Syracuse Area Middle East Dialogue

Louis Kriesberg 

Professor Emeritus, Sociology, University of Syracuse; author of numerous books on intractable conflict

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 ???).

A: For a long time I'd been a part of a group called SAMED — Syracuse Area Middle East Dialogue group. A few of us started it in 1981, it was designed to be constituted of people of equal numbers who were US citizens of Palestinian/Jewish affiliation, or from neither of the above communities. At some point we learned that SAMED was the Arabic word for steadfastness which was one of the PLO organizations and we both discussed whether we should change our acronym, but we decided not. The group continues over all these years to act as advocates of a negotiated settlement between Israelis and Palestinians leading to the establishment of two states. Also acting as advocates with our government and the American public, and to some extent to encourage that so far as we did within each of our own communities with our relations and connections in the Middle East. So here I was in some sense an advocate, from an intermediary position, acting often as a kind of communicant between different communities. I think when we first started, both the Jews and the Palestinians were a little nervous about how our respective communities would regard us for these contacts.

In fact others were needed to make the bridge because we didn't know each other in a city the size of Syracuse. We were surprised that we were in some ways a matter of curiosity in our respective communities, people would say, "What do they think?", and we would translate what "they" thought for them. We also learned how to use language. That knowledge would be useful in coming out with consensual statements, because we would only issue statements that we would all agree upon.

Q: So you've issued one to date?

A: We did issue statements after great discussion. In making that discussion, we were always careful. I think the Palestinians didn't want to loose their Jews, because if their Jews didn't have any credibility in their community they weren't of much use. That was also true for the Jews relationship to the Palestinians who wanted to make sure that these were legitimate, credible Palestinians who had some standing in their community.

So we had to construct ways of phrasing things, which could retain as a broad of base that we could. It was very educational, I certainly learned a lot. It helped me in doing my research and in writing because it gave me a depth of understanding over time that any given interview could provide. It gave me access to people. Each of these different roles that I was playing could be helpful for the other roles that I wanted to play. At times, it probably did get in the way. It's possible that someone would not want to see me because of some visible thing that I had said or done. I would say overall I could not had done any one of my roles as well if I had not been doing some of the others. That mixture of activities provided me with insights, with confidence, and some emotional sensibility that I think is necessary to do this kind of work.