A reception at London University’s School of Oriental and African Studies in May launched the Council of Jewish-Palestinian Dialogue. The new group grew out of a plethora of dialogue groups which have emerged during the last few years following the PLO’s movement towards a political solution based on a two-state formula. Yet even before these public moves by Arafat and the Palestine National Council in 1988, a growing number of Israelis were willing to travel to meet and discuss publicly the seemingly insoluble problems of the Middle East with non-rejectionist Palestinians. Such a dialogue infuriated the Israeli right whose campaign against the PLO was more than a purely military and diplomatic confrontation; it was, first and foremost, a determination to wage “an ideological war of total delegitimization” against any form of Palestinian nationalism. The opposition to the continuing dialogue abroad manifested itself in 1986 in a law to prevent “contact” with the PLO regardless of the nature of that “contact”. The explanatory notes to the bill stated:
Recent contact of Israelis with activists and official representatives of terrorists’ organizations has grown both numerous and frequent. This phenomenon is causing Israel serious harm, both politically and in the area of security, and cannot be tolerated. Therefore we propose to outlaw such contacts, if held knowingly and without lawful authority.
Yet meetings and dialogue between Israelis and Palestinians continued since, for both sides, there was a growing realization that there was no way back to the megaphone war of the past.
In Britain, dialogue between British Jews and Palestinians began clandestinely in 1984 as a result of the trauma of Israel’s invasion of Lebanon. In its introductory leaflet, the Council of Jewish-Palestinian Dialogue essentially defined the raison d’être behind that early initiative:
One of the main purposes of engaging in dialogue is to acquire a genuine understanding of the different perceptions and basic aspirations of both peoples. This helps all parties identify the essential ingredients of a peace agreement. The dialogue process can be one of profound discomfort to begin with, as it frequently forces the participants to reconsider deeply held convictions concerning the beliefs, motives and deeds of the other side—and also of their own side.
Above all, it is a humanizing process. It is much easier to despise, humiliate and destroy a stereotype than a fellow human being with feelings, frailties and hopes not so different from one’s own. Palestinians and Jews who are engaged in dialogue—how-ever sharp some of their differences may continue to be—tend to lose their susceptibility to the hate propaganda and demonic imagery which have been employed by all sides over the decades. As the practice of dialogue becomes more acceptable and widespread, so the old tactics will lose their potency and peace may indeed be given a chance.
The executive of the Council consists of equal numbers of Jews and Palestinians whose affiliations stretch from Medical Aid for Palestinians to the Board of Deputies of British Jews. The co-chairs of the Council are Tony Klug and Saida Nusseibeh al-Gussein—both of whom have advocated peace and reconciliation within their respective communities.
Jewish Quarterly Summer 1992