Ifat Maoz Department of Communication

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The Dialogue between the “Self” and the “Other”: A Process Analysis of Palestinian-Jewish Encounters in Israel1

Ifat Maoz

Department of Communication

Hebrew University of Jerusalem

Shoshana Steinberg &

Dan Bar-On

Department of Behavioral Sciences
Ben-Gurion University of the Negev
Mueen Fakhereldeen
Kaye Teacher’s College, Beer-Sheva

January 2002

Running Head: A Process Analysis of Palestinian-Jewish Encounters in Israel

This study assumes that the collective identities of both Jews and Palestinians in Israel have long been constructed around the Jewish-Palestinian conflict, a major focus of social and historical reality in the Middle East region. Monolithic in their early stages, these constructions of identity underwent a process of deconstruction and reconstruction, primarily due to changes in the political reality (the peace process), globalization, and the surfacing of conflicts that were hidden within the monolithic construction. The deconstruction process, though painful and problematic, creates new opportunities for a dialogue that engages elements of identity which no longer “fit” the contenders. Such a dialogue took place in “laboratory” form at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev from October 1996 and June 1997 between two leading participants in an ongoing workshop for Jewish and Palestinian Israeli students.

Most conflict group encounters are measured by outcomes, not by process. We identified problems when the method common for these groups were used at Jewish-Palestinian encounters and this led us to try another way. This study employs a qualitative methodology to analyze the process of groups in conflict. It looks into how the process of questioning one’s own self and the other’s perception takes place in this context. In describing the dialogue that evolved between a Jew, Avner, and a Palestinian, Nasser (both pseudonyms), the tension between the individual and collective identity levels, between the internal group process and the asymmetric social and political reality, is revealed. We suggest that the confrontation and friendship between Avner and Nasser created a new quality of dialogue, enabling a more complex identity construction to emerge on both the Jewish and the Palestinian sides.


Although the importance of dialogue processes for groups in conflict has been acknowledged, the question of what actually happens in such dialogues has scarcely been analyzed. The dialogue is assumed to bring about changes in identity constructions and in the way the groups represent each other, yet there is almost no investigation of the actual dialogue process through which these transformations take place. The present study aims to fill this gap through investigating the dialogue that developed between an Israeli Jew and an Israeli Palestinian in a series of structured encounters between them. We see the dialogue that takes place in Jewish-Palestinian encounters as a negotiation on identities.

The study assumes that collective identities in Israel have long been constructed around the Jewish-Palestinian conflict; that self is monolithically2 constructed in counter-distinction to several internal and external “others” (Bar-On, 1999). The wish to maintain a clear monolithic image of one’s self as the victim of the other may hinder the possibility of internalizing other roles (of being a victimizer or a bystander) (Bar-On, 1995) and thus may serve to maintain the conflict. Rarely, an open dialogue between two parties acknowledges the unresolved conflicts embedded in the identity constructions of each side.3

Constructions of identities that were monolithic during their formative stages are undergoing deconstruction and reconstruction. We refer specifically to a process in which internal discrepancies and contradictions that have been previously ignored surface, thereby deconstructing a monolithic self-representation.

This process can happen as a result of changes in the social and political reality, both local and global, and as a result of internal conflicts that probably existed in these collective identities from the outset. There are those who deplore this process and long for “the good old days” (Kimmerling, 1983). Others view the deconstruction of monolithic constructions as a positive albeit painful development that will create new possibilities to work through the unresolved internal conflicts and ambivalence that were inherent all along (Ram, 1995; Bar-On, 1999). For however painful and problematic, the process of deconstruction and reconstruction creates new opportunities for acknowledgment and dialogue that engages “bits and pieces” of self that may never have fit a unified whole. If the process is successful, monolithic constructions of identities are reexamined and deconstructed, both internally and externally (Holquist, 1990; Priel, 1999; for a related discussion of the dynamics of identity in conflict, see Northrup, 1989).

Identity constructions among Jews and Palestinians largely evolve around the conflict between the sides. In this conflict, each national group historically holds extreme monolithic constructions of the other group as the enemy, as inherently evil, and of itself as just, right, and moral (Bar-Tal, 1990; Maoz, 2000c). Such constructions justify one's own right to self-determination and fulfillment of identity and security needs, while denying and delegitimizing such rights for the other side (Bar-Tal, 1990; Kelman, 1999).

In the past two decades we have witnessed a gradual deconstruction of these monolithic agendas on the part of both Israeli Jews and Palestinians. This process became more pronounced after the beginning of the Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations in Madrid, in 1990, and perhaps reached its peak in the period following the signing of the Oslo Israeli-Palestinian peace accords in September 1993.

