Nathaniel Levy
Sometimes nothing is something worth doing

Resolving conflict in the absence of dialogue

When the mayflower first dropped its anchor in the new world, none knew what was to come. Was it right for Europeans to settle in a land not their own? Perhaps. They were, at least initially, welcomed by the native peoples after all. Later, the European population grew large and the relationship grew cold. What happened during this transition? It is not clear who cast the first stone, in fact, it meaningfully matters little in the macroscopic sense. A gradual paradigm shift; a consequence of microscopic factors which result in different emergent properties that echo those of its constituent parts. Is it even “right” to ask if it is right at all? After all, one’s moral compass is not aligned with that of another.

The fact is, Europeans were unlikely to have dominated North America if there had been strong cohesion of the native population with ready access to technology as advanced as their European counterparts.

When Europeans first began to settle North America, they had no historical or religious connections to the region. Some could say they had no right to colonise those lands. What is not meaningful to argue against however, is that all North American citizens have the right to live there now, irrespective of their history. Indeed, it is only fair to acknowledge that no region in the world has traversed history completely morally clean.

The criteria Jews hoped to meet with the establishment of the State of Israel are many, though the focus of this article is peace. To live a life of peace is wished by the overwhelming majority of people. There is no reasonable doubt that fleeing the substantial ebb and flow of the persecution of Jews, both historical and recent, was a vital step in achieving a peaceful existence. A land needed to be secured. The one in the hearts and minds of Jews that could unify the broad Jewish diaspora was of course the land of Israel. So began Zionism. Needless to say, the criterion of living in peace has not been met and indeed only seems to fade into memory as the years go by.

Where the Jews experienced horror and hope, the Palestinians knew only an injustice; they knew not of the significance of the persecution of Jews over the centuries as it was not directly relevant to them. Their land however, was a land they had a right to live in, their hope officially threatened by the Balfour declaration and largely thrown away in 1948, catalysed by the Holocaust. To the Palestinians, the Jewish claim to Israel was not a valid one, after all, there had not been a significant Jewish presence in the land for nearly 2000 years. This is a vitally important fact for Israelis to understand as prior to Zionism, Jews and Arabs of the Middle East had lived in relative peace.

One meaningful contributing factor to the broader conflict is, at least in part, a generational one. Upon the establishment of the State of Israel, every Palestinian experienced the partition of their homeland, imposed upon them by the UN following world war 2. Of the Jews that lived in Palestine pre 1948, the majority were not from there, at least within a couple of generations. Most of the Jewish population in Palestine had fled the persecution of the first half of the 20th century. These first Israelis were, unsurprisingly, keen to establish peace. For years, with their troubled pasts fresh in their minds, they transferred their hope of peace to the first generation of Israel-born Israelis. These first-generation Israelis never dealt with the persecution that their parents had experienced in their birth countries. At this time too, there was still a sizeable population of Palestinians who had experienced leaving their homes and their lives behind. It is understandable why these Palestinians were angered by the formation of the state of Israel.  Anger, unlikely to be quelled by anything except the exodus of the Jews from the land now called Israel.

Later, the people of Israel began growing tired of the resistance and perceived stubbornness of the Palestinian people to establish any form of peace deal. The politics of Israel began swinging away from the left more and more so as the relative population of Israel-born Israelis grew, the relief of freedom from persecution amongst the population diminishes, and the reality of a world of being surrounded by hostile nations takes hold. Gone are memories amongst the population of playing with Arab children in their youth. The young first-generation Israelis lived through the acts of terrorism of pre-Israel born Palestinians, without a chance to understand why they were happening. Naturally, the general Israeli population assumed these most extreme forms of ideology were representative of the average Palestinian as is expected in isolated societies.

As the generation of pre-Israel born Palestinians were beginning to dwindle in number, the resentment of losing one’s home reduced and was exchanged for the resentment of occupation. Ever increasing Israeli settlements in the West Bank and the ripples of hopelessness they carry permeate Palestinian society. Roadblocks and barriers further isolate groups of Palestinians, allowing extremist ideologies to evolve. The fracturing of the Palestinians’ ability for cohesion made a traditional peace deal impossible while giving rise to new reasons to dislike Israel. Of course, it is easy to understand why Israel has such measures in place, and it is reasonable to assume that any nation in the same situation would act the same way. Though this does not mean it is just to do so.

