Identity

 

Jay Rothman

President of the ARIA Group, Inc.

Interviewed by Julian Portilla , 2003


This rough transcript provides a text alternative to audio. We apologize for occasional errors and unintelligible sections (which are marked with ???).

One is between Israelis and Palestinians, where I began most of my work and continued to work for about 7 or 8 years. I brought together Israeli and Palestinian young leaders, and one of the Palestinian participants began by telling everybody that he really didn't think he was going to get here. In fact, on his way he had an incident that made him want to give up. He told the story of being on a bus and sitting next to him was an eight-year-old Jewish girl and he was a 25-year-old Arab man, and he said at one point in the bus ride she looked at him, her eyes opened with terror, and she exclaimed to her mother, who was sitting across the way,"???RV, RV???," and jumped up and ran over to her mother. Which translates into Arab, Arab. And he said, you know, here I am coming to this dialogue with Jews and it's hopeless. If a seven-year-old already has this imprint that I'm an evil other, how are we going to make a difference, how is this going to do anything? An Israeli woman got up and she said that doesn't make any sense. This is exactly why you'd come, because we have to change that pattern. We have to change that attitude. And he sort of slumped down in his chair and said you don't understand. This was in the afternoon. We had sort of an intense introduction coming out of that.

The next morning we came into the room and on the blackboard was written in English, "Jews out of Palestine. If you do not leave, we will kill you." That's how we started the session. And at first there was a joke, someone said you guys wrote that, the facilitators, you guys wrote that. We said, no we didn't write that, and we were very upset. We thought we were in a safe place and we're very hurt for you and offended that that would have happened. We called in the director of the Institute, he said he didn't know who did it. Now the Israeli girl who had got up in the afternoon, saying to this Arab fellow this is exactly why you should be here, said I can't go on anymore. How is it possible that here we are in a safe space trying to dialogue about peace and this kind of violent image comes in and imposes itself on us? She said I don't think I can stay anymore. And now the Arab man stood up and said this is exactly why we have to be here, and this is exactly what I was talking about yesterday and you convinced me that we have to be here exactly because of this. And she sat up, and she said you're right. And the seminar was one of the most brilliant, beautiful seminars, where I could basically just sit back and I was an excuse for them to do their good work. I created a holding place for them to encounter each other. So that was a pretty special moment.