Looking with genuine care at the source and nature of conflict in Palestine
This is a long essay. Of course it is. Half the problem ever is people trying to make assertions and mic-drop condemnations or justifications without any of the complexity and nuance, of which an enormous amount of both are highly relevant. The amount of complexity and nuance is significant and almost overwhelming, but it is not exactly infinite or undefinable either. The simple disclaimer is that you have no right to form a meaningful opinion until you know more, and you cannot know more until you process some of the context.
This essay is a good-faith attempt to explain why the conflict in the Middle East, particularly between Palestine and Israel exists in the first place, and further, to shed some light into a situation that has always been sensitive and highly politically charged, particularly since the 7 October 2023 Hamas attack on Israel. The analysis delves deeply into the complexities that underline conflicts, not just between Israelis and Palestinians but in any scenario where deeply ingrained beliefs, historical narratives, and ethical frameworks collide. It highlights the pitfalls of seeking easy answers in situations that are fraught with nuance and weighed down by generations of experience and interpretation. It attempts to explain how psychological and spiritual beliefs feed into broader political and social issues—a complex interplay of factors that complicates efforts to resolve conflicts but is crucial for anyone looking to grasp the full scope of why these issues are so intractable.
The essay includes a call to take responsibility for the media and online environment we engage with, which is both timely and crucial. If we do not seek to understand and deconstruct our own biases and the complex realities behind sensational headlines, we end up with a media landscape that caters to our worst instincts, perpetuating division and misunderstanding.
The intention of this essay is to encourage anyone who really sits with the implications of what is being illuminated, towards the wisdom and generosity of not being so quick to arrive at fixed opinions on what we encounter in the world, especially in the news media. It is okay to not know, to sit with the discomfort of paradox, because, if we are ever to evolve as a species, we need to first evolve as a society and we need to understand that conflict cannot be resolved through one side being right, but by finding third a transcendent perspective through which everything can be held and ultimately reconciled. Our willingness and readiness to do this, is the only way forward, in all theatres of conflict—emotional, political or otherwise. If we cannot sit with the internal conflict of feeling torn, and having understanding and compassion for both sides, even ones we do not immediately resonate with relate to, how can we ever hope to really move forward? I am not suggesting we can sit on the fence forever or hug things out, but the mode of petulant bickering and sanctimony creates more noise. There is not one single example in the whole sphere of social media debate that can point to resolving a problem or moving the needle of our opponent so much one Planck-length by how cutting and decisive our sarcasm or sanctimonious ridicule of someone else’s poverty of morals or wit is.
The first thing we have to do is be critically aware of news media and social media’s distorting and amplifying effect on news. It is the very nature of social media and news media to sensationalise headlines and footage, to polarise audiences and to capture everyone’s attention via outrage and endless trading of outrage, insult and opinion, some of which is understandable, most of which is misguided or misinformed.
Understanding trauma-based psychological manipulation by media/influencers is no longer a luxury for the spiritual few. It is an essential survival skill for every modern human. All the usual suspects on Twitter / social media are professional agitators who have made a business model from being complicit in this paradigm of co-opting human attention for personal gain. One does not have to be inclined towards conspiracy theory to appreciate that if there are forces who seek to control humanity for their own agenda, be that corporate, ideological or other, they are best served when humans are preoccupied with conflict, vigilance and mistrust of each other. This is the foundation of trauma-based mind control. After COVID, an atmosphere of challenging the status quo and questioning authority emerged. For any actor with the kind of agenda whose interests are not best served by this climate of questioning and challenge, it would be essential to amplify any incident and cast it in the light of moral crisis and outrage. If people are traumatised they are controllable.
That being said, it bears confirming that any form of political or religious ideology that subscribes to or condones the attacking of civilians, be that a Western nation committing drone strikes or Hamas beheading children, is equally antithetical to the kind of evolution of reasoning and practice of constraint that is conducive to the survival or flourishing of our species, and I am against it. No one is innocent in this conflict, but that cannot mean that human rights violations and war crimes are okay.
