Published at 21:35 on 10 November 2023
First, Some General Principles
- Two wrongs don’t make a right. This is a big one in any protracted conflict with complex causes, because in such a situation both sides will have done great wrongs to each other, and thus by the logic of retaliation always have reasons to attack.
- Like it or not, violence works. That’s not to say it’s nice or desirable, only that it often works. And sometimes (again, like it or not) it works when nonviolent tactics fail.
- Don’t idealize. It’s a long messy conflict and violence is often an effective tactic. Therefore both sides have no shortage of dirty laundry in their past.
You Didn’t Like No. 2, Did You?
Well, too bad. Why did I type this post? Why are you reading it? Why the sudden interest in the Israel/Palestine conflict? It’s been ongoing for decades, you know. There have been Palestinian initiatives to attract attention to their grievances by nonviolent means (diplomacy and protests) all along. Yet they’ve been ignored, in favour of focusing on (let me check my recent political posts here) the Russia/Ukraine war, US domestic politics, and Canadian domestic politics.
Face it: violence worked in ways that nonviolence failed to work. And such it has long been in the Israel/Palestine conflict. How many of you have heard of Bil’in? It’s a Palestinian village in the West Bank whose inhabitants attempted to use nonviolent tactics to draw attention to their grievances. But you’ve probably never heard of them, because the Western media preferred to cover those Palestinians who were employing violent tactics at the same time.
But Gandhi! But MLK!
Yes, let’s talk some about Gandhi and MLK:
- The Western news media paid attention to them. Since the creation of media spectacles is the whole point of most nonviolent tactics, this enabled them to work in this case.
- Gandhi was not the only leader in the struggle for Indian independence, and MLK was not the only leader in the struggle for Black civil rights. Some of those other leaders advocated violent tactics. Those that Gandhi and MLK were confronting knew that. Gandhi and MLK knew it, too, paid attention to what the violent groups were doing, and adjusted their strategies accordingly. Part of their message was, effectively: “You can either deal with us, now, or you can deal with groups like them, later. Your choice.”
Nonviolence can work… if the right preconditions for it to work exist. Ignoring the valid grievances of a people when they are not using violence is the exact opposite of those conditions.
But Hamas Were Such Vicious Brutes!
Yes, they were.
Then again, nothing that Hamas did on October 7th in southern Israel hadn’t already been done much earlier by Zionists in Deir Yassin.
And no, this doesn’t justify what happened last month. See General Principle No. 1 above. But it does help put recent events into more historical context (No. 3). And again, why am I typing this and why do you find it of enough interest to read (No. 2)?
To reiterate, in any protracted conflict, you will be able to find no end of great wrongs and moral outrages done by either side to the other.
What to Do about It All
Given the nasty, messy history of the region (particularly since the dawn of the 20th century), and given the mutual mistrust and hostility amongst the people living there, a prompt outbreak of peace and justice is probably too much to wish for.
Instead, the focus should be to de-escalate. Expect imperfection. Expect recurring outbreaks of violence. But at least try to organize the playing field so that the natural tendency is for there to be less, not more, retaliation and counter-retaliation over time.
Ukraine Policy Can Be a Model Here
Right now, the West is shovelling massive amounts of military aid at Ukraine, because Russia invaded and Ukraine is trying to repel the invaders. So far, so good: the invaders, by virtue of invading, demonstrated that they wanted a war. And now they have one.
But, Ukraine has been warned countless times by its benefactors not to ever use this war as an excuse for counter-invading and trying to expand its national territory at Russia’s expense (General Principle No. 1 again). Some attacks against Russian territory are to be expected, but these should be limited to degrading Russia’s ability to continue occupying parts of Ukraine. Attempts on Ukraine’s part to colonize parts of Russia are unacceptable.
So when Hamas invaded Israel, it was only to be expected that Israel would deploy its military to subdue and expel the invaders and re-secure its borders. Hamas, by virtue of invading, demonstrated they wanted a war — and now they have one.
But, that should not map into Israel having any right to colonize and control Palestinian territory. Right now, that is exactly want Israel is attempting to do.
Any realistic assessment of Israel’s history of invading and occupying chunks of its neighbours will indicate that Israel does not exactly have a good track record here. This is the case even when assessing the record solely by measuring Israeli national security. Israel occupied Gaza before, yet here we are again. Israel’s occupation of the West Bank continues to breed enmity. The enmity inspired by both occupations helped to create Hamas. Israel’s past occupations of Lebanon served to breed anti-Israel sentiment out of which Hezbollah arose. Then Israel attacked Lebanon in part to retaliate against Hezbollah, and when the dust settled Hezbollah emerged even stronger than before.
Anyhow, now that Hamas has been ejected from Israeli territory, the focus should be on restraining Israel.