On the Jewish-Israeli side, this deconstruction involved the strengthening of left-wing, dovish peace camp voices calling for acknowledgment of Palestinian rights. On the Palestinian side, more pragmatic voices were heard that accept the right of the state of Israel to exist alongside a Palestinian state.

These new and different voices are sounded alongside the old monolithic ones, leading to a situation of multiple conflict (Bar-On, 1997; Ross, 2000), which characterizes the deconstruction process: each side simultaneously confronts internal conflict as well as conflict with the other side.

Dialogue encounters between Jews and Palestinians in Israel are targeted to help each group deconstruct part of its own monolithic self-determination while helping to reconstruct the personal and collective worlds of the two sides. The confrontation with the “other” can cause the participants to clarify issues that are related to their identity constructions preceding the encounter. Still, there are elements that they become aware of only as a result of the encounter itself.

The dialogue that can develop between the two sides in such encounters can be expected to lead to a more complex construction of one’s own side and of the other side. The quality of such dialogue can be assessed by its potential for letting the different voices be clearly heard—unlike the single voice of monolithic constructions, on one hand, but also unlike the tense disharmony of competing voices that no one can listen to which characterizes the earlier phase of multiple conflict.

We assume that Israeli society, still deep in the process of deconstruction of its monolithic identity construction, is yet unable to carry out this form of dialogue. But we sought the potential for a deeper dialogue in laboratory settings (Bar-On, 1999; 2000). We focus here on an example of such a laboratory setting: an ongoing workshop at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev that brought together Israeli students, Jews and Palestinians, for three hours each week over the course of two semestersduring part of the school year. In their encounters they confronted each other over issues related to the collective level of the conflict. Two facilitators from the Neve Shalom School of Peace—an Israeli Jewish woman and an Israeli Palestinian man—facilitated the meetings of this workshop.4 We try to identify the basic dilemmas of the inter-group process through a qualitative analysis of the verbal exchanges between two prominent representatives of the two groups. We focus our analysis on the tension between their personal and collective identity constructions; between the external asymmetry and conflict and the internal, more symmetrical inter-group relations; between the hegemonic and the marginal; between espoused values and those that were manifested in practice (Maoz, 2000a).

Our interest in studying these questions was a result of observations through a one-way mirror of similar student workshops at the university from 1994 to 1998. We began with the question of whether the workshops created a genuine inter-group dialogue that evolved during the sequence of the encounters and what the specific characteristics of such a dialogue were. Would we be able to identify expressions of personal empathy between Jewish and Palestinian participants, despite collective animosity over a conflict that is entangled with differences in history, language, culture, and religion? Would the process of addressing each side’s negative stereotypes of the “other” enable a more complex process of “holding the other” within one’s own identity construction (Winnicott, 1988)? Would this create a “good-enough” solution (Ross, 2000) to the ethnic conflict?

Our hopes turned out to be naive. In the initial encounters we observed a lack of deeper mutual listening and understanding. The two groups seemed to be motivated by very different agendas. The Jewish groups strove for encounters between individuals (thereby disregarding the collective of the Palestinian “other”), believing that their own enlightenment should be inferred from their positive declarations toward the Palestinian participants. The Palestinian group wanted a collective acknowledgment of the harm done to their people by Israeli Jews and was not interested in the Jewish declarations of good will. The asymmetric power relations of the external society entered the room through struggles over speech time-sharing, each side trying to dominate the session, struggling for moral superiority (Maoz, 2000b). At that point we decided to open our observations to a “grounded theory” approach (Glasser & Strauss, 1967) with which we would try to identify what was actually happening in the process rather than looking for specific outcomes. The present analysis is the result of this approach.

The use of laboratory-planned intergroup encounters investigated here can be seen as linked to a wider conceptual approach. This approach views planned group contacts between groups on the micro level as a major device for learning about and improving relationships within societies that are in transition from conflict to peace-building on the macro level (Kelman, 1998; 1999). The next sections will briefly survey major theories, studies, and findings associated with this approach.

Earlier Studies of Inter-Group Contact in Conflict Settings

The most influential paradigm for planned inter-group contact was presented by Allport (1954). According to his hypothesis, contact may be effective in bringing positive attitude change if several conditions are fulfilled:

  1. Equal status between the two groups within the contact situation.

  2. Personal and sustained interactions between individuals from both groups.

  3. Cooperative interdependence, whereby members of both groups work together to achieve common goals.

  4. A consensus among relevant authorities in regard to social norms favoring equality (Amir, 1969; 1976).

In recent reformulation of the contact hypothesis, Pettigrew (1998) added a fifth condition: the encounter should carry a potential for the formation of friendship with members of the other group.

