Seeking understanding... one dinner at a time
In "living room dialogues," Jewish and Arab Americans talk as they eat - and work toward peace and harmony
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Peled explains that in 1997 his 13-year-old niece was killed by a suicide bomber when she and friends went into downtown Jerusalem to buy books. They were running from one bomb when another bomb went off in the area they approached.Skip to next paragraph
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In the days that followed, the apartment of Miko's sister, Nurit Peled, was swamped with members of the media. Nurit, who has since become an outspoken and award-winning Israeli peace activist,told the press that she felt "any kind of retaliation, any kind of killing, would solve nothing."
Peled explains later: "My sister said of the bomber, 'It's not him that I'm angry at. It's the thing that caused it - the occupation.' "
Palestinian Dialogue member Menal Swairjo believes that it is because Peled's identity is so firmly bound up in Israel's past that he is so passionate about future peace through dialogue.
Ms. Swairjo is a scientist at the Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, and has participated in Dialogue since 1989, first as a graduate student at Boston University.
Swairjo's parents, who were science educators, fled Gaza in the 1948 war, and her childhood was spent as a refugee in Kuwait and in Egypt.
She speaks with fondness of Peled. "Miko was one of the people [in Arab-Jewish Dialogue] who really shocked me," she says. "He resembles a part of the conflict that I'd never looked at, which I think may now hold the best hope - and that is the powerful side."
Swairjo, however, says she is often worn out by dialogue, and she is boggled by the magnitude of the problems in the Middle East.
The dialogue meetings are stressful, she says. "It's not like going to a nightclub and having a good time. You feel you're a speck in the ocean. What can you do to make things happen? ... How do I feel about dialogue, honestly? I'm not in the right state of mind tonight. I feel like ... Let them annihilate each other."
Swairjo, who advocates nonviolent Palestinian activism, laughs, grits her teeth, and adds: "And bin Laden with them, too.' "
Peled, however, doesn't believe in dialogue as just a good thing - he is convinced it is possibly the only thing that will bring peace.
"We know deep down inside that dialogue is the only way," he explains, when asked later whether he thinks the organization is likely to make a difference.
"It creates all these possibilities for knowing each other and realizing that we're not that far apart. Peace will only come through dialogue," he says passionately. "Peace is not going to come from Arafat and Sharon getting together - there has to be the will. That's so important. If [Arab-Jewish] Dialogue just grew and grew, we could say [to the politicians], 'We can do this. Why can't you do this?' "
After the two-hour Temple Beth Sholom presentation, the host, Rabbi Leonard Zoll, remains decidedly unimpressed: "I didn't like the panel," he says. "I want to hear facts.... All these people are terrific ... but it's not what we need to hear."
Peled, who has been debating about Hizbullah and terrorism with the rabbi for the past few minutes, quietly nods and whispers: "Step by step."
He doesn't expect to see impressive changes overnight because of Arab-Jewish Dialogue groups. But he's certain they're important enough to continue, and that they will eventually make a difference - one meeting at a time.