Our partners in Israel and Palestine also work with the participants before and after the dialogue seminars – in addition to preparatory and follow-up meetings, own initiatives are developed during the follow-up work.
Before the Dialogue Seminars
Before the participants come to Germany for the dialogue seminar, the Israeli and Palestinian dialogue groups meet several times to prepare for the seminar. An important aspect of the preparatory meetings is to gain more clarity about one’s own motivation and to exchange about expectations and fears regarding the dialogue seminar. Participants can get to know their group and build trust with each other. The process is partly similar for the Israeli and Palestinian groups, but there are also many differences.
On the Israeli side, for example, lectures on Palestinian history or a political tour of East Jerusalem complement the preparation on the content level. In the Palestinian group, the sensitive topic of normalization is often central: from the discussions about motivation and fears with regard to the encounter with the „others,“ Palestinians* ask themselves questions about whether and why (not) meetings with Israelis really make sense and to what extent such an encounter may even tend to cement and normalize the status quo. It is of central importance for them to get to know the structure and procedure of the seminar in advance and to make sure that it is not a „friendly summer camp“ but a serious political dialogue and that they are neither intended nor expected to make friends or achieve „reconciliation“.
At the same time, participating in a dialogue seminar with the “enemy” is a risk that should not be underestimated, especially for Palestinians: it is not uncommon for participants to conceal from family and friends exactly what the seminar is about in order to avoid being branded or defamed as traitors.
Finally, the preparatory phase is also used to make logistical travel arrangements: for Israelis, this point is usually taken care of quickly, but on the Palestinian side, this issue requires considerably more time and effort, since the group must, on the one hand, apply for visas to enter Germany, which involves a great deal of bureaucracy, and, on the other hand, must leave via the airport in Amman, Jordan, which extends travel times and requires planning.
After the Dialogue Seminars
After the dialogue seminars, an open process of continuous work follows, which very much depends on the initiative of the groups. First of all, the Palestinian and Israeli team, respectively, organize a uni-national follow-up meeting, which gives the group the opportunity to reflect upon the return home and the seminar experience together and to exchange ideas.
Experience has shown that arriving back in one’s own society triggers strong feelings in the participants that are initially overwhelming for many: in addition to feelings of anger and powerlessness, many participants are driven by a strong desire to continue dealing with the conflict and the occupation and to become active in their own society. Here, too, the experiences on the Israeli and Palestinian sides are often different. Israelis often feel that after some time „everyday life“, in which the conflict and the situation of the Palestinians is usually very far away, catches up with them and, for example, professional obligations make it more difficult than expected to become active for an end to the occupation. On the Palestinian side, there are additional aspects that many participants did not initially expect: here, participants repeatedly report how challenging it is, for example, to (re-)integrate into socially dominant gender roles. Female participants in particular experience a kind of „culture shock“ when they return, because after the freedom they felt during the Dialogue Seminar in Germany, they find coming back very restrictive.