The constant stream of images and information from the Gaza strip can be almost overwhelming at times. Perhaps more than any other time in this long, seemingly unending conflict, there appears to be somewhat of a consensus among politically informed people, particularly the young, that Israel’s use of force has been disproportionate. However, despite this, the rhetoric on both sides is reaching a fever pitch and, whichever side you have more sympathy with, the solution seems further and further away from fruition. Despite a ceasefire brokered by Egypt (at the time of writing), there seems to be little real trust in the public that talks between the two sides will be anything more than a public relations gesture nor that the violence won’t soon begin again.
This can be a difficult issue to write about, simply because of the length and complexity of the topic. Whilst humanitarian sympathy should always lie on the side of those suffering the most and with the least power, any long term solution to the problem requires understanding of the tumultuous history behind it, as well as an understanding of the psychology behind the ordinary people who are the greatest part of this conflict and the most important factor in any attempt to broker peace. Wherever your allegiance lies, one thing we all must accept is that there is not a single piece of information that can be found on the subject which is without bias or, at the very least, a simplified understanding of the issue.
it was the systematic, industrialised killing enacted by Nazi Germany that drove international support for the Zionist movement
Those media outlets which favour the rights of Israel will begin with a history of the Jewish people. Persecuted throughout history in most countries they took up residence, it was the systematic, industrialised killing enacted by Nazi Germany that drove international support for the Zionist movement. Whilst the word Zionist has become almost an insult in certain circles, in purely definitional terms it refers to the right of a nation to self-determination and this was the primary principle upon which the state of Israel was founded. From then on out, so say these particular media outlets, there have been continuous attempts to destroy the state of Israel, sometimes as a byword for the Jewish people, sometimes because of where it is situated and how it was created. They will often point to its right to self-defence and to its closer cultural values to the West.
On the other side, those media outlets which favour the right of the Palestinians will point to the encroaching of borders through continuous settlement building, the violation of the basic human rights of people in Gaza and the utter devastation Israel has rained down on the parts of Palestine which are still somewhat self-governing. This is sometimes coupled with a slightly uncomfortable “they should know better” message, though not usually, a broad criticism about the way the United States aids and abets the Israeli military and the prevention of any serious solutions to the conflict because of mass bias in the institutions which attempt to govern global politics.
Self-determination is an important right of a nation, but should Israel not respect that this applies to the Palestinians as well?
Things are not always that dichotomous though and even the most ill-informed of people (read: this writer) should be suspicious of the way these narratives are constructed. Self-determination is an important right of a nation, but should Israel not respect that this applies to the Palestinians as well? Moreover, should the United States not realise that it cannot claim to stand behind the rights of one persecuted group of people whilst treating their own native nations as second-class citizens? On the other hand, the violence toward and basic violation of the rights of people in Gaza has been disturbing and egregious, but the elected government of Gaza is belligerent, bellicose and seeming as unwilling to compromise as the Israeli government.
The issue is more complex than the media on both sides gives it credit for, not least because so many of the issues have their roots in international diplomacy. Israel would not be the industrial military powerhouse it is now if the United States did not feel it required an ally in the region. People supporting the actions of the Israeli government might not be so critical of the Gazans were they not supported by and linked to a dangerous theocratic government like Iran’s. The governments of the European Union might be able to offer more than weasel words were they not deeply divided on whether supporting the US in all of the international relations is a good thing or not. That is not even to mention the way that global trade is tied up into all of this; a quick search to find all of the companies listed in a proposed boycott of Israel reveals just how integrated it is into the powerful corporations that have as much, if not more influence on the global stage as nation-states do.
There are strong elements on the Israeli side that deny the existence of Palestinians as a people
Then there’s complexity in the human dimension. Whilst it might be easy to imagine the people on either side of the conflict as two homogenous masses, it is neither wise nor helpful. There are strong elements on the Israeli side that deny the existence of Palestinians as a people and favour what amounts to, essentially, conquest of the areas they still control. However, there are also elements on the Palestinian side who view this is a religious conflict more than a humanitarian crisis and want to see Israel vanish from the map. There are a slew of moderates on both sides and a growing number of people, led by artists and activists, who are trying to find common ground and solutions from a ground up level.
More than that though, we have to look at the information that each side is presented with and how that changes the way they behave. When the Israeli media paints the picture of a lone state under siege which could be wiped out at any minute, is it any wonder that the public keep voting for the kind of governments they do? When the Israeli military has ensnared every aspect of Palestinian lives, causing widespread suffering and fear, and a radical group offers simple solutions to these problems, is it any wonder that the people support them?
Peace will not come easy, nor is it clear how can it be achieved. However, recognising the legitimacy of both sides’ narratives and the complexity of the situation would be a good place to start.