Israel-Palestine Conflict Deconstructed and Defused (in 1500 words or less)

17 Mar

One doesn’t need to be a graduate of the Fletcher School of International Affairs to know that relations between Israel and the Palestinians are screwed.  While American attention is now focused mainly on Iraq, Iran, and Afghanistan, a series of articles in this past weeks’ Boston Globe caught The Hangover’s ire.  Israel and the Palestinians are at it again.  Of course, that line could have been written just about every day since 1947.

The Headlines:

Monday, March 10:  “Shooting Leaves Holy City On Edge” (Matti Friedman, AP)

A Palestinian gunman shot and killed eight Jews in a Seminary library.  Jerusalem Palestinians and Jews were set “on edge” as further violence and a tennis match of reprisals seemed possible.

Monday, March 10:  “Israel to Allow Contractors to Build in Disputed Areas” (Mark Lavie, AP)

Israel gave the go-ahead for 1000 homes and apartments to be built in disputed areas of East Jerusalem and the West Bank.  Considering the tenuous (absent?) nature of peace in the region, one wonders if Donald Rumsfeld hasn’t found work consulting for the Israeli government. 

Tuesday, March 11: “Israel Orders Military To Reduce Operations In Gaza” (Aron Heller, AP)

This would seem to be a wise, logical decision, as quelling the violence that has surfaced over the last few weeks would be a relief to those who actually live there.  But then Heller states:

“Hamas said it was encouraged by the relative lull, citing it as evidence that attacks on Israel were paying off.”

“Israel, concerned that calm could enable the militants to claim victory and rearm, said it reserves the right to strike at will.”

Oh yeah, that sounds like a solid foundation for peace talks. Both sides are more concerned with the perceptions of their opponents than with the actual results–fewer of their people getting killed.

Wednesday, March 12:  “Rocket Attack Breaks Lull in Palesinian-Israeli Conflict”(Isabel Kershner and Taghreed El-Khodary, New York Times News Service)

Palestinian rebels fired a rocket into the city of Ashkelon.  A militant group, Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine claimed responsibility for the attac.  Israel blamed Hamas.

Thursday, March 13: “Hamas seeks period of ‘calm'”(Ibrahim Barzak, AP), “Israeli Forces kill 4 millitants” (Isabel Kershner and Taghreed El-Khodary, NYTNS)

Hamas PM Ismail Haniyeh appealed for a period of mutual calm, urging Israel to halt military operations on the West Bank.  Shortly thereafter, Israeli soldiers killed four Palestiniam militants in Bethlehem.  So much for that cease-fire.

Friday, March 14:  “Gaza rockets barrage Israel after deaths:  Attacks follow W. Bank raid by Israeli forces.” (Amy Teibel, AP)

No explanation needed.

Here they go again.  Despite a small period of relative calm between Israel, Jordan, Syria, and Palestinians both inside and outside of Israel’s borders, hostilities have resumed.  This should surprise no one, simply because the conditions that give rise to the violence remain unchanged.

Some key factors that lead to conflict:

  • Israel now occupies land on the West Bank of the Gaza strip and in East Jerusalem.  These lands were acquired by Israel in the Six Day 1967 War with Jordan and Egypt.  Palestinians everywhere view the lands as being Palestinian.  Israel views them as the spoils of war–Israeli land. 
  • There are eons of hatred between the groups based on religion and disputed ownership of land.
  •  Palestinians living in Israeli-occupied land are not considered Israeli citizens.
  • Both sides consider the other to be terrorists.
  • The Palestinian state that was mandated in the 1947 Partition Plan has yet to exist.  Note that neither Palestinian or Israeli factions were pleased with the 1947 agreement.

Although it is not our usual style, The Hangover is going to go academic here.  There are both historical and sociological  perspectives that indicate violent conflict will continue until Israel changes its regional philosophy and adjusts current policy.

The Sociological Perspective:

Relative Deprivation can be used to explain the existence of conditions that can lead to social conflict.  Sociologist Jock Young concisely explains :

“Relative Deprivation occurs where individuals or groups subjectively perceive themselves as unfairly disadvantaged over others perceived as having similar attributes and deserving similar rewards (their reference groups).” 

