"Oh, THAT. Of course it's safe. This stuff in Israel, it's like someone getting shot in Los Angeles."
-My Israeli friend and Edge of Chaos contributor, on traveling home.
I've hesitated to comment on the latest Israel/Palestine drama because quite frankly, I'm bored of it. It's not that I don't care, it's just that this incident has very little long-term political significance. It's always the same story:
Divides within the minority leadership between moderates and radicals. An act of terror against majority members attributed to the radicals. Hawkish elements of the majority using this act to pressure minority moderates to disown the radicals. The radicals responding with violence. The majority rallying behind the hawks for return violence. The minority rallying behind the radicals as an unintended consequence. Egypt a crucial factor. Lots of civilian casualties and infrastructure damage, horrendously disproportionate toward the minority. And finally, heaps and volumes of propaganda from both sides distorting global political opinion so hopelessly that hardly anyone realizes what I just described ISN'T the current crisis - but a regular occurrence in the Middle East that is literally as old as time.
I can also tell you EXACTLY how this will end. The IDF's incursion into Gaza will deal devastating short-term damage to Hamas, eradicating its leadership and significantly reducing its military capacity; then lock Gaza back down and leave. The result will be a couple of years of relative calm as Hamas recovers. But, the memories of airstrikes and tanks in the streets will increase its popularity, allowing it to grow new leadership and restore its arsenal. Then, when the time is right, the rockets will start flying again; and history will repeat itself.
Despite the political insignificance and predictability, however; if either side's behavior seems stupid or short-sighted to you, it is because you lack an objective understanding of the conflict. This is an extremely common affliction because of the oceans of propaganda, and my rationale for this post is simply my frustration with the widespread ignorance. If you're looking for me to take a side or convince you who the good guys are, look elsewhere. The Middle East is, in essence, the axis of global political conflict; and consequently the crux of collective human stupidity - war, nationalism, superstition. Only when all the myths are dispelled, and when people all around the world begin to hold their governments accountable for their invariable contribution to this cyclical insanity will there be any chance of calm; and my hope here is to put a few drops in that bucket.
Myth #1: Peace
The best way to identify someone talking about the Middle East as completely full of shit is if they make rosy references to a time when everyone there lived peacefully - whether it's Palestine advocates talking about pre-1947, or Israel advocates talking about 4000BC. The historical record simply does not indicate there was ever a time without 2 or more entities laying claims to the land in question, and entities powerful and balanced enough for this to result in perpetual, violent conflict. If anything, the entities in question being officially local to the conflict is somewhat of a recent development. A short, incomplete list of past claimants to Israel and particularly Jerusalem, all of whom fought drawn out, bloody wars for this purpose, follows:
The Philistine Empire
Judea/The Ancient Israelites
Alexander the Great of Macedonia
The Roman Empire
The Holy Roman Empire (the Crusades)
The British Empire
The Ottoman Empire
The Russian Empire
and in modern history, by proxy:
Looking at this list, it becomes evident that the land in question is a coveted possession for virtually every superpower in human history, and that with such titans clashing over who it belongs to - it will persist in a perpetual state of war. Interestingly, based on my own experiences with both Israelis and Palestinians, most people living there seem to recognize this condition. They refer to the periods of relative calm accurately as temporary cease fires, knowing full well they live in a war zone and violence will resume. It's narcissistic politicians from global superpowers that like to announce they have "brokered peace" by negotiating yet another cease fire agreement; and the media leaves out the context to allow these clowns to mislead their constituents for short-term political gain.
Myth #2: Ancestral Homeland
This insanity is the propaganda method of choice for BOTH sides in the modern era of the conflict, and it is horrendously and intentionally misleading.
Modern pro-Palestinian propaganda often complains that Palestinians were displaced by the establishment of the Jewish State in the UN Partition Plan in 1947; quite intentionally planting the seeds for the flatly inaccurate assumption that pre-1947 Palestine was a country independently governed by the Palestinians. However, the reality is that the precursor of the modern era was "Mandatory Palestine", a territory of the British Mandate ruled by an appointed Governor from the British Empire, much like most of the greater region in the period following WWI. And Mandatory Palestine's borders were mostly preserved from its status as a province in the Ottoman Empire prior to WWI - an autocratic and often murderous regime ruled from a capital 1000s of miles away by monarchs wildly ethnically different from the locals in Palestine. In fact, the last self-ruling state in Palestine existed around 3000 years ago, and since then it has changed hands with varying frequencies and degrees of violence, but a pretty uniform indifference to the preferences of local residents. Considering the Jewish migration to Palestine began as far back as 1830, and that by 1947 Palestine was home to 100,000s of Jews born and raised there - not including them under this "locals" label amounts to blatant antisemitism. Unless, of course, the claimant advocates for forcibly reversing the outcomes of all human migration in general - such as shipping all Europeans and Asians back from the Americas.