Furthermore, anyone who is celebrating the harm done to innocents on either side of the conflict, of which both tragically exist in Palestine and Israel today, is unwell and unfit to collaborate with meaningfully in the effort to engineer a better future for the human race. Anyone proudly indifferent to the suffering of other humans is someone who is not yet ready to participate meaningfully in society as an adult.
If you care about understanding what is happening and why, take the time to read this essay. None of this is simple. Life and human history is not simple. It takes context and nuance to properly understand. If something like World War 3 is likely to happen, the Middle East is where the flashpoint will be and this conflict is at the heart of why it is likely to escalate. None of this is going away, so we might as well take the energy and attention to understand the era we were born in and upon which the fate of our generation is likely to turn.
The Known Risks.
I am well aware of the risks of even attempting this, regardless of my intentions.
When we have been deeply aggrieved, listening to someone else trying to present a balanced perspective can feel like an insensitive act that diminishes our suffering driven by idealism and ignorance. Mentioning how media amplifies the issue can make it sound as if the reality is less grave than it is.
My only answer is that if there is a chance of peace and reconciliation, it can only ever look and sound something like this. There are no right or only ways, but there are better and worse ways. The other ways are worse and lead to more injury, more suffering and more trauma. At some point, we are going to have to find the courage to hold our own shit and try to listen. It is much easier to try and understand someone else than it is to try and be understood, and at the moment we are leaving the ones trying to be understood doing all the work.
The Golden Rule and How to Apply it.
I am not a political analyst nor a flawless human with perfect understanding and wisdom. Such people do not exist alive today. We are all flawed in our judgement and our reasoning because none of us sits with all the relevant context, added to which we are all biased in one way or another.
“We’re generally overconfident in our opinions and our impressions and judgments. We often are more confident than we should be. Not only are we blind to the obvious, but we are blind to our blindness.”Daniel Kahneman
To understand and hopefully avoid the often-missed caveat of this exercise, we need to understand something about Cognitive Bias and Logical Fallacy.
- Cognitive Bias refers to a systematic error in thinking that affects judgment and decision-making. It is a deviation from rationality, where one person’s subjective reality can influence their perception of facts and data.
- Logical Fallacy refers to an error in reasoning that weakens the firmness of an argument. It may appear to be a valid argument but lacks logical support upon closer inspection.
- Dunning-Kruger Effect refers to a particular cognitive bias where individuals with low competence overestimate their ability, while those with high competence may underestimate their ability.
The irony that would be amusing if the consequences were not so dire, is that to paraphrase Daniel Kahneman, not only are we unaware of the inadequacy of our understanding, but we are unaware of why it should matter and why it is so obviously the root cause of all political disagreement and irreconcilable differences, wherever they occur.
Critical thinking is as much a discipline as it is a skill.
Discernment is as much an ability as it is a practice.
In this spirit of that discipline and that practice, the wisest course of action available to every human being is to begin by asking simply:
“What would I want?”
One of the net positive things our era of social justice has taught us is that trauma is not objective—No one else gets to define the validity of our injury or the veracity of our experience. Furthermore, it is entirely possible for two sides in a conflict to both be guilty of separate and irreconcilable transgressions that do not justify either nor balance each other out.
Disclaimer and Definitions
Again, I am not a political analyst nor a flawless human with perfect understanding and wisdom. The following however is my attempt to arm myself with better understanding and to sit, without the hubris of narrow moral judgement, one way or the other, with the question: “What would I want, if that was my reality?”
That said, the following might be technically imprecise, or ignorant of some aspect of sensitivity of which I am unaware, but the picture it creates is faithful to history and my effort is faithful to the spirit of mature discernment of complexity that I am trying to advocate for. Apologies in advance for anything that is missed. I acknowledge sensitivity, grievance and wounding on all sides, the causes and implications of which, I am not an expert, and the first-hand experiences of which I am by definition, inevitably ignorant.
Definitions of Words
Since I am including words like Deicide, Intifada, Diaspora, Pogrom and Zionism here are some basic definitions to provide context:
- A Diaspora describes the scattering or migration of any people away from their original homeland.
