The Israel/ Palestine Conflict

(Research essay about Key Issues in Peace and Conflict Studies: Analysing the Israel/ Palestine Conflict)

A-M Johannessen, 12 June 2007

“The ultimate weakness of violence is that it is a descending spiral begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy. Instead of diminishing evil, it multiplies it. Through violence you may murder the liar, but you cannot murder the lie, nor establish the truth. Through violence you murder the hater, but you do not murder hate. Returning violence for violence, multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars.”

~ Martin Luther King ~

For more than 80 years there have been conflicts between Palestinian nationalism and the Jewish national movement: Zionism. The six day war in 1967 resulted in the Israeli army occupying territories in the Gaza Strip, West Bank, Sinai Peninsula and Golan Heights and separating Palestinian communities living there. (Alimi, 2007, Bishara, 2001) Israeli settlements were built and the Palestinians endured violence and discrimination. (Alimi, 2007, Bishara, 2001, Reinhart, 2006) The conflict between Palestinians and Israelis is a about the right to self- determination, statehood and territory. It is also about national, religious and cultural identity. (Oren, Bar-Tal, David, 2002, Reinhart, 2006)

This essay will analyse the Israel- Palestine conflict using theories about ontological human needs as well as theories about collective ‘fear orientation’ as opposed to ‘hope orientation’ in a society. It will discuss key issues in the conflict and look at obstacles and opportunities to achieve peace with justice. The essay will look at strategies of how to prevent the cycle of violence and at the same time bringing Palestinians closer to achieving self- determination, which lies at the heart of the conflict. This includes looking at the conflict rooted in structures; how to fight structural violence, and how it might be possible to achieve peace with justice in Israel and Palestine.
The essay will claim the need for peaceful, nonviolent ‘people power’ activities which might be effective in the Palestinian struggle against the Israeli occupation. It will focus on dialogue and joint activities between Israelis and Palestinians in order to promote cultural understanding of each other and to prevent the creation of ‘enemy images’ and dehumanization of ‘the other’.
The essay will look at possible ways to transform the conflict and to create a ‘hope orientation’ instead of a ‘fear orientation’ in both the Israeli and Palestinian society.

The main focus will be on conflicts that exist within the Palestinian society, due to Israeli occupation. Thus, it will look at strategies of how Palestinians can change the situation, as well as the importance of cooperation between Palestinians and Israelis in order to transform the conflict.
In the Israeli- Palestinian conflict there has been a lot of emphasis on top- level negotiation among leaders. The essay will claim the importance of a multilevel approach to conflict transformation, that is, building peace from all levels of society. There is a strong need for a peace process which engages grassroots communities and people to people approaches to conflict transformation as well as empowerment of civil society. At the same time there is a strong need for cooperation between all levels of society and unity among the leaders.

The Israeli- Palestinian conflict has lead to massive violations of human rights and humanitarian law, as well as a culture of fear, abuse, oppression and repeated violent attacks. (Stephan, 2003, Reinhart, 2006) Several peace agreements and diplomatic attempts have not been able to resolve the conflict. Peace processes such as the Oslo Accord (1993-2000) focused on agreements between top- level officials without including sufficient grassroots and civil society approaches to peacebuilding. (Brand Jacobsen and Jacobsen, 2000, Alimi, 2007) Also, negotiated peace plans such as ‘track I’ and ‘track II’ have failed to bring considerable progress to the peace process. (Stephan, 2003,Bishara, 2001) Disconnections between official-level negotiation and the reality of the public as well as power asymmetries and a failure to address structural roots of the conflict has prevented progress in the peace process. (Brand Jacobsen and Jacobsen, 2000, Kaufman, Salem and Verhoeven, 2006)

Years of abuse, oppression, powerlessness and despair have caused some Palestinians to participate in direct violence, as they see this as the only effective method of resistance. (Kaufman, Salem and Verhoeven, 2006, Stephan, 2003) However, the use of direct violence against the militarily and economically superior Israeli opponent, has been counterproductive. (Abu-Nimer, 2006, Reinhart, 2006) Direct violence leads to a cycle of hatred, revenge and more violence, with little hope for lasting peace.
A ‘separation wall’ has been built by the occupying force in an attempt to secure parts of the West Bank for Israeli civilians. (Alimi, 2007) However, the ‘separation wall’, labeled the ‘apartheid wall’ by Palestinians, has been an obstacle to peacebuilding and is perpetuating the conflict for both Israelis and Palestinians. (Alimi, 2007) The wall is preventing cooperation and the development of relationships necessary to build peace. It is contributing to the creation of an enemy image of ‘the other’ by both physically and symbolically dividing Israeli and Palestinian people. (Alimi, 2007)

