Fox Professing
Academic Papers Opinion Columns Personal Essays Course Materials




Biweekly Column
Brookline TAB
Brookline, Massachusetts

Talking About Israel and Palestine:
Part II

Dennis Fox

May 9, 2002


Six weeks ago, I proposed a townwide forum to discuss the many intertwined issues bedeviling the Middle East ("Can Brookline Talk about Israel and Palestine?" -- March 28, 2002). The unwillingness of so many townspeople simply to have a conversation about criticisms of Israeli policy seemed to me inconsistent with Brookline's more typical mania for debating any issue endlessly into the night.

Even in a heavily Jewish town, even in the wake of September 11th, even with Israel on the verge of West Bank military action, I thought talking might be useful.

It turns out I'm not the only one in Brookline who thinks this difficult effort worth pursuing. Many residents, Jewish and non-Jewish, tell me they almost always feel afraid to speak their minds publicly, even when what's on their minds is concern that Ariel Sharon's path might lead to the moral decline and physical destruction of the Jewish State they love.

Sympathy for Israeli victims of suicide bombing is welcome, but sympathy for Palestinian victims of Israeli force, even for children, is too often taken as support of terrorism.

One evening last week, five people began talking about how to create a wider Brookline discussion. We came from different religious backgrounds, with different views about the origins of, and possible solutions for, the many conflicts between Israelis and Palestinians. But rather than try to resolve those differences -- that wasn't the point -- we considered how to broaden the discussion.

We agreed about three things:

First, we don't want to preach to the converted. There's a place for that, for peace groups and synagogues and churches to educate members about specific issues.

We envision instead a forum to draw people who disagree with one another, who are willing to work together to understand different interpretations of history and different possible futures. To accomplish this, we hope a number of local organizations will co-sponsor the project. Perhaps there'd be some town involvement, through the schools or adult education.

Second, the event should be designed for the entire community, not just the Jewish community.

Thus, we expect people to come with viewpoints that might be absent at events planned for a Jewish setting (for example, some participants would likely advocate a one-democratic-state solution rather than either the two-state Israel/Palestine solution, an Arab-free Greater Israel, or continuation of the status quo). We see this diversity as an advantage rather than a problem; understanding conflicting approaches is central to making headway. So, too, we would expect discussion of anti-Semitism, terrorism, oppression, and other sensitive issues.

Third, we seek a setting that encourages people to talk with one another rather than just make debating points -- perhaps a panel discussion, speaker, or film, followed by small group discussions, rather than a formal debate. We're not yet sure if we should advertise a big event, or start by inviting smaller numbers to an ongoing study group or series of discussions, or find another model.

But we like the idea of small groups of people with different views, talking over a meal. We could talk about the speakers, or reactions to the news, or possible topics to include in a jointly-planned high school course on the Middle East. And we'd try to listen to one another, too.

Focusing on specific policy questions seems useful, not because we'd expect to reach agreement but to understand what's relevant. How do the interests and goals of the many different groups in the Middle East conflict with one another? Can we envision a situation that meets the legitimate needs of ordinary people on all sides of the conflict? Can we imagine a route to that goal?

Local hostility stemming from hostilities abroad makes townwide discussion even more crucial today than it seemed six weeks ago. Fortunately, more people already plan to join us.

We could use your help, too, and that of organizations you belong to or work for. Can you suggest speakers? Facilitators? Formats? Might your congregation or other organization help plan the forum, or at least co-sponsor it?

Our next meeting is Wednesday, May 22, at 7 pm. Please let me know if you'd like to attend or want more information.

More on Israel and Palestine

Note: this version may differ from the published version.

Back to Gadflying Columns List


up to top

personal/political observations
Academic Papers Opinion Columns Personal Essays Course Materials
some political, most not


Page updated September 30, 2007