- The term Intifada is Arabic for “shaking off” or “uprising.” It commonly refers to a series of Palestinian uprisings against Israeli occupation.
- A Pogrom is a violent attack against a specific ethnic, racial, or religious group, often accompanied by the destruction of their homes, businesses, and religious centres.
- Zionism is a political and ideological movement aimed at establishing and later preserving a Jewish homeland in Palestine, predicated on the premise of this being their ancestral homeland.
At the root of all of this, is a conflict both political and religious in nature, with atrocities and grievances on both sides and justification and cause on both sides, almost none of which is symmetrical. It is riddled with complexity, and interwoven with history, faith, politics and the very human drive for existential survival.
To make the following digestible, I attempt to separate and table to the best of my understanding, both positions and contexts. I provide the historical and political context from both sides and separately the context that goes beyond politics, touching on faith and the psychological implications this has on the human psyche.
The Jewish/Israeli Context
The following is a summary of the historical and political context which informs the Jewish/Israeli position. The way that I have arranged the periods is my own way, but also not completely arbitrary either.
The earliest known reference to “Israel” as a people or tribal confederation is in the Merneptah Stele, an inscription from ancient Egypt that dates to about 1208 BCE, but the people group may be older.
- The Bible, while not something we can functionally consider to be historically accurate, gives an account of the Jews having to establish their state, or promised land through conquest, after their exodus from Egypt and their sojourn in the desert, the specifics of which are the subject of academic contention and scholarly debate.
- According to the Hebrew Bible, a United Monarchy (Israel and Judah) consisted as early as the 11th Century BCE, but historians and archaeologists agree that Israel and Judah existed as separate kingdoms by circa 900 BCE and circa 850 BCE respectively.
- The Kingdom of Israel was destroyed circa 720 BCE when it was conquered by the Neo-Assyrian Empire while the Kingdom of Judah remained intact at the time by becoming a client kingdom of the Neo-Assyrian Empire and later the Neo-Babylonians. This status lasted until 586 BCE when Judah revolted against the Babylonians leading it its destruction and the exile of the Jews to Babylon and marked in the Jewish mythos as the fall of the First Temple of Solomon.
- Later when Babylon fell to the Achaemenid Persian Empire around 538 BCE, the Persian king Cyrus the Great issued a proclamation that authorised and encouraged Jews to return to Judah which marks the next key landmark in the Jewish Mythos as the establishment of the ‘Second Temple.
- Around 2,000 years ago, Jews were again displaced by militant Roman occupation and rule which was completely anathema to their core spiritual beliefs insofar as the Roman style of empire was based on the deification of the Roman emperor. While the Romans were religiously tolerant to a point in this era, the entire ethos of their rule was predicated on a cultural foundation of the Emperor and supplication to that throne came before any otherworldly loyalty. The Jews never accepted Roman rule in the same way that other occupied kingdoms and territories did because their entire spiritual history and identity were predicated on the idea of being a chosen people, who were granted a chosen land. This culminated in ongoing revolts to which the Romans responded through military heavy-handedness and the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 CE.
Between the Diaspora and WW2
A diaspora followed the destruction of the Second Temple, in which Jewish communities formed in areas like modern-day Iraq, Yemen and also in Europe: Central Eastern Europe (Ashkenazi Jews), Portugal and Spain (Sephardi Jews) and many other places besides.
- In the transition between the 19th and 20th centuries, the beginnings of a Zionist movement began, advocating for a Jewish homeland, driven by the fact that Jews had suffered appalling, systemic and sustained discrimination and brutal pogroms and other forms of economic, class and physical persecutions over many hundreds of years. Jews in most respects integrated well into their communities, but during times of economic difficulty, there were several reasons that became focal points and justification for dehumanisation and scapegoating. Among the most incendiary were:
- Ranging from classic xenophobia, accusations of Deicide (Jews were historically accused of being responsible for the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, an accusation that led to hostilities), and other aspects of religious intolerance in staunch Catholic and later Protestant communities in Europe.
