‘Palestine does not exist’ and other absurdities

Victor Hugo once said “an intelligent hell would be better than a stupid paradise,” but it seems, many Israel supporters as well as Palestine supporters prefer the stupid paradise of ideological coherence and unconditionality. In the recent wake of hostilities between Israel and the Islamic Jihad (PIJ) in Gaza, the voices in Germany were raised once again defending the coherence of the own world view instead of displaying interest in human rights and stable peace.

Tribalism everywhere

There comes a time for every politically curious person in Germany to chose its side: Israel or Palestine, a choice for a system of ethical, political and historical beliefs that do not allow any doubt due to its fragility and precisely defined boundaries. Dramatically speaking it is kind of an absurd initiation ritual in which you proactively settle for denial and ignorance. Denial in the regard of the shameful conviction, that human rights and values are exclusive and either the fight of Israel or Palesine is the only just without the possibility of in-betweens and grey zones.

If you settle for the Palestinian side, Israel is a devious state full of racist violence and greedy for more land and Palestinian blood and most (if not all) actions from Palestinian groups or individuals against Israeli institutions or individuals need to be squeezed into the realm of self-defense.

If you settle for the Israeli side, every inch of Palestinian land is a Mordor-like soil filled with people who only exist to threaten Israel due to their Antisemitism qua birth. In pro-Israel terms, Palestine is an amoral and archaic society that barely deserves the hallmark of “civilization”, mostly due to its Islamic character.

Welcome to the absurdity that is German Middle East activism

Let that sink in: two groups enter the streets and Social Media for the sake of human rights and values while dehumanizing the opponent. In a country, that has a cruel colonial history and that is the only country worldwide that annihilated people industrially. Thus you can observe a realm that is as full of misinformation as it is full of deliberate blindness. Images of notorious PFLP terrorist Leila Khaled are displayed on the Palestinian side, also there is no critical approach to the rule of Hamas or Fatah even though there are widely criticised by Palestinians. In 1995, Edward Said wrote in the newspaper Al-Hayat:

On the one hand, the people are to be given the impression that their personal interests are best served by joining the large, corrupt bureaucratic and repressive apparatus of the (Palestinian) authority; on the other hand, they are intimidated and condemned to apathetic silence. The countless assaults, tortures, newspaper closures and mass arrests have created an atmosphere of fear and indifference.

You’ll search this kind of criticism desperately among German Palestine supporters which makes them a defender of the corrupt and desolate structures of Hamas and Fatah rule in Palestine in the long run. During the last hostilities between the Islamic Jihad in Gaza and Israeli forces one could barely find pro-Palestinian activists addressing the PIJ critically, but rather as defenders of the Palestinian people, ignoring the repressive and authoritarian character of its ideology.

On the other hand, Israel supporters always stress the state of Israel as a triumph of civilization. Interestingly, there is an indirect alliance between left- and right-wing activists. The primarily hail Israel as a safe haven for Jews worldwide. Right-wingers on the other hand praise Israel as stronghold against an alleged expansionist and aggressive Islam, which has also had an imprint on leftist groups. What both however have in common is an unreflected sense for colonial, euro-centric approach to human rights. As the pro-Palestinian groups, the pro-Israel ones perceive Israel in a constant mode of self-defense. You won’t read anything self-critical, admitting mistreatment of Israel’s minorities or criticism of Israel’s Palestine policy that is at least questionable. If they actually admit the existence of Palestine for it is a common and popular take to deny the existence of Palestine and thus, Palestinians. As Israel is regularly stated to be “the only democracy in the Middle East” (which is basically not true as the parliamentary system of Lebanon was established 1926) this does not seem to count for Jewish-Israeli critics of the state’s policy. They are silenced and patronized.” It seems, that this understanding of Israels democracy is rather congruent to Netanyahu’s narrow understanding of an authoritarian ethnic democracy that serves actually anti-democratic forces inside the country. This provokes the question how the slogan “against every Antisemitism” does not include Jewish critics of Israel?

How far from the conflict are we?

The irony is: even though Germany is quite far away from Israel and Palestine, the local protagonists adapt the conflict and even enhance it. Israeli Socio-Psychologist Daniel Bar-Tal developed the Ethos of Conflict, a system of beliefs that societies in conflict develop to secure its integrity. Funny enough, these beliefs can be found in the realm of the Middle East dispute in Germany. The following eight points are taken from a summary written by Daniel Bar-Tal for the Conflict Information Consortium:

  1. Goals: Societal beliefs about the justness of one’s own goals, which, first of all, outline the goals in conflict, indicate their crucial importance and provide their explanations and rationales. In addition, these beliefs negate and delegitimize the goals of the other group.
  2. Security: Societal beliefs about security stress the importance of personal safety and national survival, and outline the conditions for their achievement. In the context of intractable conflict, beliefs about military conditions which allow maintenance of security, including heroism on the part of the fighters, are of special importance.
  3. Delegitimization: Societal beliefs of delegitimizing the opponent concern beliefs which deny the adversary’s humanity.
  4. Self-image: Societal beliefs of positive collective self image concern the ethnocentric tendency to attribute positive traits, values and behavior to one’s own society. In times of intractable conflict, special effort is made to propagate, on the one hand, characteristics related to courage, heroism, or endurance and, on the other hand, characteristics related to humaneness, morality, fairness, trustworthiness and progress.
  5. Victimization: Societal beliefs of one’s own victimization concern self-presentation as a victim, especially in the context of the intractable conflict. The focus of these beliefs is on the unjust harm, evil deeds and atrocities perpetrated by the adversary.
  6. Patriotism: Societal beliefs of patriotism generate attachment to the country and society, by propagating loyalty, love, care and sacrifice.
  7. Unity: Societal beliefs of unity refer to the importance of ignoring internal conflicts and disagreements during intractable conflict in order to unite the forces in the face of the external threat.
  8. Peace: Finally, societal beliefs of peace refer to peace in general and utopic terms as the ultimate desire of the society. They present idyllic peace as an ultimate goal of the society and society members as “peace loving.” Such beliefs have the role of inspiring hope and optimism. They strengthen positive self image and contribute to empathic self-presentation to the outside world.

Reading through the characteristics of the Ethos of Conflict, the adaptive momentum and the obsession becomes obvious. It is, as we could not seize the luxury of distance and accessible knowledge to take a step back and look at the situation with curiosity and focus on human rights and the implications of a complex and manifold history.

Instead, the respective solidarity becomes an existential factor displaying one’s own understanding of human rights and peace. The terms “Israel” and “Palestine” are reduced to codes that have much more to do with the individual than with a sincere interest in the well-being of the societies in Israel and Palestine. Being truly progressive would mean to overcome one’s own ideological boundaries, especially in such a case, in which none of us would lose anything.

But instead, the current situation is nothing else but a shame and disrespectful, and we could do better, but this would require a kind of openness and a sense of justice, that contradicts the reflex and emotionality of instant solidarity.

About the Author
Tobias Griessbach has a M.A. in Anthropology and is a freelance journalist.
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