In the last decades Allport’s contact hypothesis has inspired numerous studies concerned with the reduction of hostility and conflict between ethnic and national groups. (For examples of such research and reviews of it, see Amir, 1976; Cook, 1984; Jackson, 1993; Pettigrew, 1998; for a recent summary of literature in this field, see Forbes, 1997.) The many existing studies that investigate planned inter-group contact seem to concentrate on the effects or outcomes that these encounters had in terms of before-after measurements of achieved attitude change (Amir, 1976; Gaertner et al. 1997; Schwarzwald et al., 1992; Wood & Soleitner, 1996). Less attention has been devoted to examining intervening mechanisms through which change occurred or was assumed to occur (Pettigrew, 1998) or to examining the processes and interactions that took place as part of the contact itself.

Most studies that did address intervening mechanisms in inter-group contact were investigating artificially formed groups in controlled laboratory settings. Only a small body of research addresses the dynamics of the encounter between groups in an actual ethnic and national conflict. In the Palestinian-Israeli context, studies by Bargal and his collegues (Bargal, 1990; Bar & Bargal, 1995) looked at processes and dilemmas in planned encounters between the two sides. Participants in workshops studied by Herbert Kelman were members of Israeli Jewish and non-Israeli Palestinian elites (Kelman, 1992; 1998; 1999). Studies by Maoz (2000a, b; in press), Rouhana & Korper (1997), Sonnenschein et al. (1998), and Suleiman (1997) examined manifestations of power asymmetries and power struggles in encounters between Israeli Jews and Palestinians. The present study continues this tradition of research into processes and interactions within the encounter and focuses on verbal dialogue between Palestinian and Jewish Israelis.

The dialogue between conflict groups is a central mechanism within the planned encounter. Thus, encounters held in areas of ongoing conflict can often be aptly defined as dialogical events (Zupnik, 2000). Theorists of constructionism such as Kenneth Gergen and his colleagues (Gergen, 1999; McNamee & Gergen, 1999) describe inter-group dialogue as a crucial transformative process. The dialogue enables the sides to deal with disagreements or conflicts between them through self-expression, listening to the other, and “taking in” the emotions, experiences, views, and values of the other. Through such dialogue, each side comes to reconstruct its own identity and that of the other differently.

The boundaries of the self are extended toward the inclusion of the other within the self. That is, the other is included within the realm of relational moral responsibility; perceptions of and relations to the other are transformed; and there is a greater understanding, acceptance, and connectedness to the other’s experiences and positions (Gergen, 1999; Lannamann, 1999; McNamee & Gergen, 1999).

Description of the Case Study

This study examines an academic semester of dialogue meetings between Jewish-Israeli and Palestinian-Israeli students that were conducted between October 1996 and January 1997 as part of an undergraduate course on inter-group processes in the Jewish-Arab conflict. The course was taught by the third author and by Dr. Shifra Sagy of the Department of Education at the Ben-Gurion University of the Negev. The eight Palestinian participants (four females and four males) were undergraduate and graduate students in education, behavioral sciences, social work, and business management. The nine Jewish participants (five females and four males) were undergraduate and graduate students in behavioral sciences and education. As noted, the meetings, held once a week and lasting three hours each, were facilitated by two professional group leaders (a Jewish female and a Palestinian male) from the School of Peace at Neve Shalom.

Generally, these meetings consisted of free discussions, with relatively few interventions by the facilitators. The discussions, centering on the participants' experience of the conflict, their national group identities, and their inter-group relations, looked at political issues and power issues.5 This focus followed the Neve Shalom concept of inter-group workshops, stressing group identities and power relations (Sonnenschein et al., 1998). The studied period included thirteen dialogue meetings of the group, most of which were guided by both facilitators for the entire time. Three meetings were uni-national for the first hour and a half—Jews and Palestinians met separately, each group guided by its own national facilitator. Generally, every third or fourth encounter began as a uni-national one.