- This was exacerbated by how religious laws in medieval Europe often prohibited Christians from lending money with interest. Jews, not being bound by these laws, we free to fill this role, which they frequently did, but which led to negative perceptions and resentment.
- In 1917 the British government issued the Balfour Declaration, expressing British support for the establishment of a “national home for the Jewish people” in Palestine.
- This began the first significant movement of Jewish peoples back to Palestine, which at this time was part of the Ottoman Empire and soon to be under British administration, as a result of what was happening in the region in question during the First World War. Palestine, in the interceding 2,000 years had been dominated and occupied by Arab Muslim communities, and so the return to what Jews perceived as their promised land, was a place occupied by people who had their own legitimate claim to it through conquest, heritage and legacy.
- Post-WWI, Britain established the League of Nations-approved “Mandate for Palestine” to transition the former Ottoman territory into a state. The mandate was contentious for both Arab and Jewish communities in Palestine. Arabs opposed the displacement caused by Jewish immigration and land purchases, while Jews were unhappy with British administrative limitations.
- Despite the Balfour Declaration’s caution to not prejudice non-Jewish communities, British policy effectively prioritized the establishment of a Jewish national home, often sidelining Arab concerns. Tensions between Jewish and Arab communities in Palestine escalated into civil conflict during the late 1930s, most notably in the Arab Revolt of 1936-1939. The revolt was fueled by Arab discontent over Jewish immigration, British administration, and land dispossession, during which both sides, Jews and Arabs targeted the British in terrorist attacks.
- WW2 saw the persecution of Jews in Europe escalate to an unprecedented level, culminating in the death of over 6 Million European Jews which is collectively referred to as The Holocaust. This absolutely demonstrated to the world the extremity of the existential risk the Jews faced, providing all the sentiment the international community responded with by justifying the need and right for a Jewish homeland.
- During and after WW2, large numbers of Jews immigrated to Palestine. In 1947 The United Nations adopted a resolution recommending the partition of Palestine into separate Jewish and Arab states, which Jewish leaders support and Arab leaders reject.
From WW2 to the Present Day.
In 1948, the State of Israel was declared, followed by a decisive Israeli military campaign that gained extensive territory previously under Arab control, leading to the displacement of many Arab residents. While the State of Israel received broad recognition from a Western-centric international community, the adjacent Palestinian, Arab, and Muslim-centric international communities found themselves marginalized in these global discussions. This marginalization was not explicitly acknowledged, but it effectively limited their voice and influence, calling into question the notion of equal standing at the international table.
From this point on the story bleeds out of history and into modern geopolitical news:
- 1948 Arab-Israeli War (1948–1949): Also known as the War of Independence in Israel, this conflict began immediately after the State of Israel was declared on May 14, 1948. Various Arab states invaded Israel, but Israel managed to survive and even expand its territory.
- Suez Crisis (1956): Israel invaded Egypt in late 1956, in collusion with Britain and France, aiming to regain Western control of the Suez Canal and remove Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser.
- Six-Day War (1967): Israel is preemptively attacked by three of its neighbours, Egypt, Syria, and Jordan. Israel decisively defeated the three Arab armies, gained territory four times its original size, and became the preeminent military power in the region. To the Israelis, this served as proof that they were justified in their militaristic stance towards their neighbours, and to their Arab neighbours, it provided a lingering insult that they do not forget.
- What followed between 1967 and 2006 were various wars and conflicts fought between Israel and its neighbours, including two Palestinian uprisings referred to as the First and Second Intifada. Related, but not the same were conflicts and wars fought between Israel and non-nation political and military entities which operated out of neighbouring countries or who were supported by neighbouring Arab countries. These were organisations that the Israelis and anyone sympathetic to them would classify as terrorist organisations, and the other side would invariably perceive more sympathetically as underdogs forced to resort to radical but justifiable measures as would-be Liberators.
