In a previous post, I tried to address an important issue: that we need to address our precritical approaches to the conflict. If our line of approach is misguided, we will find it easier to be unhelpful. If we repeat conventional polarized/paralyzed rhetoric about the conflict, we will intensify misunderstanding and contribute to the descending spiral of violence … violence that escalates in nightmarish ways.
People on each side of the conflict tend to see their counterpart as intellectually inferior (using words like “insane” or “irrational”) and morally flawed. Religious people frequently use the Bible to justify this kind of pre-judgment. (In my most recent book, We Make the Road by Walking, I offer a way of reading the Biblical story that undermines prejudice and leads towards peacemaking.) Thus God is brought in to accuse one side and protect the other.
Any conflict that is addressed from such premises has little chance of being resolved.
Is there another alternative – to consider at least – in the pursuit of a resolution that doesn’t involve mass killing?
If we begin with this starting point:
Israel and Palestine are acting more or less sanely if one understands their respective goals.
And if we proceed to ask this question:
In the pursuit of what goals would the actions of both Israel and Palestine make the most sense?
I think we could consider two hypotheses:
Hypothesis 1: Israel is traumatized and determined. The Jewish people have suffered so much oppression at the hands of anti-Semitic Christians and others through the centuries, culminating in the Holocaust, that they are determined to create a lasting homeland where the Jewish people will be safe forever. In order to achieve that goal, they must accomplish two objectives:
A. To continue the occupation long enough so that settlements can continue to spread, thus rendering impossible any hopes of a Palestinian state that has refused to accept their existence.B. To preserve their status – in their own eyes, and in the eyes of their main benefactor, the US – as a morally-superior nation. Doing so requires justifying the occupation and the expansion of settlements, minimizing any errors that are made in doing so, launching campaigns to overcome threats, and maximizing the impression that the Palestinians deserve what they’re getting.
Hypothesis 2. Palestine is desperate and determined. They have lived under varying degrees of occupation, oppression, invasion, surveillance, and un-freedom for decades. They are utterly out-gunned by Israel, and well-funded Israeli lobbies out-spend them in molding public opinion in the US as well. Their prospects for freedom, dignity, and an improvement in their basic life conditions are slim even if they pretend that the taking of their homeland never happened. The international community is likely to tacitly allow their situation to continue to deteriorate.Faced with such bleak prospects, the Hamas party routinely launches rocket attacks. The objective of these attacks is not to “win” in a military conflict. The objective is two-fold:
A. To be sure the world doesn’t simply forget them and normalize their oppression, which tends to occur whenever they are not firing rockets.
B. To tempt Israel to over-react, so that Israel’s moral superiority would then be questioned, thus opening the possibility that world public opinion will shift and their situation may change.
In light of those two hypotheses, the actions of both nations seem to follow a certain kind of logic, rendering each side sane and moral in its own eyes, and insane and immoral in the eyes of the other.
By that logic, every action of each party is paradoxical. On the one hand, the rockets fired from Gaza help Hamas be sure that the Palestinian occupation won’t be normalized and their suffering forgotten. But those same rockets help Israelis defend the occupation, justify the expansion of settlements, and demonstrate the moral inferiority of their opponents.
Similarly, the killing of civilians by the Israeli military can be used by Israelis to display the moral inferiority of those who use their wives and children as human shields, while helping the Gazans by demonstrating Palestinian victimhood and undermining the claim of Israeli moral superiority.
Where will this lead? Nowhere good, I would say, unless and until some other logic – the creative logic of nonviolent peacemaking and conflict transformation – enters the equation.
That is why those of us outside the region should defect from the predictable, conventional logic and rhetoric that sustain the status quo of violence, hostility, and death and seek another approach … a higher logic of shalom/salaam/peace and justice, which a Palestinian Jewish teacher named Jesus called “the reign of God.” Seek it first, he said, and everything else will fall into place. (Part 3 will follow in a day or two.)