of This Study

      Several possible limitations of this study can be addressed. One of them is the small number of participants interviewed. However, this is, of course, a qualitative study that stems from a conviction that inductive, qualitative work is best suited to inquire into, explore and describe the subjective and transpersonal dimensions of human experience (Saunders, 1999). Also, qualitative methods view the research as a process of co-creation hinging on the dialogical relationship between the researcher and the co-inquirer, which seems singularly relevant for a study of dialogue groups. This co-creation requires the researcher to be immersed in the research field, to establish continuing relationships with respondents and, through theoretical contemplation, to address the research problem in depth. Therefore, “a small number of cases (less than 20, say) will facilitate the researcher’s close association with the respondents, and enhance the validity of … in-depth inquiry in naturalistic settings … the issue of sample size – as well as representativeness – has little bearing on the project’s basic logic.” (Crouch and McKenzie, 2006).
      Another possible limitation is that the study was conducted in the United States and observes dialogue groups that are far removed geographically from the epicenter of the conflict. Intuitively, we sense that it is easier to live in both worlds when meeting on neutral ground. In the Middle East the relationship of oppressor and oppressed is the starting point for the dialogue, and this is a difficult point to begin from. As stated here, the goal of this article and the goal of the groups themselves is not explicitly to end the conflict in the Middle East but, rather, to learn from the experience of dialogue groups in all their manifestations. The groups that meet in the Middle East often get immersed in the trap of power asymmetry, which can hijack the group’s intent. In the United States (and other places), it is easier to see past the realities of oppressor and oppressed, to equalize and to erase the power asymmetry that comes across so clearly in the Israeli encounters, thus allowing and clearing the way for other issues to rise to the surface, which in turn contributes to our understanding of dialogue and its salient features.

    • 7 Conclusion

      Our study provides criteria for evaluating dialogue by its own standards. The three criteria we offer here – living in both worlds, expansion and resilience – point to processes for gradually carving out livable spaces within the ongoing conflict. These standards are, in some ways, much more ‘realistic’ than the implicit standards to which peacemaking processes are generally held up, which usually imply that a dialogue group must lead to an end to the conflict. The true potential for dialogue in divided societies is learning to live together and maintain relationships within the conflict without necessarily resolving or ending the conflict.
      The standards offered here suggest that engaging in dialogue means accepting the intractability of certain conflicts and learning how to construct and preserve healthy relationships despite conflict. These standards are about creating spaces (enclaves) in which the conflict can be transformed. Given the sustainability of the successful dialogue groups and their tendency to ripple out, it makes sense to consider the possibility of setting these criteria as possible standards and to experiment with how they might be implemented.
      Further research might explore the differences between a successful dialogue group that meets the criteria we lay out here and one that does not. Future research might also compare and contrast the long-term groups with a group that meets only for a short time. An additional possibility for further study would be the idea of ‘sacred space’ mentioned here in this article and how that space can be created and maintained.

    • Appendix

      Demographic Information: 28 one-on-one Interviewees
      16 Jewish participants (3 of whom were Israelis) 10 women/6 men Most (all except one) of the participants had been living in the US for over 10 years, and some for their entire lives. Ages ranged from 21-65. 2 were students, the rest working adults.
      12 Arab participants (9 of whom were Palestinians) 7 women/5 men

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