The period in which this study was conducted can be generally characterized as part of the post- Oslo accords era, during which the Israeli forces withdrew, according to the agreements, step by step from the major cities of the West Bank and Gaza. Mr. Benjamin Netanyahu, who was then the Israeli Prime Minister, tried to delay the implementation of such steps of withdrawal, due to terrorist attacks of Palestinians against Israel6. Therefore, only in January 1997 major parts of Hebron (the main town in the Southern West Bank) were finally evacuated by the Israeli forces and handed over to the Palestinian Authority. Still, in light of the outbreak of violence between Israelis and Palestinians that began four years later, in September 2000, this 1996-7 period can be viewed in retrospect as a relatively calm period, and as optimistic in terms of perceived prospects for the implementation of the peace accords. Indeed, public opinion surveys conducted at the period of 1996-7, indicated a that a significant part of the Israeli population (approximately 45% ) supported the Oslo peace process, and approximately 40% believed it would lead to peace between Israelis and Palestinians in the near future (Yuchtman-Yaar & Herman, 1997).

Data Base and Methodology

All the bi-national meetings as well as all the Jewish uni-national meetings were tape-recorded and fully transcribed7 by the second author and two research assistants. The second and third authors also sat behind a one-way mirror and observed the whole group process. The present study is based on close analysis of seven meetings (four bi-national and three uni-national) that took place during three phases of the dialogic process: one bi-national and one uni-national encounter from the initial phase, one bi-national and one uni-national encounter from the middle phase, and two bi-national and one uni-national encounter from the final phase of the studied period.

It is very difficult to analyze a whole group process. There are too many interactions between participants and too many verbal and non-verbal activities happen simultaneously. In order to concentrate on the basic dilemmas of the inter-group process, we tried another method: a qualitative grounded theory analysis of the verbal exchanges between two prominent representatives of the Palestinian and Jewish groups, Nasser and Avner (see below). The grounded theory approach emphasizes emerging social conceptualizations by looking at the raw data with as little a priori theorizing as possible (Glasser & Strauss, 1967). This phenomenological approach tries to follow how people construct their social and inner worlds and make sense of them. In deciding to investigate two individuals in depth, we assumed a connection between the meanings that these individuals attribute to their inner and social worlds and certain social processes they are part of and try to represent in their narratives. In some cases, a single paragraph of speech may represent elements of a much wider social context. The main tool we used in our qualitative analysis was abduction. Unlike deductive or inductive methods, abduction starts by identifying themes that reappear in the narrative. These themes led us to hypothesis construction and testing. Thus the theory was constructed while we thematically analyzed and reanalyzed the transcripts again and again.

Analyzing the Group Processes through the Verbal Exchange of Two Representatives

Jewish and the Palestinian groups often attempt to negotiate ways in which to relate to each other: through struggle and dispute, acts of domination and subordination, emotional manipulation, joining, or a combination of all or some of these. The negotiations through which relations are formed thus become the story of the group—the unfolding drama of constructing and deconstructing relations between Jews and Palestinians through dialogue.

In our study it transpired that a good portion of the confrontational exchange8 was carried out by two men who emerged from the initial meetings as the central actors in the developing story of the group. One was a Palestinian graduate student in business management whom we call here Nasser. The counter figure who confronted him from the Jewish side was an undergraduate student in behavioral sciences, here called Avner. Nasser started the encounters by exhibiting an Israeli-Jewish mannerism of chutzpa [audacity] that surprised the Jewish group members and made them feel uncomfortable. They were probably expecting, at least at the beginning of the inter-group process, more submissive behavior on the part of Israeli Palestinians as members of the minority group (Ellis & Maoz, in press). Avner was the only Jew who was not taken aback by Nasser’s mannerism and confronted him right away, as if they were two Jewish Israeli students with a long-standing argument. During the course of the workshop the two befriended each other and finally decided to conduct an observation task together outside the group. But even when they became personal friends, they did not stop arguing in the group, confronting each other on collective identity issues and reflecting on that in their uni-national meetings. The dialogue between them became a kind of central stage in the life of the investigated group. The response of the other participants of the group to this exchange could be described as acceptance or “giving the floor” to the dynamics that evolved between the two. Certainly, Nasser and Avner were never marginalized by the group, and in some respects they could be viewed leading the group process.

Viewing an inter-group process through the lens of the interaction between two participants involves certain reductions of the inter-group phenomena. Obviously, each one of these reductions may cause problems: The process between the two does not always represent the entire group process and the extracts chosen from selected meetings do not necessarily represent everything that happened in the group,9 or even between the two featured subjects. However, the advantage of this method of representation is that it enables an illustration of certain processes that evolved at the workshop without requiring a more detailed presentation of all participants or of the whole web of relationships between them.

We attempt below to describe and analyze how Nasser and Avner moved between anger, resentment, disconnecting, and joining, sometimes even within the same session. In order to allow the reader to follow how the complex relationship between them unfolded, we present in the following sections extracts from sessions at the beginning, middle, and ending of the dialogic process studied here.

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