The feelings of deprivation can be economically, socially, or politically based.  When the deprivation reaches a certain level, frustration results, which in turn, if the conditions are strong enough, can result in aggression.   This Deprivation-Frustration-Aggression model can be applied in an obvious “paint-by-numbers” approach to Israeli-Palestinian relations.

Palestinians view Israelis as their reference group.  Comparisons with their Israeli peers reveal the following points of deprivation.

  • The Palestinians feel they rightfully own lands now occupied by Israel.
  • Palestinians living in Israel do not share the same rights as Israeli citizens.
  • Israel exists, the Palestinian state does not. 

Frustration arises when the sense of deprivation is prolonged and heightened.

  • Sixty years and still no Palestinian homeland.
  • Palestinians denied access to former homelands and important religious sites.
  • Palestinians in Israel remain less-than-citizens and terror suspects.
  • Aggressive actions by Israel against Palestinian militant groups often injures Palestinian civilians.

  Aggression results in violent social conflict:

  • Palestinian militant organizations strike Israel using modern guerrilla tactics.  (Israeli response is also viewed as terrorism by Palestinians.)
  • The first “punch” was thrown so long ago, it doesn’t matter who struck first, only who struck last.
  • Militant group acts, Israel reacts. Or Israel acts, Militant group reacts.  Rinse, lather, repeat.  Rockets. Tanks. Ruination.

The Historical Perspective:

Occupied land never works.  Over time, the natural population will eventually contend for self-determination, equal rights, or access to the political process.  When those are continually denied, unrest follows.  That is, unless an “occupier” can decimate the native population (as the Europeans did in North America).  However, devastation of that level requires a technological advantage, as well as the will to accomplish it.

The cases showing failure of occupied land are many.  The first that comes to mind is Ireland.  After centuries of simmering and often violent conflict, the English relinquished the south of Ireland in 1922.  It is only recently that hostilities were quelled in the North by allowing Catholics access to the Protestant-English dominated political process.  Through those actions, the sense of Catholic deprivation (and frustration) that fueled the conflict was greatly minimized.

The age of empire is over for a reason:  An inability to govern occupied land.  India is no longer English.  The French long ago left Viet Nam.  South Africa is governed by native South Africans.   It doesn’t matter if the empire is halfway across the planet or across the street.  Unrest will follow. 

Israel and the Palestinians have shown they each have the will to persevere, but neither has the means to end the conflict.

The Solution:

Israel must eliminate the conditions triggering the collective deprivation-frustration-aggression construct that exists for Palestinians, which results in civilians of both sides being blown to bits on a regular basis.  If these conditions are not eradicated, violence will continue.  History in the Middle East (and everywhere else on the planet) proves that.

Israel should be a leading proponent for the formation of the mandated Palestinian state.  This would remove a major trigger of Palestinian deprivation-frustration.  It would also give the Israelis a focal point for communication and negotiation.  Instead of having to deal with a variety of militant organizations, Jordan, Syria, and Lebanon, Israel would have the opportunity to let Palestine be responsible for the actions of Palestinians.  Secondly, Israel should be prepared and willing to give back land they have occupied since 1967.  Mark Lavie of the AP indicates that there are “some Palestinians” who would consider swapping those settled and developed lands for other blocks of Israeli territory.  This seems specious, but at least a point for discussion.  It would be a break (if not a miracle) for everyone involved if logic and reason became operative aspects of the peace effort. 

A nation-state’s first concern should be the security of its people.  If Israel does not make concessions to eliminate the conditions fueling collective violence in the region, they can expect to continue their existence under siege.  That’s what history and social conflict theory make perfectly clear. 

Israel has the will to defend itself in perpetuity.  But why would they want to have to?  As the English relinquished Ireland, Israel should release disputed occupied land (or a negotiated equivalent) to a Palestinian state.  In what the Palestinians will claim as a victory, Israelis will reap tangible benefits.  They will have a chance for peace.  To forsake a significant change in their regional policy will doom Israelis to carry the threat of a ticking bomb in their collective consciousness, as well as in their communities.   There are better ways to live. 

