In one of the most complicated conflicts on the international stage, you would think there would be a massive effort to understand the conflict on its own terms. Unfortunately, this is not the case for the West and it’s involvement in the Arab-Israeli conflict. On one hand, it’s wonderful to know so many people in the United States and Europe care about resolving the conflict. But on the other hand, there is a strong lack of understanding of the fundamental aspects concerning the conflict. At its core, this conflict is a Middle-Eastern conflict with Middle-Eastern people. Yes, Western powers have played a role in both its history and present situation. But a major reason why everything is messed-up is because they didn’t understand the situation then, nor do they now.
So what is to be done? Abandon everything and pretend that the situation doesn’t exist? Or do we just turn the whole region to glass? I would make the case, we should first take a step back, and realise our own prejudices and perceptions have always given us a flawed view of the situation. We cannot talk about what we should do when we don’t even know what has already been done, and what is happening.
Now first, let me apologise. For me to say ‘the West’ is extremely misleading. There are dozens of countries and hundreds of agendas and perspectives within those countries of ‘the West.’ Each has varying degrees of concern for the conflict. Obviously, I cannot go through them all, but I would like to highlight two major views, and explain how they miss the mark.
First, the view I am most familiar with from my upbringing: Evangelical Zionism. Now both Evangelicals and Zionists come in many different degrees of radicalness that emphasises different things. Essentially, these are people who are fundamentalist Christians (usually not Jewish, but they could be Messianic Jews or ethnic Jews who converted to Christianity) who believe God has given the Jewish people a divine right to the land from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean sea. Now it’s important to note, they usually are just unaware of the situation of the Palestinians. Although many who hold a “river to sea” mentality do operate with malice, this group is usually just oblivious to the injustice they would create. Many don’t even realise Christians both live and worship in the Palestinian territories. Western media sometimes depicts the Palestinians as crazy terrorists who will stop at nothing to murder innocent Jews. Although that may be true for radicals within Hamas, the majority of the Palestinians prefer to avoid as much violence as possible.
Since Evangelical Zionists take a fundamental interpretation of the Bible, some see any nation as obstructing Israel as rebellious against God. Thus, they are staunch supporters for the United States and Europe to support Israel. What they get wrong however, is the Bible does not give the government of Israel a green-light to do whatever they wish. Again, the Evangelical Zionists are not malicious people, they are simply ignorant of many aspects of the situation. Perhaps they may visit Israel once every other year with their local church, have notifications on their phone that Rockets were fired into Israel from the Gaza strip, or follow the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) on Facebook. What they must realise is Israel by no means is a perfect country or government. To believe it has an inherent right to the land which surpasses the rights of the people currently living there is both situational and even Biblical ignorance.
Now I consider myself an Evangelical Christian. I do believe Israel has a right to exist. However, I am not anti-Palestine and I would be very reluctant to call myself a Zionist. Where I stand is I believe the human and civil rights of both sides must be protected and should be without the expense of the other. From a Biblical perspective, God does give conditions to the nation of Israel, that if they are righteous he will bless them, and if they stray from God’s commandments, he will punish them. Evangelical Zionists tend to emphasise God’s blessing, but mysteriously ignore God’s warning. I can’t imagine God favouring a country that potentially leads the Middle-East in abortions. That being said, Israel is comparatively one of the best Middle-East for freedom of worship. Nevertheless, they just have a long way to go before they can claim they have God’s blessing to do anything they want.
On the more Left-wing side of the West, we have the BDS movement. For those who do not know, BDS stands for Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions. It’s a movement which seeks to remove recognition and international economic activity for the state of Israel and believes it’s membership from international bodies such as the UN should be suspended. It’s very popular on many Western college campuses, and usually causes many young people to join their ranks because they are inspired by the message of freedom and ending oppression against the Palestinians. Many accuse the BDS movement to be anti-Semitic, but the leadership denies it. But does it actually help the Palestinians?
Ironically, some Palestinians think the BDS movement isn’t helping their plight. Even the leader of the Palestinian Authority (PA) stated they do not want anyone to boycott the state of Israel. The reason why is because many Palestinians will cross the border and work in Israel. By boycotting Israeli businesses and forcing them to shut-down, they give the already heavily unemployed Palestinians even fewer jobs. Not to mention, Israel and Palestine trade with each other. To economically hurt Israel, is to hurt the Palestinians.
So what’s the point of all this? Hopefully, everyone reading this will realise that “taking a side” is not something that ought to be done recklessly. I’ve stated it before, and I’ll state it again. The problem with the conflict is that Israel is scared of violent radicals. So they increase their security measures which infringe on the civil rights (and sometimes human rights) of the Palestinians. This causes them and their Arab neighbours to grow frustrated and become radicalised. The radicalisation reinforces Israel’s fear, and the downward spiral continues.
So can the West help break the cycle? It has the potential to help — but it also can make things worse. One could argue the modern conflict started with the British mandate which reorganised the different countries in the Middle-East and drew borders in seemingly random and uncalculated methods. On top of that, forcibly removing some Palestinians from their homes and replacing those areas with Jewish refugees from Europe was bound to cause major chaos.
Ignorance has caused and perpetuated many other problems around the world, and the Arab-Israeli conflict is no exception. So what can the West do to mitigate or resolve the conflict? First, and most importantly, be informed. Not just by reading the news and history, but also by having conversations with Palestinians and Israelis. Ask what is their personal stake in the conflict, what is their perspective, and what they think is the potential solution.
Second, know that violence is not the answer. Violence only causes more resentment and revenge, which in term causes more violence, thus perpetuating the cycle. Anyone — be they Arab or Jewish — who seeks violence or force as a solution should be avoided. Ignore people who believe the other side has no right to live. Don’t give a platform to ideologies who are more interested in “their tribe” than the overall situation.
Third, build bridges of peace. People in the West should serve as mediators. It’s only natural to pick sides in any conflict (especially if you have a Western mindset), but if we are to help ‘our side’ the best way is by helping both sides. If one side is hurt, so is the other. If one side prospers, the other could also benefit. The West’s role in the conflict should be to rise above the tribal ‘our side versus their side’ mentality. Instead, they ought to work to bring the two people together. Deradicalisation will come through a strong mutual understanding. Unfortunately, both sides live in societies that teach their children to resent the other. Palestinians and Israelis rarely understand the issues or perspective of the other side.
The peaceful solution to the conflict must be a conscious intergenerational effort. The best way the West could help is by facilitating such an effort. But that can only begin if the West realises it is not some white knight that will save all the poor, oppressed people. The West, at best, ought to serve as a mediator and educator which strives to help both sides come to peace. Better a teacher, guide, and friend, than a warrior looking for a righteous cause.
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