I'm going to assume most readers are familiar with the religious "ancestral homeland" argument made by pro-Israel propaganda, and I adamantly refuse to entertain arguments founded on scripture as logically valid. However, it's important to recognize that Israel supporters who subscribe to this religious argument are actually a minority. For the most part, the Zionist movement is a nationalist movement that calls for a State ethnic Jews can call home; where they will not be persecuted and repressed as had been happening for centuries in various countries with large ethnic Jewish populations such as Spain, Russia, and Germany. While a noble cause, this really provides 0 foundation for the idea that the particular land in question ought to belong to Jews, and the Jewish Kingdoms that once ruled it - like, 1000s of years ago - rightfully don't convince any reasonable person, including Palestinians not wishing to live under a nationalist Jewish State. The fact that Palestinians also have not ruled Palestine in 1000s of years does not constitute an excuse for treating them as second class citizens as Israel has done since its inception. I contend that comparing this to genocidal regimes such as Hitler's Germany is an exaggeration, but it IS comparable to discriminatory policies like Jim Crow laws in the US South or, disturbingly enough, apartheid laws in places like the Russian Empire many of the Jews migrated to escape.
Nationalism is the pinnacle of collectivist stupidity. There is 0 reason to believe race and ethnicity are even objectively tangible concepts - they are predominantly post-enlightenment myths that were coined to justify slavery in the New World and then took on a life of their own in the pseudo-science of Eugenicism. Further, this disturbing figment of our collective imagination has never served any purpose other than to manipulate people to hate, repress, and kill other people that have never done them wrong. Both Jews and Palestinians had been victims of others' nationalism long before they were perpetrators of it, but have come to project it on each other in a gruesome parade of violence with roots stoked by much bigger forces. Despite my disgust with nationalism as the fuel of the conflict in the modern era, however, it in no way explains the conflict pre-dating it by 1000s of years.
Myth #3: Religion
Though largely replaced by the nationalism I described in the previous section in the modern conflict, religion has been used as a means of motivating people to fight for the land in question for millennia. Yet despite this, it too does not adequately explain its origins.
I have come across people that refer to the modern Israeli-Palestinian conflict as "the manifestation of centuries of Jewish/Muslim animosity"; a theory slightly discredited by the fact that Jews and Muslims DON'T HAVE a history of centuries of animosity. In fact, Jews and Muslims lived peaceably side-by-side for centuries, even in times when Muslim-ruled Empires conquered Jewish enclaves - and let the Jews practice their own culture and religion while paying tribute. And even if there were some mythical rivalry between Jews and Muslims, that STILL wouldn't explain the perpetual conflict over this land that pre-dates the origins of Islam in the 7th century AD by 1000s of years.
If any religion has a history of intolerance and persecution toward other religions - it's Christianity. It was the Spanish and French Inquisition and the theocratic Russian Empire perpetrating the persecution that led into the formation of the Zionist Movement; not some made-up Muslim savage. The Crusades - religion-inspired wars that sought to bring, among other things, this same religious intolerance to the land in question - were also Christian endeavors, and ones aimed indiscriminately at both Muslims and Jews. But before you dismiss me as some Bible-basher that simply wants to blame Christianity for all of history's problems, it helps to remember that the conflict even pre-dates the Catholic and Eastern Orthodox theocracies by 1000s of years, and that it has continued despite their decline in recent centuries.
And before Christianity, religion was rarely a significant factor in war and conflict. Pagans, whether they were Egyptian, Persian, Greek, Roman, Nordic, or anything else - tended not to fight over religion. They killed each other plenty, but on religion they historically compromised by adopting each others' gods and customs, or merging matching ones. Monotheistic Judaism that forbids the worship of others' gods certainly stood out in this sense, but most historic accounts even demonstrate its capacity to find ways to compromise. It's not a coincidence that all 3 major Western religions have married themselves to the location, as well as a slew of others and their derivatives such as the Ba'hai faith. However, to claim that religious strife is at the root of the problem is missing the point entirely; and makes no sense in light of the fact that the conflict is older than every religion involved in it.
Miscellaneous Myths: Zionist Conspiracy, Free-Masons, GMOs, Chem-Trails, Lizard Aliens, etc.