- Most recent in this chain of events, is the October 2023 Hamas attacks on Israel. What occurred was a series of coordinated attacks, conducted by the Palestinian Islamist militant group Hamas, from the Gaza Strip onto bordering areas in Israel. The attacks began on Saturday 7 October 2023, a Sabbath day and date of several Jewish holidays and resulted in the death of 1,033 civilians.
Putting One’s Self in Their Shoes. Part 1:
Remembering that the idea is that no human being arrives at their mistrusts dishonestly and that the intention is to consider each side’s subjective perspective, this is what I might feel if I stood in their shoes:
- Historical Claim to Land: Israel’s modern foundation is often framed within the context of a historical connection to the land that dates back thousands of years, as described in their religious and historical texts.
- Historical and Religious Primacy: Jewish people have a historical and religious claim which predates any other contending historical claim.
- Legal Claim: The establishment of Israel was initially approved by the United Nations in 1947, and arguably provides support to a claim of international legitimacy. The pro-Israeli argument further states that their contested territories are “disputed” rather than “occupied”, which provides precedented legal grounds for sustaining their position pending a formal resolution.
- Existential Threat: Given a history marked by persecution, including the Holocaust, it is completely rational to want a refuge for the Jewish people.
- National Security Concerns: Ongoing hostility and attacks from various neighbouring countries and non-state actors like Hamas support the notion that control of territories is strategically vital.
- Uneven Standards: A key aspect that has shaped the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is the use of suicide bombings and other forms of attacks by Palestinian militants, often targeting Israeli civilians. Israelis feel obliged to reprise these attacks and argue that they are held to different standards of engagement and to a different level of scrutiny and criticism by the international community. Palestinian tactics are known to include the use of human shields, and using their own civilians to deter Israelis from returning fire.
- Peace Efforts: The pro-Israeli argument is that Israel has made genuine efforts to achieve peace and withdraw from occupied territories, pointing to examples like the withdrawal from Sinai as part of the peace agreement with Egypt, and the unilateral withdrawal from Gaza in 2005.
- Reciprocity and Mutual Recognition: It would be perfectly reasonable to expect that peace should come with mutual recognition and secure guarantees, which groups like Hamas and previously the Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO) had explicitly refused to concede. It is part of Hamas’s formal policy to deny Israel’s right to exist.
Here is the question then. If I felt my claim to a homeland was as good or better than the next person’s, if I felt I was surrounded by hostile and intolerant neighbours on all sides if I felt that there were militant terrorist organisations arrayed against me and my people who denied my right to exist, if I had a history of persecution and genocide what would I want?
If I believed all of this to be true, and that my people were in constant threat of attack and annihilation, would I be able to be as meek and restrained and compliant as my critics would want me to be?
If you cannot answer those two questions on their own merits you cannot play the Critical Thinking game.
But then again, this has been only half the story.
The Arab/Muslim/Palestinian Context
In the interceding years between the diaspora and the first waves of early Zionism in 1917, the area then called Palestine had been the stage on which centuries of history, between dozens of cultures and empires had played out.
- Palestinians trace their ancestry to various groups, including the Canaanites, Philistines, and other Semitic people who have lived in the land for thousands of years and were arguably displaced or dispossessed by the Jews or Israelites.
- Roman and later Byzantine rule had continued for more than 500 years until around 636 CE which was disrupted by the advent of Islam and the conquest of the Middle East, which included Jerusalem.
- What followed was rule by various Islamic dynasties which controlled the region until 1099 CE which is when a coalition of Christian Kings in Europe conquered Jerusalem as the high point of what historians call the Crusader Period. During and subsequent to this era, much of the handling of Arabs and Muslims by Christians created an air of mistrust and grievance that never really went away.
- During subsequent conquests of Jerusalem, the area was first taken by Saladin in 1187 and passed later to other Islamic dynastic empires.
- From 1516 until World War I, Palestine was part of the Ottoman Empire.
- The British victory over the Ottoman Turks was facilitated by the Arab Revolt of 1916–1918, which was encouraged by British promises of Arab independence, including in Palestine. Upon defeating the Ottoman forces, Britain took control of Palestine. This transfer of power occurred without consultation with the inhabitants of Palestine, whether they were Jewish, Christian, or Muslim.
