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Tuesday, April 16, 2024
The Observer

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‘Peacemaking in Israel-Palestine’: professor hosts dialogue for a just peace

The departments of Religious Studies, Global Studies, and Philosophy, along with the Justice Studies program, hosted North Park University emeritus professor Robert Hostetter Tuesday evening for a lecture on his recently-released book, “Peacemakers in Israel-Palestine: Dialogues for a Just Peace.” 

In addition to Hostetter teaching Communication Arts for 34 years, he also identifies as a peace activist, playwright and is the co-founder and director of the Conflict Transformation Program at North Park University. 

Hostetter's book includes 21 different dialogues taken from interviews he conducted in the Middle East from 1998 to around 2020, where Hostetter originally authored a stage play titled, “The Longing,” referring to the longing his participants felt to go back to their homes before war and devastation. 

Rather than summarizing his book, Hostetter instead chose to read three separate dialogues from his stage play, allowing those directly involved with the ongoing conflict in Israel-Palestine to speak for themselves. Though the interviews were conducted a few years ago, Hostetter believes the dialogues still contain relevant insight to the Israel-Palestine conflict. Three students from Saint Mary’s College read as the various individuals while Hostetter read as himself. 

The first dialogue, read by freshman Kathryn O’Connell, was titled “Work for the Common Good” and was between Hostetter and assistant professor of the field of public policy from Birzeit University and advisor to the Prime Minister for planning and aid coordination for Palestine Estephan Salameh. 

In the dialogue, Salameh stated he still advocates for a two-state solution, however the momentum for this movement was rapidly dying at the time. Later, he described his experience of the intifada, the non-violent opposition movement by the Palestinian people to the Israeli occupation. While the movement at first had “unprecedented solidarity,” it declined after 1993. He left Israel-Palestine in 2001 and later returned in 2007 to begin working for the Palestinian Ministry of Planning. From 2007 to the time of the interview, Salameh worked towards social justice through various government tools and policies and community organizations. 

“Peace and justice are a spillover effect of our work for the common good. If we work for the common good, peace will come,” O’Connell read. 

The second dialogue, “A Comprehensive Solution,” includes the interview between Hostetter and self-trained physician and current director of Gaza Projects for the Middle East Children's Alliance (MECA) Dr. Mona El Farra, which was read by senior Catherine Cushwa and Hostetter. 

El Farra was 15 years old when Israel “took over” the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. This traumatic event later influenced her to join nonviolent resistance to the Israeli occupation. In 2000, her home was destroyed by Israeli soldiers. From that day, El Farra became dedicated to providing medical help to other displaced women and children. Later on, she focused on creating safe spaces for children to regain a sense of security. 

“There is nothing more heartbreaking than when people lose their faith, trust and hope,” Cushwa read. 

The third and final dialogue, “The Only Nonviolent Alternative,” was between Hostetter and Israeli historian and current professor with the College of Social Sciences and International Studies at the University of Exeter Ilan Pappé. Sophomore Delaney Nold read for Pappé and Hostetter as himself. 

Pappé began his dialogue by describing his “typical Israeli life,” which suddenly changed after moving to the United Kingdom for postgraduate studies at Oxford University. During his studies there, he focused on the contrasting perspectives of 1948 between Israelis and Palestinians, the beginning of the Israeli occupation. His concentration on the contrast revealed the “Zionist meta narrative” Pappé was taught his whole life. Pappé recounted how the Israeli occupation and the government-sanctioned propaganda pushed a narrative of victimhood stemming from the Holocaust. Even though the Israelis were not victims of the Holocuast, their poignant relations to those lost in the genocide allowed their actions to be seen as “compensation.” The best solution to combat this, Pappé believed, was to integrate kindergartens, schools and dialogues. 

“A just peace is the only nonviolent alternative, and it depends on how the world deals with Israeli accusations of antisemitism. People are waiting for nonviolent support to convince the young generation that there is an alternative to violence,” Nold read. 

After reading aloud the three dialogues, Hostetter opened the floor to questions to an audience of roughly 50 people, ranging from Saint Mary’s students to people from the South Bend community. Questions and further discussion continued for the next hour. 

During the discussion, Hostetter made a point to differentiate between a negotiation and a dialogue. 

“Both Jewish and Palestinian peacemakers talk about negotiation as something which is easily manipulated and pursued ad nauseam,” Hostetter said. “I can say to you, ‘I'll tell your community and my community we're talking,’ and that can go on forever without any productive work. So my notion of dialogue is something which is committed, at some level, to a just peace. Otherwise, it's wasted energy.”

Later, sophomore Mishelle Yepez asked Hostetter how one can stay neutral and feel empathy for both sides of the conflict. 

“I think one can be an advocate for all groups of people, and then you go to other layers of information or perspective [such as] taking classes with professor [NAME] Pierce or someone else to figure out what is the connection here. What is the way in which we can affirm the Jewish people, who have had a very problematic history of suffering, and how to affirm Palestinian people, who are currently being murdered by the thousands?” Hostetter said. 

Hostetter connects Yepez’s question to a point made in the third dialogue, where Pappé described the Israeli’s self-victimization as a method to justify the occupation. 

“Whether you're religious or non-religious, that seems like a principle that one can affirm. This should never happen again, to anyone. So to use the Holocaust in order to create a new holocaust of sorts, or genocide, is highly, highly problematic,” Hostetter said.

Towards the end of the discussion, Hostetter admits uncertainty regarding the ultimate solution to peace, despite his years spent in the Middle East as a peace advocate. 

“So now what? And I don’t know. I don’t think that people on the ground know,” Hostetter said.