Continuous experiences of cultural and economic deprivation, persecution, insecurity and injustice are likely to create high levels of frustration and hopelessness in a society. (Kressel, 2002) Prolonged experiences of oppression, violence, destruction and aggression can contribute to a collective ‘fear orientation’ in a society, that is, a highly sensitized attention to perceived threats and increased expectations of threats and danger. (Bar-Tal, 2001) Both Israelis and the Palestinians have been involved in direct violence caused by intractable conflicts through generations and thus developed a high degree of ‘fear orientation’. Palestinians have lived under Israeli occupation for 40 years and have endured both direct, cultural and structural violence. (Bishara, 2006) They have endured cultural and structural violence due to political and economic structures which have caused oppression, poverty and suffering. (Barash, 1991, Bishara, 2006, Alimi, 2006,) Bar-Tal (2001) claims that a collective emotional orientation of fear “serves as a psychological obstacle to a peace process.” (Bar-Tal, 2001, Introduction)
Due to violence and deeply rooted ethnic conflicts through generations, the emotional memories of fear become deeply imprinted in individuals and thus in a society as a whole. (Bar-Tal, 2001) They become deeply rooted into the culture and into the identity.
In such a culture there is a tendency to look at past experiences and being unable to disassociate from the past and create new alternatives of how to solve the conflict peacefully. (Bar-Tal, 2001, Reinhart, 2006) This is a big obstacle to a peace-process in Ismrael- Palestine. Because the violent conflict has gone on for very long with little progress towards lasting peace, the people are less likely to break free from the way they usually engage in or cope with the conflict and to look at new, creative nonviolent activities which might contribute to lasting peace. Due to earlier failed peace- processes, there is a lack of hope for change among people. (Reinhart, 2006)
Hope is essential in order to activate grassroots and civil society in the mobilization for a peace process.

When people see their situation as a result of grave injustice and regard their suffering as a result of oppression, they are likely to develop anger and hatred directed at the perceived perpetrators. (Kressel, 2002) This can explain the anger and hatred that Palestinians bear towards the Israeli occupation. The Palestinians experienced the occupation of their territory as deeply unjust, as they claim to have been the majority living in that area for centuries. (Alimi, 2007, Stephan, 2003) They see their suffering as a direct consequence of oppression and violence performed by the Israeli government and the strong Israeli military power. (Alimi, 2007, Stephan, 2003) A group or population dominated by an environment of hatred as a result of perceived unjust treatment, will often have a tendency of explaining the injustice by creating an image of the evil ‘other’. (Kressner, 2002) This enemy image is obvious among some Palestinians as they regard Israelis as evil and do not recognice the existence of an Israeli State. (Mollow and Lavie, 1999, Abu-Nimer, 1999) Similarly, the Israeli national movement has created an enemy image of Palestinians as terrorists who want to destroy Israel. (Abu-Nimer, 2006) Some schoolbooks have portrayed Palestinians as evil and some Israelis refuse to recognize a Palestinian entity. (Oren, Bar-Tal and David, 2002) Thus they are both justifying the violence against each other.

Palestinian terrorist attacks such as suicide bombings against Israelis have been counter- productive, leading to a dehumanizing of Palestinians among Israelis. (Abu-Nimer, 2006) Such violent attacks have created a lot of hatred, fear, insecurity and mistrust among Israelis and have negative consequences for the Palestinian resistance movement. (Abu-Nimer, 2006, Bishara, 2001) Palestinian suicide bombings result in an increase in the use of Israeli military force. (Abu-Nimer, 2006, Alimi, 2007, Bishara, 2001) Israeli military operations are seen as legitimized as a result of Palestinian suicide bombings, of which images of dead civilians are reported and broadcasted worldwide, providing the Israelis with sympathy from the International community. (Abu-Nimer, 2006, Alimi, 2007) Thus, the cycle of violence continues.
This escalates the ‘collective fear orientation’ in the societies and makes a possible shift to ‘hope orientation’ seem increasingly difficult. (Bar-Tal, 2001, Bishara, 2001) It also creates a very destructive culture of violence, in which any form of cooperation and transformation of the conflict becomes difficult.