- After being occupied and roughly handled by whatever empire was in control, on and off over centuries, Jews began migrating to Palestine between the 1920s and 1930s causing concern and deep resentment among the Arab population, which were wholly ignored by Britain and the International community.
- In 1947, the United Nations proposed to partition Palestine into Jewish and Arab states. The plan was accepted by Jewish leaders but rejected by Arab leaders.
- In a bid for their own sovereignty and liberation, Arabs fomented several wars and uprisings of which the net effect was the displacement of approximately 700,000 Palestinians, which landed a wound to the Arab, Muslim and Palestinian psyche remembered as the Nakba (“catastrophe”).
- In the periphery of this theatre of culture and political interest, various overt and covert interventions including sponsored coups, and outright war were played out in the neighbouring Arab and other Muslim countries. Much of this happened in the context of an indirect and extended theatre of the Cold War between America and the Soviet Union.
- Israel although copping some criticism internationally, nevertheless continued to carry the favour and support of the international community. Settlement expansion by Israelis in the West Bank, regarded as illegal under international law and a major barrier to the peace process by Palestinians, nevertheless continued to happen.
- During the period that began with the September 11 attacks on America, and dragged out between wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, anything which Palestinians would perceive as dehumanising or human rights violations from Israel, and any international support that Palestinians could have expected became a casualty of the over-simplification of a “Jihadism vs Democracy” dichotomy which played out in the media.
- Since 2007, Israel has imposed a blockade on the Gaza Strip, including stringent security measures at checkpoints, thorough and often intrusive searches, as well as lengthy interrogations, seen as dehumanizing by the Palestinian populace.
- Subsequent wars in Gaza have resulted in high civilian casualties and are viewed by Palestinians as a disproportionate use of force.
Putting One’s Self in Their Shoes. Part 2:
- Historical Claim to Land: The Arab inhabitants of Palestine can trace their ancestry back for centuries if not millennia. Many of them are the descendants of various groups, including Canaanites, Philistines, and other Semitic peoples, who lived on this land long before the establishment of modern Israel.
- Existential Identity: Palestinians have forged a distinct identity over centuries, linked not just to their Islamic faith but also to the soil they have farmed and the communities they have built.
- Colonial Injustices: The carving up of the Middle East by successive Imperial and colonial powers, without consultation of local populations, has sown seeds of resentment. The Balfour Declaration and the British Mandate over Palestine were seen as acts that dispossessed Palestinians of their land.
- Displacement: The Nakba, or catastrophe, of 1948 resulted in the displacement of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians from their homes, a wound that has not healed and is passed from generation to generation.
- National Security Concerns: From a Palestinian perspective, Israeli occupation and settlement expansion in the West Bank compromise not only their territorial integrity but also their security and autonomy.
- Uneven Power: Palestinians naturally feel that Israel’s military capability and actions, make them the underdog in an uneven fight, to which further insult is added in that heavy-handed response from Israel draws less global condemnation than acts of resistance from Palestinian groups.
- Humanitarian Crisis and International Human Rights Violations: The blockade on Gaza, considered by many as a collective punishment, has led to dire living conditions, severely affecting the mental and physical well-being of residents. Collective punishment, that is punishing an entire population for the acts of a few terrorists, is considered a violation of human rights.
- Right to Resistance: Under international law, people under occupation have the right to resist. Some Palestinians argue that their actions, however desperate, are a form of legitimate resistance against an occupying power.
- In Quest of Sovereignty: Many Palestinians feel that their quest for an independent and viable state is ignored or sidelined, particularly by those who could make a difference in international fora.
If I felt that my ancestral land was being occupied, that my people were subjected to daily humiliations under a harsh regime, that the world turned a blind eye to my plight, and that my very existence was being denied, what would I want?
If I believed all of this to be true, and that my people were under existential threat, would I not also resort to whatever means were at my disposal to secure my rights and dignity?
