There are few topics like “peace in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict” (or more broadly the Middle East) which elicit stronger opinions and deeply felt emotions. When you add the layers of religion, or even try to touch politics, it’s as if you’ve invited potential conflict from the outset. Yet, it is the opinion of a growing circle among those who practice a faith tradition as well as many of those who don’t, that resolution to this conflict and peace in the Middle East, are essential to the survival of humanity.

So, it goes without saying in this group study that it is very important to create a space in which participants can feel safe to explore ideas, ask important questions, and admit some of their hopes and fears about the topic of peacemaking and the issues in this region without judgement or criticism. Yehezkel Landau, my professor in Jewish-Christian-Muslim relations and peacebuilding in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, distinguishes between debate and dialogue. His advice on this topic might be helpful to introduce at the beginning of your group study.

With these differences in mind, Landau further suggests we:
• Look for places of agreement with your partners (debate highlights differences)
• Be open to changing your mind (debate strives to be right)
• Look for strength in the other position (debate seeks weakness)
• Examine your assumptions (debate doesn’t question one’s own belief)
• In dialogue people work together toward a solution (debate operates solo)
• When you’re talking about Palestine and Israel, pay attention to whether you’re in debate or dialogue

Jewish Voice for Peace, one of the organizations we find very helpful in this conversation has developed a wonderful resource eBook (Difficult Conversations about Israel and Palestine) you might refer to and introduce to your group. It’s a bit like looking into the dynamics of another family and overhearing their conversation (in this case the Jewish community). The section “Tips for Getting the Conversation Started” are helpful.

Lastly, remember these basics about group discussion and leader facilitation:
• The leader’s role is not to do all the talking but to help others participate
• Respect each person even if you disagree with their viewpoint
• There is no such thing as a dumb question
• Actively listen
• Respect allotted time for the group discussion
• Consider beginning with brainstorming, and maybe writing out, a group covenant. You can refer back to your group’s “mutually agreed upon” set of ideas and guidelines throughout your study