Violence and Moderation in the Tug of War

Aaron Simons

Yet another wave of violence engulfs Israel and the Palestinian territories. The illusion of peace has been shattered once more, although perhaps the only surprise is that the illusion existed in the first place.

A peaceful resolution to the conflict looks further away than ever. Oslo seems dead and buried. Netanyahu and Abbas appear more interested in preserving personal power than in helping their people.

The effects of violence run far deeper than the immediate tragedy. The widespread broadcast of brutal and evocative violence pushes the conflict into ever widening polarities, cementing rival narratives and creating opposing camps unable to engage with or even comprehend the viewpoint of the other.

The two narratives are obvious to anyone who dares trawl through their facebook or twitter feed. The typical pro-Israel narrative holds that Palestinians are addicted to violence, that Israel will never be safe, that Israel is the victim of Islamic extremism on its doorstep, and that the occupation remains a security necessity. The opposing pro-Palestinian narrative sees the IDF as willing murderers, the stabbings a cry of help against endless oppression, and Israel as a country engulfed by anti-Arab racism.

As long as the narratives remain entrenched, neither progress nor peace will come. Each narrative inoculates its side against the suffering of the other, unable to see, and unwilling to look. So long as each side remains encamped in its own worldview, Israelis and their advocates will never even begin to understand what it is like to live under occupation, and Palestinians and their advocates will never empathise with the all-encompassing fear that keeps Israelis inside their homes, terrified of walking to the shops and being stabbed in the back.

Genuine debate between the two narratives is sparse, if it exists at all. All too often, anything labelled ‘debate’ descends into an extravagant shouting match of repetition and avoidance. Neither side engages but both fire away, shouting the same phrases over and over again. When someone mentions the Israeli fear of being stabbed, someone else mentions the Palestinian fear of being shot, unable to comprehend that both are real and not a counterweight to the other. One side shouts incitement, the other shouts settlements. Both exist, but neither side cares if it the point doesn’t fit into their predetermined perspective. The Israeli-Palestinian debate is like trying to untie a knot through a game of Tug of War.

The effect of violence is to catalyse this process and drive each narrative further and further away. In the drama of heart-wrenching violence, both sides close ranks, unwilling to cede any political territory to the other. This is hardly surprising – it would be unhuman to not be affected by this violence. Spasms of grief close minds to reflection. Attitudes harden, and whatever remained of open discussion becomes angry and emotive polemic. In the game of Tug of War, violence just makes both sides pull harder.

Good people become racists when ethnic conflict causes innocent people to die. Violence like this is an extreme act, so it should be no surprise when it produces extreme opinions. When the path to peace requires each side to humanise the other, acts of violence only serve to dehumanise.

Even conciliatory opinions espoused by usually moderate journalists disappear when lives are on the line. It’s only natural. Why would one lend an ear to an opinion shared by a murderer? This is the final effect of violence. It firmly delineates both sides, and two peoples become entrenched in even deeper opposition, pushed into increasingly intractable polarities.

Social media inflames it all. Videos of violence are provided with no context, creating an analytical vacuum which radicalises pre-existing perspectives. If you were pro-Palestinian but didn’t think the IDF were heartless murderers, you’ll think exactly that after seeing this context free video of a Palestinian child bleeding on the ground. If you were pro-Israel but sought to understand the Palestinian plight, you sure as hell won’t bother understanding any more after watching this video of a meat cleaver being plunged into a Rabbi’s chest.

Violence’s final effect is its ultimate tragedy. Violence drives each side further and further apart, when peace will only come when both sides meet in the middle. And as violence increases this distance between Israelis and Palestinians, violence itself becomes even more likely, in an endless spiral of blood.

I want to end this piece with a call for understanding, a call for empathy, and a call for moderation. But I understand, amongst all the violence, if people won’t listen.