Ifat Maoz Department of Communication

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The Eleventh Encounter

At this encounter, mixed pairs of Jewish and Arab students report about joint observations they did outside the group as an assignment for the course. They were asked to watch places where Jews and Arabs interact in the community (in the hospital, at government offices, etc.). Avner and Nasser observed a Jewish-Arab workshop at the regional teachers’ college. Following is their report:

Avner: Nasser heard about a workshop similar to ours and he persuaded me to go, although at first it really didn’t seem relevant…I understood the purpose of observation in the field and going to this workshop seemed a bit artificial. I was wrong. I discovered a lot about Nasser at this opportunity. You go on, Nasser.

Nasser: We arrived and were introduced as guests from the university. Two girls started lecturing about [each other’s groups’] superstitions…and they tried, as I understood it, to understand each other [both Avner and Nasser laugh]. Last week they brought Arab foods. We compared it to the dynamic that takes place here; everything seemed so nice and quiet. They seemed to be like old friends. We began to ask questions, to talk to people in between activities. They told us that at the first encounter they had talked about politics. There was such an uproar: people hurt each other and they decided to drop that and do other, less painful things. They were just like little kids: they played group games. At first, Avner was convinced that it was a good method, and I said that they were acting as if they were friends. Tomorrow, something will happen, someone will get killed, and this fake friendship will collapse.

Avner: It didn’t seem artificial to me at first; it seemed rather nice, in comparison to our way of confronting each other here, letting our painful feelings out. And I thought to myself: maybe what they are doing is a better way. It was also during one of my more difficult times in our workshop. I thought it might be a good way because they…were looking for subjects of mutual interest to both national groups. But Nasser made a point. They were trying to get closer and look for what they had in common during the first semester, and in the second semester they would confront each other with the difficult issues. This seems problematic, for when you get closer it is harder to confront each other openly. On the other hand, there is an advantage in knowing the other nation. Coexistence is achieved within the workshop itself. But still, it’s difficult for me to believe that any of these Arab and Jewish students will meet at a restaurant afterward or have coffee together.

Nasser: I felt they were trying to impose things and become artificial friends. They think they are friends and suddenly, in a second, it collapses, because they don’t talk about what they are feeling deep inside. I think it is better to confront and even hurt one another than just sit around playing games. At first we didn’t know how to evaluate their process, if it was good or bad. They clearly did not address the conflict. Maybe they could have been friends, but they would not have been able to be honest with each other…If we had begun this workshop like they did, I don’t think I would have been able to talk to anyone here. I came to this workshop to learn new things, I came to voice my opinions, so that people would be able to see things the way I do.

Avner: We conduct our arguments in the workshop. I mean things don’t go beyond the sessions. We socialize in the cafeteria; our arguments don’t affect our relationships. So, maybe this is a higher level, but maybe this is also a game. Maybe when I talk with Nasser here, I dare tell him “you are such and such.” When we leave here it’s different; as if I hadn’t said it, or as if it weren’t Nasser, meeting with me, who heard what I said earlier. There’s a difference between Nasser the participant in the workshop and Nasser meeting with me outside the workshop.

When I look at myself…there was a time when it was very difficult for me to relate to the workshop…As time goes by I feel differently: Nasser can say things to me, visit me in my home, talk and express all sorts of things, to some of which I can say “OK.” That’s Nasser’s provocation, and he does provoke, saying things to spark awareness...I don’t know if he does it on purpose, but that’s my interpretation. I might reach a stage where I’d say: "Enough, I don’t want to hear anymore. There’s also a risk involved in opening up these things.”

Nasser: If a hawkish extremist were sitting next to me, I would have no problem becoming his true friend, in spite of his views. It’s not that there are two Nassers. It’s that I can’t reject his friendship just because he thinks that way about me.

Their joint observation assignment has brought Nasser and Avner to reflect on the journey they have made together in the workshop. They feel that the tough things they have said to each other have created a possibility for a mutual closeness, in contrast to the process they have observed at the teachers' college, where avoiding confrontations may have prevented real closeness between the participants. Nasser maintains that when a space for confrontation at the workshop is established, the potential for closeness outside the workshop is created. Niceness in the workshop (without expressing negative feelings when these exist) might institute distance outside the workshop.

Avner is a bit more skeptical: “Maybe this is also a game.” Is the Nasser inside the group the same Nasser who smiles at him outside the group? Avner admits that at first, since he was having a hard time in the workshop, he tended to prefer the approach he saw at the teachers' college. But he maintains that Nasser then convinced him that this process did not really facilitate friendship among the students. Avner is ready now to accept some of Nasser’s statements as a“ provocation” though he still fears the risk in opening up the issues between them. Nasser, for his part, maintains that even if Avner were a hawkish extremist (perhaps he thinks that Avner isn’t so far from this position), he could still be his friend. In the last part of the above exchange, it seems that Nasser and Avner’s joint observation assignment outside their own group has allowed them to recognize the friendship that evolved between them during their own encounters. This friendship holds for each one of them a willingness to listen and accept a range of expressions from the other that include positions with which they did not agree at the outset. These manifestations of friendship are also reflected in the following workshop meetings.

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