6 Responses to “Israel-Palestine Conflict Deconstructed and Defused (in 1500 words or less)”

  1. Edmund March 17, 2008 at 7:40 pm #

    The one glaring mistake that was made here and tends to be made elsewhere is the assumption of ill-will that goes back for “eons” or “thousands of years”. The current conflict between ashkenazi jews and ethnic palestinian arabs (arabs can be of any religion) is due to the Zionist movement that began in the late 1800’s. Prior to the 1930’s Arab Jews, Arab Muslims and Arab Christians lived in relative peace. The conflict truly started during the mass immigration of European Jews (who embraced Zionism) to the region. On one side you had people who were living under ottoman rule (later became british rule) and foreigners.

  2. aaron, of course March 17, 2008 at 8:52 pm #

    I love the arguments of ‘All Israel has to do is cede land/give up rights/stop defending itself/ etc. and everything will be alright.’ Like peace will magically appear in the region. To me it’s the same argument as ‘Well, if she hadn’t worn such a provocative dress she wouldn’t have been raped.’ What’s causing Arab aggression towards Israel is NOT what Israel does or doesn’t do, but rather that Israel exists. Right now, strength, power and their willingness to wield it, are Israel’s ONLY chance for survival. Israel is BY FAR the most dominant military power in the region (other than US forces there now) and could end this and all conflicts if it chose to, as evidenced by the Six Days War. The Six Days War was a stunning and complete victory for Israel. It was precipitated by an unprovoked attack by well coordinated Arab forces of several countries, and was an attempt by those countries to literally WIPE ISREAL OFF THE MAP. Israel repelled the would be invaders and claimed lands as a buffer zone between themselves and their enemies.

    As I see it the issue is fairly clear. Israel has shown great restraint in it’s defense of itself, and has a realistic view of the situation it’s faced with. However, the enemies of Israel will not be dissuaded from their stated goal of complete destruction of Israel. Israel is rebuked every time they make a concession in the name of Peace.

    The issue of Israel in the Middle East is used as a tool by leaders of Arab countries in the region as another way to control the minds, hearts and passions of the people who serve them. They offer no aid to their Arab ‘brothers’ and actively promote the conflict by supplying arms, bounty, and training.

    Israel is not an ‘occupier.’ Israel belongs to the Israelis. Israeli citizenship for Palestinians? Great idea. Would the Palestinians want it? I dunno. I’d be willing to venture that a lot of Israelis and Pals could live under such an arrangement. However, only a small faction could kill it, so to speak. Problem is, that faction exists and is alive and well.

    In short, there’s nothing Israel can DO, unless you count ‘Ceasing to exist’ among the possibilities.

  3. Edmund March 17, 2008 at 10:06 pm #

    Typical comments of a colonialist.

  4. aaron, of course March 18, 2008 at 2:39 pm #

    That was a well thought out response. Keep ’em coming!

    BTW, I’m not a ‘colonialist’ (what the hell is that, anyway?!?) but rather a gemini.

    Maybe the ‘colonialists’ are right, then…

  5. jnick December 28, 2008 at 7:43 pm #

    Truman ran a haberdachery with a jewish partner, before the six days war. When the Israeli ambassador asked for US backing of an autonomous israeli state that same man was present, and I believe had some influence on the decision. All Palestenian attacks began directly after the US announced its backing of Israel.
    I mention this not to side with either of you but to simply point out that there is never any mention of this element, the united states is simply left out-go figure. All I have to add is this: – many elements are unknown to us and if we want to use a logical method for resolution(key word again RESOLUTION) everyone has to admit that they dont know shit. Your egos are keeping you from making any headway- would you rather be right or make a difference? The former Im sure, so squabble away my friends, your genius shines and shines without end but it doesn’t do any fucking good.


  1. Israeli Offensive Paves Road to Peace « The Hangover - January 7, 2009

    […] a March 2008 post, The Hangover deconstructed Israeli-Palestinian violence in sociological terms.  Conflict theory and historical perspectives were applied to understand […]

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