The Misunderstandings of the West in the Arab-Israeli Conflict (Part I)

When we look at the Middle East, we see chaos, war and violence, and usually have no idea why it is so. The Arab-Israeli conflict is no exception — in fact, it may be the poster-child for a Middle Eastern conflict. Although the history of the conflict goes back thousands of years, the modern conflict effectively started 72 years ago. The question is: why is it still going on? Why hasn’t a peaceful solution been reached? After spending several days in Israel and the West Bank studying the conflict and listening to journalists, politicians and other people from both sides, there are a couple things the West needs to understand as to why peace hasn’t been achieved. But first, some context must be given.

To understand any conflict in the Middle East, one must take note of the Middle Eastern mind. Although I was born and raised in America, I can speak on this, as my ancestry is Middle-Eastern from the country of Armenia. Obviously, people from the Middle East are not monolithic (the British and French cartographers never understood this), there are hundreds, if not thousands of cultures and co-cultures in the Middle East and greater area — such as North Africa and Western Asia. Among those cultures, there are a variety of ethnic groups, languages and customs. So, this is more of a general guideline to understand the mindset, not a hard rule, but it is often neglected from consideration.

In the Middle East, the two most important things in life are the land you live on and your traditions. What makes the land important is the same thing that makes tradition important: It is where your ancestors lived and died for generations. Some people were more nomadic, but many ethnicities (especially the Jews and Palistinians) see the land as a part of their culture and identity. If you take away their land, you take away what makes them. So as you can imagine, they’ll fight tooth and nail to keep it. In America or Europe, it’s not uncommon to move from city to city, state to state, or even country to country. But this is not the case here.

Now, as for the conflict itself, why is it still going on? The truth of the matter is simple, but it’s the reality that is complex. The truth is that the majority on both sides want peace, but the reality is both also want control over all of the disputed land. In other words, it is a paradox.

But it gets even more complicated when you consider that this is not simply the Israeli-Palistinian conflict, this is the Arab-Israeli conflict. If the typical American has parents who do something the former doesn’t like, they usually won’t continue. But typically in the Middle East, you continue doing what your parents did and learn to love it. Other than the land, there may not be anything more important than traditions.

As I said earlier, tradition and homeland are deeply rooted in the Middle-Eastern mind. Part of what that means is fighting for your people. Israel is surrounded by countries who hate it: Egypt, Lebanon, Syria, Jordan and Iran, to name a few. Conversely, because there is a worldwide diaspora of Jewish people, they will often lobby and petition their governments to support their people. Yet, of all the actors mentioned (and the many that were unmentioned), their agenda is not so simple as either supporting the Jewish people or the Palistinian people. Each one has a complex relationship with both and with the other aforementioned neighbors, in addition with multiple internal groups who also have competing ideologies. Some of them see the Israelis or the Palestinians as pawns in their own game to protect their own land and traditions against another actor.

But aside from all this, if the principal parties — as well as the majority of the international community — really want peace, why hasn’t it been resolved yet? For one thing, there is corrupt leadership on both sides. The Israeli government is motivated by fear, so they continuously impose more expansive security measures on the Palistinians. However, these security measures are economically inhibiting and they usually infringe on the civil rights — and sometimes human rights — of the Palistinians. This oppression breeds extremism and sympathy towards violent action within the Palistinian community. This, in turn, makes Israel more afraid, and it responds by imposing more security measures, thus, perpetuating the downward spiral.

However, the governing body over the Palistinians, known as the Palistianian Authority (or PA) handles it poorly as well. They make little effort to de-radicalise the Palestinians, and if anything, encourage hatred towards the people they claim they want to have peace with. On one hand, the PA does encourage peaceful resistance to the Israeli government and promises democratic reforms, but on the other hand, they have not had an election in over a decade. This is because the last election in 2006 was held in the Gaza strip and it led to the takeover of the terrorist group Hamas. Israel feels that Hamas will also takeover the West Bank if there is another election, causing even more violence and instability. Furthermore, if peace and prosperity comes to the West Bank, the PA officials currently in power won’t have an easy pitch to ask for foreign aid. Once foreign aid dries-up, their life gets affected badly. Thus, they are more motivated to not back down and hold their position. Even if it is at the cost of the innocent Palistinians who live under them.

Is there an easy solution to the conflict? For people who are living far away and unaffected by it: yes. But for the people involved, it is a resounding: no. Now that is not to say that people outside of the affected area cannot help with the peace process, there is a place for good-hearted help from the West. But the conflict will not be solved by the West.


Alex Madajian

Alex Madajian self-taught learner and a bibliophile. After deciding California wasn't big enough, he resettled in the DC area. He has worked as a journalist on Capital hill and now is a weekly contributor "The Fourth Estate"

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