Young Palestinians might feel empowered using terrorist activities as a way to protest against the enemy. However, such violent attacks are undermining any diplomatic solutions as well as diminishing solidarity with Palestinians and international support to improve the situation for thousands of suffering Palestinians. (Abu-Nimer, 2006, Stephan, 2003) Thus the suicide bombings are counter- productive to a peace-process.
Fisher says that “Psychological ossification of perceptions, cognitions, and attitudes results from the vicious cycle of fear and hostility and contributes to a war culture in which meaningful communication among antagonists is nonexistent.” (Fisher, 1997, p.87)

The direct violence that the Palestinians participate in, can be partly understood as a result of structural violence in Palestine. (Bishara, 2001) Many young Palestinians are unemployed; they see no hope for the future and feel frustrated about their situation. (Bishara, 2001, Oren, Bar-Tal and David, 2002) Since they don’t know what to do with their lives, engaging in violence and battle which has the perceived symbolic power of giving their lives a purpose, becomes a viable solution. (Bishara, 2001, Abu-Nimer, 2006) Especially young men are prone to get involved in the fighting in order to suppress a feeling of powerlessness and hopelessness of present and future prospects. (Bishara, 2001)
A possible solution is to engage in nonviolent activities which are more constructive and effective. This opportunity will be discussed later in the essay.

Despair of living under occupation, not being able to gain independence, equality and liberty has caused feelings of despair and hopelessness, leading some young people to join the Palestinian nationalistic movement. (Bishara, 2001) As this movement uses direct violence, this continues the cycle of violence with not much hope for the achievement of peace with justice. (Reuven, 2006)
This way, structural violence such as unemployment, poverty, oppression and the lack of opportunities for Palestinians might lead to actions of direct violence. Therefore, in order to deal with the direct violence, it is important to look at underlying structural violence, that is, to look at some of the root causes of direct violence.
In this sense, the ending of an oppressive occupation as well as development in form of democracy building, education, welfare system and job- opportunities, are essential in order to build a peaceful society. In order to end violence, these issues must be addressed.

As direct violence in the form of Palestinian suicide attacks is partly a result of frustration, despair and hopelessness, it is important to deal with the reasons why young people see little hope for their lives. Creating hope for a peaceful society with development and opportunities, is a long and challenging process. (Alimi, 2007)
In order to build hope, there need to be expectations of concrete positive goals that can be achieved. The building of hope needs to come from within a society, but support from neighboring countries and the international community is strongly needed. (Bar-Tal, 2001) In order to create hope, it is crucial to put the past behind and to set positive goals and make plans for a future using imagination, creativity and problem- solving as well as engaging in positive events. (Bar-Tal, 2001, Stehpan, 2003) The creation of a ‘hope orientation’ in the Palestinian and the Israeli society is an important and challenging part of a conflict resolution and peacebuilding process.

When dealing with conflict resolution it is crucial to address underlying human needs and values and whether they are being violated. (Burton, 1990, Fisher, 1997)
Azar (1990) distinguishes between three types of human needs; acceptance needs, access needs and security needs. Acceptance needs include recognition of identity, focusing on cultural values and heritage. (Azar, 1990) Access needs include participation in political, market and decision- making institutions and Security needs include physical security as well as nutrition and housing. (Azar, 1990)
Grievances resulting from need deprivation are part of the conflict among both Israelis and Palestinians. The deprivation of physical security creates an environment of fear and insecurity which escalates the conflict. Also, for many Palestinian refugees, deprivation of physical security in the form of housing has contributed to the conflict. Such fundamental human needs need to be addressed in order to prevent conflict.
Acceptance needs such as recognition of the Palestinian cultural identity has been grossly violated by the Israeli occupation. Israeli solders have regularly attacked Palestinian schools, libraries, galleries and cultural centers where they have destroyed symbols and objects of significance to Palestinian culture such as; books, art works, historical objects, films, music instruments and intellectual properties. (Pilger, 2006) They have also regularly bombed or bulldozed Palestinian gardens and olive groves. (Pilger, 2006) Thus, Palestinian struggle for recognition and acceptance which can prevent the violation of their cultural identity is central in the conflict. They are also struggling for recognition and acceptance of their identity connected to the sterritory which is occupied by Israel, as well as a national identity with the right to independence and self- determination. (Pilger, 2006, Bishara, 2001)
Israelis on the other hand, are struggling for recognition and acceptance of their right to exist and their identity connected to some of the same areas as the Palestinians. (Bar-Tal, 2001)
Azar (1978) claims that all of these security and identity needs are essential and that denial of these human needs in a society is a source of ‘protracted social conflict’. By ‘protracted social conflict’ Azar (1978) refers to “hostile interactions which extend over long periods of time with sporadic outbreaks of open warfare fluctuating in frequency and intensity.” (Azar, 1978, p.50)
He claims that such conflicts are often a mixture of socio- ethnic and interstate conflicts, often dealing with issues such as national identity. (Azar, 1978) As the Israeli- Palestine conflict deals with ethnicity, that is; Israeli Jews vs. Arabs as well as cultural and national identities through continuous hostile interactions, it can be characterized as a ’protracted social conflict’ (PSC) (Azar, 1978, Fisher, 1997)
Typical of the Israeli- Palestinian PSC, is the deeply rooted structural inequalities which lead to fundamental grievances in the society. (Azar and Farah, 1981, Fisher, 1997)
Also Burton (1990) regards protracted conflicts as rooted in fundamental human needs which has been violated or compromised. He argues that fundamental needs for security, belonging, identity and self- esteem are inherent in all human beings and will be pursued by individuals and groups in a society. (Burton, 1990) Deprivation of these needs is likely to cause conflict. (Burton, 1990)
As the Israeli- Palestine conflict is not merely about interests, but about deeply rooted needs and values, traditional negotiation and mediation which only deals with surface interests are not sufficient in order to resolve or transform the conflict. (Burton, 1990)
Fulfilling the Palestinian and Israeli human need of security as well as the need for expression and recognition of their identity is essential in order to resolve the conflict. Oppression of these needs is part of the structural violence which Palestinians suffer as a result of the occupation. This is an important issue to deal with as part of a conflict transformation process.

