Undoubtedly the most discussed topic of 2021, so far, is the ongoing escalation of violence between Palestinians and Israelis. In an eruption of mutual acts of violence, the already highly explosive relationship between the two sides enters another round of hostilities. Interestingly, this event’s tension is also in large part reflected across global media outlets and led to heated information campaigns on social media, as well. Sympathisers of one camp accuse sympathisers of the other with being responsible of the cruelties that the people are experiencing. Especially the pro-Palestinian side is exasperated – not only because of the ongoing acts of violence, but also because of the one-sided media coverage of Western media. Further, there seems to be a general lack of information on the whole conflict, regardless the degree of attachment to the matter. While much of the Muslim and Jewish world broadly knows about the age-old conflict, there is still much ground to be covered to be able to truly speak of a sound understanding, as opposed to having some loosely connected information on the subject matter. In typical Essydo fashion, the aim of this article is not to present an opinion or to make a judgement on the situation, but rather to deliver technical insights and perspectives to the topic, in order for the reader to be better equipped to understand the situation and position herself on the grounds of this informed assessment.
Thinking back to October 28, 2020, Essydo Magazine created a handy guide to understanding political events in only 6 steps (How to Analyse any Political Event in 6 Easy Steps!). Dealing with such a contemporary issue, it is the perfect time to apply this framework, in order to enhance our understanding of this matter. So, without further ado, let us start with the first step.
Step 1: What Happened?
Usually, the question of what happened is most interesting for events that occur for the first time or are highly dissimilar to other events that belong to the same historic development. As an example, we can think about a country that experiences its first coup d’état or civil war. Although there is always a long history that led to this development, possibly stretching back decades or even centuries, the details of the factors and developments that functioned as the immediate triggers are important to know and summarise. In the case of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that recently re-erupted, the details of the current clashes are not too important, as this is a recurring issue. Merely the form, extent and intensity of the violence changes here, compared to the past hostilities between the two sides. The current situation is basically an escalation of ever-building tensions between Israel, which aims to gradually disperse the Palestinian population that lives within what Israel claims to be their rightful borders, and Palestine, which seeks to retain at least partial autonomy about certain regions of the very same territory Israel exclusively views as its own. Within this setting, Palestinians protested against court rulings that ordered the expulsion of some Palestinian families from their homes. Israel responded to these protestors with rubber bullets and tear gas. All this happening within a mosque that holds historic value for Muslims – the Al-Aqsa mosque – led to spiralling violence and both sides bombarding each other. At the time of writing, Israel is intensifying its air raids on the Gaza strip, while Palestine responds from Gaza. Overall, we can summarise the situation by saying that Israel and Palestine are fighting against each other to defend their conflicting territorial claims.
Step 2: What Is My Position?
Now, the Israel-Palestine conflict is not as straightforward and bi-lateral as other ethnic conflicts around the world, since there is a very important religious dimension to this conflict that most other ethnic conflicts lack or is less prominent within those conflicts. There has always been a central element of religious antagonism between the parties. In an attempt to mobilise support for its campaign against Israel, Palestine relied on a strategy that aimed at evoking feelings of Islamic solidarity throughout the Muslim world. What was first a call by Palestinians for Muslim countries to stick together and defend the Palestinian ‘rights’, later developed into antagonism against Judaism, as mass movements tend to lack the ability to differentiate aspects that correlate, but are not causally linked. On the other side, Israel relied on the phenotypical similarities of its people with the Western people, which suggests ethnic and, thus, social closeness. Further, the well-positioned Jewish elites strongly influenced politics to stand for the Israeli cause. In short, the conflict vastly transcends the boundaries of the disputed territory. In very broad terms, we can say that the Western world supports Israel, while the Muslim world supports Palestine. Our position towards the issue is – whether we like it or not – influenced by our own ethnicity and our religious orientation. Accordingly, we have a subconscious bias towards the issue and a broad tendency about whether the territory belongs to the Israelis or Palestinians. Being aware of this tendency is an important aspect of our analysis, as the conclusions drawn will always reflect the subconscious preferences to some degree, but also the range of conclusion that we can draw is heavily dependent on the degree of attentiveness that we have towards our own bias. Reflecting on how much we actually believe that one side is right on this issue helps us to dismantle this very belief. The closer we move towards an indifferent stance towards the question of who is the rightful owner of the land, the more conclusions are there that we can possibly arrive at, at the end of our analysis. Naturally, with increased potential conclusions, the number of potentially effective solutions that build on the conclusions is also increasing. Therefore, people siding with Israel must move away from the thinking that the territory belongs to them on the grounds that Jews lived there thousands of years ago or that their religion designates this territory as the ‘promised land’. Similarly, Palestinians must move away from their absolute claims. This distancing should happen on a temporary basis for the sake of the analysis, as we cannot reasonably expect any side to completely put their national interest aside.
Step 3: Who Are The Actors?
In part, we already touched upon this issue in the previous step. However, we need to look at the involved actors on the ground in greater detail. We can see that there is an asymmetry between the involved parties. The current, as well as previous, escalations show a strong involvement of Palestinian people, compared to Israelis. Certainly, there is the structural aspect that Palestine is not as organised as Israel, due to not being a fully recognised state and, accordingly, lacking statesmanship. Israel on the other hand, has a fully functioning state apparatus with a standing army and established structures. Accordingly, there is little need for Israelis to participate in aggressions against Palestine, as the state can organise these attacks. Palestinians are stuck in an eternal temporary solution, somehow. Their Palestine Libration Army is a comparatively autonomous organisation that is yet still tied to the political leadership of the Palestine Libration Organisation. Another military actor on the Palestinian side is the Hamas with many different sub-groups. Both organisations are ill-equipped and ill-organised, while being dependent on civilians to join them. Many civilians also engage in fighting with the Israeli police and military basically with their bare hands. The military asymmetry can be summarised by saying that the Israeli government fights the Palestinian people, as their public and private efforts cannot clearly be distinguished and the line between centralised and decentralised military action is blurred.
In addition to the involved parties on the ground, there are many state and non-state actors that support one side or the other. Due to a strong Jewish lobby, Western countries have a general tendency to support Israel. This does not happen in the form of open declarations that the disputed territory belongs to Israel, but can rather be seen in the rather favourable presentation of Israel. The narrative usually puts emphasis on Palestinian aggression. All this is rather subtle and mainly follows the logic of agenda-setting rather than outright denouncing Palestine. Muslim countries, in contrast, follow a more aggressive strategy as they are often openly denouncing Israel and even go so far to insult the country, its people and even its state religion. In general, the media campaign against Israel is strongly built on negative emotions that are reinforced by publishing horrific video material that shows violence against the ‘fellow’ Muslims in Palestine, paired with aggressive rhetoric. While the Western tactic leads to greater ignorance towards the conflict, the Muslim tactic paves the way for outright hatred against Israel, which is equated with Judaism, and the West, which is already equated with Islamophobia. Societal rifts are deepened.
Curious about steps 4 to 6? Klick here to continue with part II of the analysis!