Wandering in the Desert for Mid-East Peace

Sinai Desert Courtesy: Library of Congress

At Ubeidiya in the Jordan Valley two miles south of Lake Tiberias, pre-human traces have been found—stone tools, butchered animal bones—dating to 1.5 million years ago. Tabun Cave too, located in the Nahal Me’arot Nature Reserve in northern Israel, was occupied by truly primordial Homo sapiens, individuals from the very early stage of the human race’s existence, circa 250,000 BC. These later migrants would have been modern humans and possibly quite peaceful people too; a hallmark of hunter gatherer culture is non-violence.

Our pre-human ancestors millions of years ago however were almost certainly far different, most probably employing routine violence to establish their hierarchical pecking order.  Among our closely related great ape species today, bigger, stronger and more aggressive alpha primates habitually bully weaker members of the troupe.

Two million years ago things began to improve though for the hominid underclass as our distant predecessors’ shoulder anatomy evolved, arming them with the ability to hurl objects.  Blunt force projectiles and sharp-tipped missiles would have changed the dynamic in conflicts between the stronger and the weaker, with skill in primitive weaponry doubtlessly becoming an important factor in violent encounters.

Some 300,000 years ago, at the very dawn of modern Homo sapiens, an even more powerful weapon was employed to unseat those oppressing their fellow tribesmen by virtue of size and brute force alone. Human speech had developed, and with it the ability to complain, to seek out other aggrieved allies, to form coalitions, to make plans to collectively dispatch overbearing tribe-mates, to coordinate and carry out sneak attacks. All this would have brought the era of incessant bullying to an end.

From that time to around 10,000 BC humankind entered into an age of relative harmony and equality, and not just due to the reasons above, but because this was the era of the hunter gatherer and this lifestyle hardly lends itself to violence, inequities, status or wealth. Indeed, those concepts are anathema to the hunter gatherer.

Anthropologists know this by observing tribes today which still practice that way of life. Among hunter gatherers there can be no wealth since the acquisition of physical things is a burden rather than a bonus.  Aside from a few tools and weapons, these people are constantly on the move and are constrained to carry little else. Those things which can be hauled from place to place are of importance while everything else holds little allure.

And these are cultures that share everything, in which selfishness, jealousy and egotism are universally discouraged. Their communal goods are transitory and often apt to spoil if hoarded in any event, so there’s no impetus to engage in what is considered anti-social behavior. In such societies, since there is little over which to fight and nothing to contest, violence is rare.

A great Neolithic Revolution—the advent of agriculture and herding around 12,000 years ago—changed everything.  From those first few gardens and fields, surrounded by fences and guarded by people who most certainly did not intend to move on with the next season, who did plan on acquiring, storing and protecting more and more goods and wealth, and whose progeny would live there in perpetuity, our modern civilization has evolved.

Israel is home to some of those earliest Neolithic sites. Motza, a few miles outside of Jerusalem, was settled around 7,000 BC. It was a truly sophisticated locale for its day and age, with storage facilities for hundreds of thousands of seeds—lentils, chickpeas, beans—and home to a truly remarkable population of some two to three thousand residents.

Gesher, in the central Jordan Valley, is another even older site, dating to some 10,000 years ago.  It seems to have been a center for basalt tool-making, the artifacts crafted and traded throughout the region. Those first agriculturalists and pastoralists bequeathed to us a world of mind-boggling wealth—and of great violence too since there is now plenty of prosperity and assets over which to contend.

Israel is no longer the temporary home to nomads passing through every season. Quite to the contrary, it is an economic powerhouse, a land of great wealth and appeal. Israel’s gross domestic product in 2019 was $387 billion. However, when one considers that this is a diminutive country occupying nothing more than a sliver of territory, its economic numbers are a hundred times more productive, square mile per square mile, compared against the rest of the world’s land area and global GDP.

So no matter what  casus belli Israel’s neighbors contend are the reasons for enmity—whether harking back to be the Sykes-Picot Agreement, the Balfour Declaration, the 1948 UN Partition Plan or anything else—one can be assured that there are 387 billion reasons for hostility. Now, however, concerning states in the region finally making peace with Israel, like the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain along with the half-dozen or more that are on the brink of following suit, there’s an almost equally powerful incentive for living in harmony. Instead of attempting to destroy the Jewish state and acquire its assets, it’s seen finally, thanks in large part to the stupendously successful efforts of the current American administration, that working with Israel in peace is far more certain to create wealth for those nations extending their hands rather than swinging their fists.

Israelis should thank their lucky stars that they resisted the peace-at-any-cost politicos in Israel and their appeasement policies. If the Israelis were still wandering the desert, living hand to mouth as all hunter-gathering humanity did for the first 288,000 years, it’s a surety that peace would long ago have been at hand. Abandoning one’s homeland, throwing hands into the air, and traipsing off into the wilderness with empty pockets is certainly one sure way toward peace, and much the solution proposed by the defeatist crowd for the last decades, now seen for the insane folly that it is and always was.

About the Author
David Nabhan is a science and science fiction writer. He is the author of "Earthquake Prediction: Dawn of the New Seismology" (2017) and three other books on seismic forecasting.
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