Brand- Jacobsen and Jacobsen (2000) are claiming the importance of transforming underlying structures that cause conflicts and violence. They also talk about addressing psychological and physical traumas and to deal with enemy perceptions as part of a conflict resolution process. (Brand- Jacobsen and Jacobsen, 2000) As opposed to elite- oriented approaches to conflict resolution, they focus on the possibilities of conflict transformation and peacebuilding by activities at a community and grassroots level. (Brand- Jacobsen and Jacobsen, 2000)

Changing stereotypes and enemy images of ‘the other’ in Israeli and Palestinian society is an important part of conflict transformation. (Golan and Kamal, 1999) One way of dealing with this is through ‘peace education’ in schools and universities and cultural groups. (Golan and Kamal, 1999, Bekerman and Horenczyk, 2004) Joint activities and dialogue are important in order to change the enemy perception of ‘the other’. (Golan and Kamal, 1999, Dajani and Baskin, 2006) Some schools for both Palestinian and Israeli children exist and an increased focus on mixing Palestinian and Israeli children is a way of preventing enemy images and the dehumanization of ‘the other’. (Bekerman and Horenczyk, 2004) Through interaction they will gain understanding about each other, about their cultures, their difference and similarities. They might learn to regard each other without fear and suspicion. (Bekerman and Horenczyk, 2004)
In this process, joint activities such as communication through art, drama, sports and games can be valuable. (Golan and Kamel, 1999, Bekerman and Horenczyk, 2004) This is a way of promoting understanding, tolerance, openness and mutual learning. (Golan and Kamel, 1999)
Such joint activities are important parts of a long-term strategy for conflict transformation and peace building in Israel and Palestine.

In the complex Israel- Palestine conflict, there is a strong need to include actors at all levels of society in a peacebuilding process. There need to be a vertical cooperation between all levels - from grassroots level to civil society and middle-range leadership and to the top leadership. (Lederach, 1997, Kaufman, Salem and Verhoeven, 2006) There also need to be horizontal cooperation; between Israeli- Palestinian grassroots, civil societies as well as negotiation and cooperation processes among top Israeli and Palestinian leadership. Lederach claims that in order to undertake successful peacebuilding it is crucial to consider “the legitimacy, uniqueness and interdependency of the needs and resources of the grassroots, middle range, and top level.” (Lederach, 1997, p.60) Recognition and coordination across all levels of society is important in order to act with unity and strength towards a long-term action that can transform the conflict. (Lederach, 1997)
Building pace from all levels includes the empowerment of civil society, NGO’s, and individuals on all levels of society. (Brand- Jacobsen and Jacobsen, 2000)

