Writer: Alma Samocha
Editor: Adelyne Koe
Graphic Designer: Maulina Gheananta
With its origins tracing back to the expulsion of Jewish citizens from their homes during the rule of the Roman Empire and stretching to modern-day as two indigenous peoples claim rights to the land, the Israeli/Palestinian (I/P) conflict has become a hub for political extremism on both sides and led to great dispute across the globe. As millions of people furiously debate the existence and rights of these two groups, it becomes essential to develop a narrative that gives room for an understanding of both sides. In recognizing the individual and collective struggles faced within Israeli and Palestinian communities, we can look to one day reconcile the pain faced by the two nations, and attempt to overcome the division between them.
The conflict is fueled by political, humanitarian and geographical disputes - yet a distinctly religious element must also be considered. Whilst the majority of Palestinians are Muslim, other religious minorities such as Christian Palestinians exist. Israel, despite being a Jewish-majority state started by Jewish settlers, houses citizens with religions and ethnicities spanning across Christianity, Islam, Druze and more. Factors such as antisemitism and the designation of an ethnoreligion to the Jewish faith mean that Jewish people in the diaspora also maintain a strong link to Israel and are often affected by (or associated with) the events of the conflict; the continual persecution of Jews throughout history has deepened religious and cultural traditions associated with the land (for example, mourning the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem). Furthermore, Israel and Palestine are home to some of the most religiously significant sites in the world. The division of the city of Jerusalem is regarded as a key issue in discussions of peace between the two nations, since it is a site of major importance in both Judaism and Islam. Other cities such as Hebron and Nazareth are of great historical and religious significance to Jews and Palestinians; Palestinian refugees descending from those who lived in the land feel a strong yearning to return to their homes. It is also worth noting that a sense of solidarity with the Palestinian cause means that the I/P conflict is often a sensitive subject for non-Palestinian muslims.
Unfortunately, the I/P conflict is a topic greatly characterized by its significant history of violence. With Palestinians still mourning the disastrous consequences of the Nakba (in English, “catastrophe”) - the tragic expulsion of over 700,000 Palestinians from their homes as a consequence of the 1948 Arab-Israeli War which followed the foundation of the Israeli state - Palestinian anger and the desire to return to their homeland and free Palestine “from the river to the sea” clash with the demands of Jewish Israelis who fear the notion of a country in which they cannot safely exist as a majority. The concern regarding Jewish people’s ability to live without fear of exile or abuse developed as a result of the continuous expulsion and targeting of Jews in both the diaspora and the land itself. Pre-1948 confrontations - amongst them, the 1929 Arab Riots (including the Hebron Massacre and the Safed Massacre) - marked a surge in active hostility between the two sides and served to enforce the belief among Jewish people that they would be submitted to continuous and violent antisemitism without the protection of a Jewish state (a key belief on which the ideology of political Zionism was built).
More recently, a repeated cyclical exchange of terrorism and oppression further contributes to the deterioration of Israeli-Palestinian relations. Discriminatory policies - for example, the unequal Law of Return, which allows Jews in the global diaspora to live in Israel whilst descendants of Palestinians displaced during the Nakba cannot - fuel immense pain and frustration for those in the Palestinian diaspora. In the West Bank, settler violence and IDF (Israel Defense Force) presence cause outrage as Palestinian citizens are targeted by the occupation through restricted freedom of movement, military presence and intimidation through violence; the ongoing state of army-civilian contact erodes the moral standing of Israeli society while exerting a deeply scarring and oppressive force on Palestinians in the region. In Gaza - often referred to as an “open-air prison,” - an Israeli blockade of the territory contributes to a major lack of resources for its inhabitants, and repeated attacks against the ruling militant force, Hamas (classified a terrorist organisation by the majority of Western governments including the United States and the European Union), cause devastating casualties and mass civilian death. A consequence of Palestinian trauma, anger and fear is a collective condonement among Palestinian communities of anti-Israeli xenophobia, which can manifest as imbedded antisemitism.
Similarly, a culture of anti-Palestinian racism and islamophobia can often be found within Israeli communities, stemming from a deep history of collective trauma following years of living under terrorism and violence. As a nation surrounded by countries with which it has an extremely tense relationship, Israel has come to exist in a state of perpetually defending its very existence. With terrorist organizations Hamas, Hezbollah, Al Qaeda and more seeking to eliminate Jewish presence from the land, Israeli civilians are submitted to targeted attacks such as suicide bombings, missile strikes and incendiary balloons in an attempt to intimidate the Israeli government, weaken military forces and cause pain and distress among citizens.
Historically, anti-Israel violence has been met by heavy response from the IDF, with fatal consequences for both sides, and a disproportionate impact on Palestinians. The first intifada, a Palestinian uprising spanning from December 1987 to September 1993, resulted in the deaths of 277 Israelis and 1,962 Palestinians, while the second intifada (2000-2005) had a death toll of approximately 3,000 Palestinians and 1,000 Israelis. Citizens of Israel and Palestine, though greatly divided by the conflict, may share experiences of trauma, having similarly survived bombings, destruction of homes and loss of loved ones to the conflict.
A final point to take into account is the major impact of foreign intervention, as external factors - such as USA financial aid, funding of Hamas and Hezbollah by countries such as Syria, Iran and Qatar and rejection of Palestinian refugees in neighboring countries including Jordan, Egypt and Lebanon - drive the conflict just as much as internal ones. Biased media in both directions skews public opinion on the topic by demonizing one side and presenting the other as the ultimate victim or saviour. Often these biases are driven by political interest in the conflict and its consequences or its continuation. British leftist media sheds light on the brutality of the occupation yet fails to recognize the responsibility held by Britain for the very situation it covers; forces which previously occupied the land can now acknowledge the hideous repercussions of Arab and Western colonialism from a safe distance while failing to provide the aid needed to solve the conflict and reduce the suffering it causes. Online, the conflict is debated without recognition of the real, living people affected on both sides, and information is purposefully manipulated to further polarize political opinions, including those in favour of a peaceful solution. Images of suffering can be distorted to direct blame away from those who are responsible, and the Western tradition of “rooting for the underdog” means that nuance and complexity are often ignored in favour of being an ally to those in pain, and that one-sided narratives are favoured over constructive and comprehensive education.
With the complicated history and political turmoil acknowledged in reference to the I/P conflict, how can a foreigner lend support or be an ally to peace when engaging with the topic? As in any matter relating to human lives and social justice, a primary approach is through educating oneself while amplifying the voices of those who are affected on the ground. Whilst the ultimate solution to the conflict can come only through changes in government and policy, activism in the name of Israelis and Palestinians should seek to bring the communities together instead of driving them further apart; to do so, we must commit to seeing beyond the black and white and recognize that several truths can coexist, seeking an understanding that recognizes more than one perspective. By sharing individual stories and promoting positive discourse between those whom the conflict directly impacts instead of engaging in performative activism from the sidelines, we can turn engagement with I/P into a productive force instead of a destructive one, and take a step towards progress for the future.