If you cannot answer these two questions on their own merits, you cannot play the Critical Thinking game.
Beyond Politics – The Psychological Weight of Mythos and Faith
Of course, politics is just human beings playing with power and status under the pretext of law and process. Underneath all of that is the human psyche, where wounds land and the scars endure.
The themes that motivate and inform the Israeli/Jewish psyche.
- Their initial and persistent innate cultural and spiritual belief in their identity as a ‘chosen people’, owed a ‘promised land’.
- Their later persistent and arguably understandable psychological belief in their identity as persecuted people who have the right to existence.
- The ebb and flow of diaspora and return, driven by the pendulum swing between persecution or displacement and reemergence and re-establishment as ordained by their covenant with God.
- Covenantal Relationship: The concept of a unique covenant with God extends beyond land and chosen status to include laws, ethics, and rituals. This covenantal relationship outlines obligations and expectations and has an enduring effect on Jewish identity and worldview.
- The Jewish faith implies a Messianic Expectation. Although interpretations vary, the belief in a future Messiah who will usher in an era of peace and divine rule, on the back of martial liberation is a part of Jewish eschatology, providing a sense of hope and future redemption.
For these reasons, the Israelis, their allies and sympathisers and Jewish people all over the world, see themselves in the continuation of the narrative which runs through their bible, and later history, as uniquely persecuted and maligned, surrounded by enemies, and deserving of the right to arm themselves, defend themselves and prioritise the rights and needs of their own.
Their perspective emphasises a narrative that moves from persecution to survival and success, insisting on the legitimacy of Israel as a Jewish state while grappling with complex ethical and geopolitical realities.
Putting One’s Self in Their Shoes. Part 3:
If I believed in the concept of a ‘chosen people’ and a ‘promised land,’ then every decision related to the territory of Israel might resonate as a fulfilment of a divine plan, not just a political act. The very land would hold a sacred, non-negotiable value for me.
If I felt the weight of historical persecution on my psyche, from anti-semitism to pogroms, to the Holocaust, then the necessity for a safe homeland would seem indisputable. Every security measure, no matter how harsh it might appear to the outside world, would seem a small price to pay for ensuring the safety of my people.
If I adhered to the principles of Halakha, the Jewish Law, then I would see the world through a lens that combines spiritual and earthly law. Governance and politics would not just be matters of state but also spiritual obligations, each decision echoing in eternal ramifications.
If I held onto the Messianic Expectation, current geopolitical challenges might seem like temporary obstacles in a long path to eventual divine redemption. This could offer hope but also urgency to establish and protect Israel, seen as the future birthplace of the Messiah.
If I felt connected to a global Jewish community that echoes these beliefs, then the actions and policies of Israel would not be just local matters but the shared concern of a worldwide community, each member contributing to a narrative that spans thousands of years.
If I saw myself as part of a continuing story of persecution, survival, and return, then-current political and ethical dilemmas would take on different shades of meaning. The urgency of survival would be balanced against a historical narrative that insists not just on the right to exist, but to thrive.
The themes which motivate and inform the Palestinian/Arab psyche:
- All Muslims believe implicitly that the Qur’an is the literal word of God, conveyed through the Prophet Muhammad which fosters a sense of divine destiny.
- Jihad is a complex concept embodying not just “holy war,” but more broadly, the sense of noble and righteous struggle to maintain and spread their faith, as endorsed by their scriptures in which no means are too extreme.
- The history of Islam includes periods of grandeur and innovation, but also times of colonization, division, and external aggression. This has fostered a complex set of emotions, ranging from pride in past achievements to a sense of collective vulnerability.
- Muslims hold a deep-seated belief in the Day of Judgment and life hereafter, which impacts their worldview and actions, and creates a very credible worldview in which killing “innocents” is actually commendable and carries the promise of great reward.
- The significance of Jerusalem as one of the Muslim holy sites, is deeply ingrained in the Muslim psyche. This and other locations in Israel are not just geographical but also spiritual landmarks.