An important way that Palestinians can participate in conflict transformation is through resistance based on nonviolence and civil disobedience. Nonviolence has been defined as “ a set of attitudes, actions or behaviors intended to persuade the other side to change their opinions, perceptions and actions.” (Abi-Nimer, 2006, p.135) It uses peaceful means in order to strive for the goal of peace with justice. (Abu-Nimer, 2006) Nonviolence has been strongly promoted by Gandhi referring to it as a ‘people power’ movement. (Stephan, 2003)
Such action is most effective when it involves large parts of the population. (Abu-Nimer, Stephan, 2003) Palestinian civil, nonviolent and direct action would challenge the Israeli occupation. Such nonviolent methods might include demonstrations, sit-ins in the streets, joint marches and protests with Israeli peace forces at checkpoints, strikes, boycotting Israeli products, withdrawing deposits from Israeli banks, withholding taxes, continuing to harvest olives, educating about the impact and nature of the occupation and publishing leaflets. (Abu-Nimer, 2006, Stephan, 2003) Palestinians have had a long history of nonviolent resistance against the Israeli occupation. (Abu-Nimer, 2006, Stephan, 2003) However, the nonviolent activities have not been internally and externally acknowledged. Instead, there has been a focus on Palestinian violent resistance, both locally, among the leaders and in mainstream and international media. (Abu-Nimer, 2006)

Media coverage is an important part of nonviolent action and would be crucial in order to get local, regional and international support and to communicate the message of resistance through peaceful action.
As opposed to direct violence, nonviolence as a method of resistance doesn’t give the Israeli Government any justification to continue violence and oppression against the Palestinians. (Abu-Nimer, 2006, Stephan, 2003) This nonviolent action might be a way of breaking the cycle of direct violence. Also, peaceful activities such as nonviolent action and joint activities between Israelis and Palestinians could prevent further dehumanization of ‘the other’ part and the creation of enemy images of ‘the other’. (Abu-Nimer, 200, Alimi, 2007)
Strong nonviolent action might also contribute to a ‘culture of hope’ and to transforming the ‘collective fear orientation’ into a more positive ‘hope orientation’.

The purpose of nonviolent action is to force the Israeli occupation to withdraw and to prevent further oppression. Although this method can be challenging, costly and difficult, it might bring the Palestinians closer to achieving their goal over time. When engaging in nonviolent activity, Palestinians protest against the injustice that they suffer and aim to make this injustice obvious to all parties to the conflict as well as the international community. (Stephan, 2003) They communicate the message that they are not willing to obey the oppressive military power and call for equality and a reverse in power asymmetries. (Stephan, 2003, Reinhart, 2006) Due to gradual loss of resources and sympathy, nonviolent action might challenge the sustainability of the Israeli occupation.

When engaging in nonviolent resistance activities it is important to have the presence and support from a unified leadership. (Abu-Nimer, 2006) Nonviolent action is most successful when supporters and participants include people from all levels of society, including grassroots, civil society and the Government/ leaders. Resistance activities at the grassroots are especially effective when supported, encouraged and cultivated by local political leaders. (Abu-Nimer, 2006)

A fragmented Palestinian leadership is an obstacle to the peace- process. (Brown, Hamzawy and Ottaway, 2006, Milton-Edwards and Crooke, 2004) Currently, this fragmentation is very obvious within the Palestinian Parliament, where Hamas (an Islamist group), which holds most seats (76) and Fatah (43 seats) which has been the ruling party for over 40 years, are struggling with conflicts. (Zweiri, 2006, Knudsen, 2005) The secular Fatah party has lost credibility and legitimacy due to corruption and is facing a decrease in power as a result of the Hamas win in the democratic January 2006 elections. (Zweiri, 2006, Knudsen, 2005)
In order to be able to cooperate to promote self- determination as well as a peaceful future in Palestine, it is crucial that they overcome differences and conflicts and act with unity on behalf of the Palestinian peoples. In order to end structural and direct violence by the Israeli occupation, they need to act with unity and focus on how to achieve their common goals.
An active Palestinian leadership which can support grassroots communities and work closely with civil society and NGO’s is strongly needed in order to create effective nonviolent campaigns. (Abu-Nimer. 2006)

A public peace process among Palestinians, involving all levels of society, might be a powerful tool in transforming the conflict and create sympathy among Israelis and the international community. It is important to focus on the source of strength in ordinary peoples ability to participate in mass resistance.
When building peace in Israel and Palestine it is essential to create an environment of cultural understanding of one another and constructive interactions among the two publics, in order to build a culture of peace.
It is also essential do deal with underlying structural causes for the conflict and to aim at fulfilling basic human needs such as security and the expression of cultural and national identity. Building peace in Israel and Palestine is a long process which requires continuous efforts by all parts of society, unity of action as well as peaceful and powerful ways of communicating needs and interests. Nonviolent action, joint activities and dialogue are ways which can bring Palestinians and Israelis closer to achieving peace with justice.


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