Ifat Maoz Department of Communication

The Beginning of the Dialogic Process

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The Beginning of the Dialogic Process

The First Encounter

Avner: If they (the facilitators) relate to us as two groups, discussion will take place between groups and not among individuals and this will be rather difficult for me.

It might be hard to understand Avner’s words without the introduction of the Palestinian facilitator. In fact, Avner is suggesting an alternative to the facilitator’s proposal. He is saying: “Even if the facilitators suggest relating to the issue under discussion in terms of group identities, let’s relate to one another on a personal basis, not as one group to another.” Though not what he is saying, the hidden message conveyed to the Palestinians by this request seems to be: “We, members of the dominant group, don’t need to relate to each other based on our national identity. If you are also willing to put yours aside, our dominance will be preserved and we will then be happy to get to know you on a personal basis.”

Nasser: I am a Palestinian. There is a difference between national and political affiliation. I will never feel Israeli.

An analysis of these two opening sentences indicates a full-scale drama. Nasser confronts Avner authoritatively: “I am a Palestinian.” We can identify in his statement several layers:

  1. Nasser will not consent to Avner's suggestion. Nasser is defining himself through his group identity.

  2. In Nasser’s collective identifications, he is a Palestinian and not an Israeli Arab; Avner should have no illusions about this.12

  3. Since Nasser differentiates between nationality and political attributes, he does not feel Israeli (more so, in authoritative future tense: “I will never feel Israeli”). That is, even if a process develops here, it will not change his position on this matter.

Avner: I want to know about everyday life. I’m not really interested in where your loyalty lies, to Arafat or to Peres. Why aren’t you comfortable here? What’s so bad about it?

For the first time we feel the different axes along which Avner and Nasser are “dancing.” Avner is trying to be “nice” to Nasser but in fact ignores his answer, while trying to “tempt” Nasser by stating his own political openness, in contrast to others in the Jewish-Israeli population who might begin with a loyalty test (“I’m not really interested in where your loyalty lies, to [Palestinian Authority head] Arafat or to [Israeli statesman] Peres”). He is trying to turn the discussion back to personal, daily problems: (“Why aren’t you comfortable here? What’s so bad about it?”) At this point, Avner is not aware of the paternalism implied by his words and by his avoidance of Nasser’s position.

Nasser: I think that when someone has something, he doesn’t appreciate it. This is why it is very hard for you to understand. I have been living here for twenty years now; on Fridays and Saturdays the shops are closed, there is nowhere to go. I stay here for the holidays and there’s nothing for me to do. A mosque—to go and pray—it’s been turned into the Beer-Sheva Museum. I miss a lot of things here. You don’t feel this because you have it all. There’s folk dancing, discos, films, but not one film in Arabic, no Arab music.

In Nasser’s words there is a sharp change from the general level of discussing identifications that characterizthe discussion up to this point, to the concrete level of talking about different definitions of weekend and the mosque that has been turned into a museum. Nasser’s words can be interpreted in various ways. On one hand, he ostensibly responds to Avner’s suggestion and begins to describe “what is so bad for him,” indicating that there is no place in Israel for Palestinian culture or the Muslim religion. On the other hand, he opens with a strong statement (“Someone who has something does not appreciate it, this is why it is very hard for you to understand”). Nasser thereby hints that Avner cannot really comprehend him: “If you were in my place, perhaps you would understand what it’s about.” He uses the example of the mosque in Beer-Sheva to illustrate the insult to his people and the brusque disregard for their feelings on the part of the Israeli Jews. The additional examples (“There are no films in Arabic, no Arab music”) reinforce the feeling of obliteration.

Avner: That’s because you did not organize yourselves properly.

Avner disregards Nasser’s claim. Perhaps this is a defense by means of attack. Avner is still talking in the plural, ignoring Nasser’s personal challenge. Avner emphasizes the responsibility of the other side. He is making the argument that if the Palestinians wanted to organize and did so effectively, they would get the cultural and other benefits, just as the Jews do. This is characteristic of the self-serving attributional bias of the majority group; it attributes the minorities' disadvantaged situation to internal causes such as lack of effort or motivation. Nonetheless, without noticing, Avner has by now responded to Nasser’s request to communicate on the collective level and not on the individual level.

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