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Communication speaker believes there is hope


Bob Hostetter speaks at Gonzaga University.

Based on 70 interviews with Palestinians and Israelis, Bob Hostetter, communication scholar and teacher at North Park University in Chicago, believes there is hope for dialogue and a just peace in Israel and Palestine.

His recent presentation in Spokane was hosted by Gonzaga’s Communication Leadership program.

Bob, who teaches communication studies, theatre and performance studies and conflict transformation studies, believes stories and listening make “peacemaking from the middle” effective.  He is drawn by the biblical injunction to love one’s neighbors and live in empathy.

A Palestinian woman in her 70s told him Palestinians and Israelis did not always hate each other, and she believes the hatred will not last forever.

Bob shares stories of people’s courage, perseverance, endurance and hope in his play, “The Longing.”

“If people think the conflict is hopeless, they do not hold their leaders accountable to international law,” he said. “The conflict influences religions, politics and international relations beyond the Middle East.”

Bob studies people and cultures through storytelling to understand paradoxes, hopes and fears among business people, private citizens, educators, activists and religious leaders.  These are the people he believes could work on peacemaking “from the middle.” They have access to the political elite and bring visitors to deepen understanding.

“That can raise understanding of suffering to create a desire to change conditions,” Bob said.  “Stories disrupt assumptions, inform power and build understanding of different points of view.”

To elicit stories, Bob asks people where they grew up and what was their early family experience, what turning points brought them to peacemaking, what is their current analysis of the conflict and what are they doing about it.

Bob told of Rami Elhanan, 56, a graphic designer, the seventh generation born in Jerusalem on his mother’s side, the son of a Holocaust survivor from Hungary and the father of four. 

In 1997, a suicide bomb that went off in Jerusalem killed his 14-year-old daughter.  After mourning, he was left with unbearable pain.

He knew getting even would not end his pain.  So he joined Bereaved Families Forum and met Palestinians who had lost loved ones.

Now he and a Palestinian speak in Israeli and Palestinian high schools,  hoping to change hearts and minds to prevent further bloodshed.

Bob told of roots of Zionism, the British pushing the Ottoman Empire out of Palestine, the Balfour Resolution of 1912 establishing a Jewish homeland in Palestine, Jewish immigration and the declaration of the Jewish state.

“Most Israelis do not know about the experiences of Palestinians related to the separation wall, water distribution, refugee camps and the settlements,” he said. 

Palestinians, similarly, do not understand issues for Israelis.

Despite 24-hour coverage, he said media provide only part of the story, reporting on people being shot, but not giving the context for the overall dynamics of the struggle. 

“It’s not about truth telling or lies, but about telling just partial truth, which keeps people from seeing the full story,” he said.

“The platform for a just peace is to respect human rights so there is security for all,” Bob said.

For him, just peace would end the culture of violence, promote human rights and restore right relationships among everyone involved in the conflict. 

Bob calls for both  the Palestinians and the Israelis to move beyond victimhood from trauma, and to envision what they want life to be like for their children.

Resolution of the conflict will also involve recognizing international law, Bob said.

He also encourages all the people to take seriously both the common scriptural call for justice and documents like the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights. 

He said that peacemakers, who usually work during violence, and peace builders, who work after violence ends, must work simultaneously.

“Our obligation is to stay open to the moment that is not yet here but is potential,” Bob said. 

“We must stay engaged and we need dialogue so we have a game plan when the moment comes,” he said.

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