Nada Sefian and Leila Mouammar | Edited by Arthur Milner
NADA SEFIAN was born in Saida, Lebanon, and also lived in Saudi Arabia and France before coming to Canada in 1986. Her parents lived in Majdal Askalan (now Ashkelon), until her father was expelled by the Israel Defence Forces after the 1948 war. She now lives in Montreal, where she works full time on various Palestinian causes, with organizations such as Montreal Dialogue, Women in Black, Salaam-Shalom and Parole Arabe.
LEILA MOUAMMAR was born in Toronto. Her father’s family left Haifa, Palestine, in the runup to the 1948 war. Her mother’s family immigrated from Nazareth, Israel, to Canada in 1967. She has lived, studied and worked in Beirut, New York and, briefly, Nazareth. She now lives in Montreal where she is active in community organizing on issues of social justice.
NADA SEFIAN: I was attracted by the idea of Jews and Palestinians working together. Two years ago we started a group, Shalom/Salaam, a dialogue group between Palestinian and Jewish Canadian or Israeli people. For me it is a success story. One year ago we started another, more courageous project, a dialogue with Jewish people who are not on the left – just people who cannot take any more what is going on in Israel and Palestine, and who want to meet their Palestinian or Arab Muslim counterparts. I am also trying to start a group for Palestinian and Jewish young people. Of course we are having difficulty so far.
LEILA MOUAMMAR: I was involved in dialogue groups for two years. I also went to synagogues and did talks and presentations to Jewish youths. At McGill, in 1995, a Jewish friend and I were taking a course on the Arab-Israeli conflict and we started a youth dialogue group. Groups of about 15 people met in each other’s homes. There was a certain level of respect – if you’re in someone’s home you want to be a good guest. We were learning a lot, though I would say many of the Palestinians felt they weren’t learning that much, because we’d had a lot of exposure to the Jewish narrative in Western media. We felt that we understood the fears and insecurity. But I know a lot of the Jewish students found it incredibly eye-opening, because they wouldn’t have been exposed to the Palestinian narrative.
Our group fell apart largely because the more conservative Jewish students felt that the group was becoming a propaganda outlet for Palestinians, because many Jews in the group were changing their ideological position. Many of the Palestinians were already moderate because they’re the ones who are willing to sit down with Jews. I think it’s difficult for a Palestinian to accept the idea of dialogue with a Zionist. Not a Jew who is not Zionist – I have tons of anti-Zionist friends or neutral Jewish friends. But it’s difficult to dialogue with someone whose ideology dismisses your equality. I’m nervous about dialogue groups because I think of what Nelson Mandela said about how you don’t negotiate your equality. You either recognize people as equal or you don’t.