In essence, the first-generation Israelis faced the backlash of pre-Israel Palestinians while growing up and carried their scars with them, eventually dictating their political decisions. Those same decisions affecting the new generations of Palestinians today, perpetuating Israeli resentment in new forms. Of course, this is a general statement and a simplification of the whole which does not by any means represent the precise picture. However, the details, or micro-state, of the picture are not where the main considerations should be. Rather, they should lie in the macro-state of the situation, the overarching principle. Of course, everyone has heard that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is complex. The ins and outs have been discussed, analysed and re-worded thousands of times, convoluting and misrepresenting the substance of the argument by portraying individual constituents erroneously as the macro-state, making it seem complex when it is not. It is the micro-states which are.

There are many micro-states that contribute to the emergent property of the macro-state. These micro-states vary in complexity and altering small aspects of a micro-state can result in disparate consequences to the micro-state while affecting the macro-state very little if not at all. This understanding is crucial when on the topic of Israel-Palestinian relations, where the macro-state is full of animosity on both sides. Getting bogged down by the ingredients of this is nothing but detrimental to the cause and is rife with opinion. The facts of the matter remain; this is not a conflict that has been ongoing for thousands of years, nor is it as complex as it is portrayed.

Non-extreme, civilian Palestinians getting caught in the crossfire only ever increases the relative extremism and strengthens friction with the State of Israel. Though collateral damage is unavoidable in military operations in densely populated areas, military operations are not necessarily unavoidable.

When in an argument with someone, is it ever truly beneficial to the resolution of an argument to start shouting? Or rather, more importantly, is it beneficial to be shouted at? Rarely, if ever, is an argument resolved without some compromise and calm admittance of fault, as the fault is almost never one-sided.

When trying to convince someone of anything, it is natural to gravitate towards putting forth a point in a way that you, yourself, find convincing. This is typically one of the least effective methods. The reason why this is, originates in the way people formulate their cognitions. For example, you find that it is a futile endeavour for an Evolutionist or Creationist to convince the other of their respective point of view by explaining the evolution of species or genesis. The rationale behind each argument is categorically different from the other. However, by asking the right questions about the other side’s position, one can begin to convince the other. By making them think about their own position and why they think a certain way.

When faced with a disunited Palestine, the traditional approach of the government of Israel is to project its viewpoints, and rationale behind them, onto the Palestinian authority. So, whenever there is any dialogue concerning peace, it is destined to fail. Not only is the rationale behind the different sides’ arguments bound to fall flat, but the Israeli government is not even talking to a cohesive nation where all the citizens abide by the same set of rules; acts of violence occasionally forgo these splintered groups entirely and come down to the individual level. It is time to throw these old methods out of the window. It is time to try something new. For how can the beautiful country of Israel be a symbol of freedom for some whilst being a symbol of captivity for others? Enough is enough.

It is not time to dig heels in and double down against the Palestinians. Instead it is time to help them and only help them. Only by not retaliating to violence with violence will this never-ending shouting match end and dialogue begin, allowing empathy and peace to follow. This will ultimately result in reacting to violence with kindness which, to many, seems unthinkable. Though only by being consistent can some of the heat dissipate from the situation and people of both sides start aligning in thought. After all, one does not permanently fix a leak-prone boat by fixing the holes ad hoc, but by overhauling the hull. It will be slow and sometimes painful, but worth it in the end. How many wars and bombings can be avoided?  Imagine a world where Israel does not have to spend 5% of its GDP on defence. This is not an impossible world.

As the more powerful nation, the onus lies with Israel to take this step. One advantage Israel has is unity and therefore control of its armed forces, something the Palestinians do not have. Israel can uphold the law relatively effectively when violence on the individual level occurs by the hand of an Israeli. An attack of an innocent Palestinian is an attack on Israeli values. The scope of attitude towards Palestinians must extend beyond military response.  Sending aid, building schools and hospitals, relocating Israeli settlements out of the West Bank, and safe passage between Gaza and the West Bank with subsidised transport are just some of the humanitarian steps that could be taken. Israel must show commitment to Palestinian sovereignty. Over time, people of both sides will begin to question why there is a problem at all, when acts of violence become fewer and farther between. Doing this will not only quell the Palestinians, but also draw favour from the international community and in particular, the Muslim nations.

Will this work? Perhaps, or perhaps not. Though for the possibility of peace, it may be worth some short-term sacrifice. After all, Jews and Arabs alike are nothing if not resilient. If anything, the idea of approaching conflict differently is likely to be the key. Will this satisfy everyone? No, particularly not for the short term where things are likely to get worse before they get better. Slowly the situation will diffuse until one indistinct day, salaam can be the response to shalom and peace can end this brief history of conflict.

About the Author
Born in Ramat Gan, now residing in the UK, I have spent much of my life in between these two countries, considering greater philosophical questions.
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