Putting One’s Self in Their Shoes. Part 4:
If I believed the Qur’an to be the literal word of God, conveyed through the Prophet Muhammad, then my worldview would be rooted in a sense of divine destiny. Each verse would carry an ultimate truth, and my adherence to its teachings would be a lifelong commitment.
If I understood Jihad as not just “holy war,” but more broadly, a noble and righteous struggle to maintain and spread my faith, then I would see this concept as a spiritual duty. Depending on my interpretation, this could manifest as personal development, social justice efforts, or, for a small minority, even armed conflict.
If I felt the weight of a history marked by grandeur, and innovation, but also colonization, division, and external aggression, then my perspective would be infused with complex emotions. I would carry both pride in past Islamic achievements and a sense of collective vulnerability that could be triggered by current events.
If I held a deep-seated belief in the Day of Judgment and life hereafter, my actions and worldview would be guided by an eschatological timeline. For some, this could even justify extreme actions, based on the belief in heavenly rewards.
If Jerusalem and other locations in Israel held spiritual significance for me, then any conflict over these lands would be not just political but deeply personal. These locations would be not merely geographical landmarks, but spiritual waypoints on a journey toward fulfilling God’s plan.
If I were part of a broader Muslim community, my concerns would transcend local or national boundaries. The struggles and aspirations of Muslims worldwide would resonate with me, making me part of a larger narrative that seeks justice, dignity, and the realization of a divinely ordained plan.
I began with a premise that it is entirely possible for two sides in a conflict to both be guilty of separate and irreconcilable transgressions that do not justify either nor balance each other out. It is similarly entirely possible for both parties to feel fairly aggrieved as victims and justified in some of their actions, just as it is possible in a protracted and complicated conflict for both parties to be carrying wounds and to be culpable for wounding the other.
We are so conditioned to want to find a neat black-and-white division between aggressor and victim, between who is right and who is wrong. This is the actual problem. The situation in Ukraine, in American politics, every theatre of emotional and political conflict is exactly the same in this regard. It is hard enough to find a path forward to peace and reconciliation. It is made ever harder when the waters are muddied by petulant outrage and moralistic condemnation of this side or that, in an endless childish spat of “he said she said”. The fact that the grievances are so grave should give us more cause to stop and process the paradox of it, but we do the opposite. We are so easily captured by emotion and raw empathy and galvanised by a moralistic stance, that we walk mud all over the delicate floor of nuance in our rush to place our candle of grief on the altar of appeal or stake our flag of principle on the hill of righteous indignation.
All our candles lit for being heard, and none to listening.
The perspectives and convictions of each side are often orthogonal, intersecting at points but running largely independently of one another. The Left-Right divide in American politics is no different. On the one hand, everyone on either side has their legitimate claims on the one hand and feels justified in playing dirty to win because they perceive the stakes to be so high, that the end justifies the means. This is the margin of nuance and integrity in which all of human conflict is played out.
Neither side’s grievances can fully justify or cancel out the transgressions of the other. The points of contention are often based on long histories, deeply held beliefs, and ongoing experiences that shape each community’s perception of the other. These factors make each side’s stance understandable from within its own paradigm, but they do not necessarily provide an ethical or legal resolution to the conflict.
The situation is clearly never symmetrical.
While some issues may seem to mirror each other, the underlying beliefs and historical narratives guiding each side often diverge significantly. This complicates efforts for a resolution that respects the deeply held convictions of both parties involved. These are problems that no single human can solve, let alone fired up and uninformed, from behind a keyboard or a Twitter handle.
Who profits from this? The Media companies and social media platforms, for whom all engagement is good engagement, by whatever means necessary. Media are entirely responsible but not entirely to blame since they only feed us what they know we will eat. That means we need to take responsibility, otherwise, we get the media, the internet and ultimately the world we deserve.
Thank you for reading this.
I hope this has given you some meaningful perspective, at least some pause for thought, and perhaps even a form of generosity for the sentiments and opinions that do not align with your own, asking yourself, “What would I want, truly, how would I feel, if the shoe were on the other foot?”
Yours in infinite love and gratitude