I won't waste much time addressing these psychoses, all of which have been tied to the Israel conflict in some form, because I am of the firm belief that anyone who actually takes them seriously will not be convinced by anything I say. Suffice it to say that there is 0 empirical evidence whatsoever for any of them, and those that target specific groups of people such as Jews or Free-Masons as conspiring in secret ploys to take over the world constitute bigotry. I remind you that BOTH of these groups were targeted by Hitler's holocaust, and that his propaganda machine stoked the same superstition and libel surrounding them to extract compliance from the dumbest sectors of the population. If you believe in any of this horseshit, THAT is the kind of company you are in, and I strongly recommend for you a psychiatric evaluation. With organized religion in significant decline in the Western world, my theory on these beliefs is they are simply the modern crutch for weak-minded people uncomfortable with the inherent ambiguity of reality. Every such crutch has historically become the useful idiocy of international conflict - it's not terribly surprising these are any different.
My Toxic Theory
I meet very few people my own explanation for the conflict does not infuriate, and in light of the overwhelming dominance of propagandist hysteria - I find that to be a huge compliment.
Put simply and brutally, the conflict is exclusively geopolitical, and has never been anything else. The land in question is the most important geographic bottleneck in the world. East to West, it is a very narrow land bridge between Eurasia and Africa, and more historically between Mesopotamia and Egypt - the 2 first human civilizations. There are places on this land bridge that have been turned into a stereotypical "lunar" desert, with nothing left but sand from all the caravan traffic that has depleted the water and natural vegetation beyond regrowth. North to South, the ports on the Mediterranean coast - Sinai, Gaza, Tel-Aviv (Jaffa), Haifa, Akko, and Beirut are the only reasonable places to dock or set sail when traveling between populous Europe and the resource-rich Arab Peninsula. Other routes are lengthy and have included passing through significant amounts of hostile territory in every era. Bottlenecks in general tend to be centers of perpetual conflict with colorful histories of war - like try the Balkan Peninsula, the Crimea, the Korean Peninsula, Panama, the Iberian Peninsula (particularly Gibraltar), you get the point. Whoever controls the bottleneck can establish a monopoly on trade and political hegemony, support the latter with the former by charging tariffs and the former with the latter by boasting peace and calm for business; and live a life of luxury, power, and praise. And when it comes to what is currently known as Israel/Palestine, there is simply no more lucrative location of this kind in the world, attracting the advances of every superpower in human history.
What about Jerusalem? Well, this city, with its absolutely disgusting weather hardly hospitable to agriculture or human survival, is a perfect natural castle in the middle of an otherwise flat and non-defensible terrain! It sits inside a little circular mountain range in the desert, surrounded on all sides by insurmountable sand cliffs and having only 2 very narrow entrances that resemble the "hot gates" from the movie "300". Before the age of airstrikes and spy satellites, this location was virtually impenetrable; the entrances allowing small, lodged squads to keep out overwhelmingly larger armies. Whatever regional power established control over Jerusalem could then comfortably take over the ports and land routes surrounding it, knowing the advantage of its land castle would give it a massive edge.
But if you're not a Philistine or Egyptian god king that commands 1000s of slave subjects indiscriminately in labor and combat, how do you motivate any sufficient number of people to live in and sacrifice themselves defending such an inhospitable place? How do you do so in the age of classical reason, when human self-determination and autonomy are being celebrated; and cheaply enough to keep the entire endeavor profitable? Oh, I know, you tell them it's what god wants! There you have it, Edge of Chaos fans, the origin of all modern Western faith in a nutshell, which explains not only its fascination with Jerusalem, but also its peculiar intolerance toward other faiths and propensity for religious warfare. There is no shortage of brutal and pointless conflicts in the histories of East Asia and the Americas, but when was the last one fought over religion that didn't involve a Judeo-Christian faith? Yea, keep thinking about it....
The post-enlightenment decline of religion as a political force has made motivating people to kill each other for their leaders' profit extremely problematic. As war has become more and more unpopular and politically costly for this and other reasons, governments have grown more enamored with having others fight conflicts on their behalf - be it insurgencies, tributary States, or other proxy agents. This is abundantly apparent in the modern and Cold War eras, but it is older than many think. The civil wars in Eastern and Southern Europe leading into WWII are easily viewed as proxy conflicts with clashing guerillas supported by the various superpowers that would eventually fight the war, as are the tributary conflicts leading into WWI. Even colonial wars, such as the French and Indian War that set the stage for the American Revolution, is easily seen as an exported conflict between two European Empires whose monarchs knew that fighting on their own soil would cost them not only their crowns, but their heads. The prevalence of proxy conflicts has, in turn, made nationalism the new motivator of choice, as to motivate people to kill each other on behalf of superpowers they now have to be led to believe that they're fighting for their own identity and ethnic survival; and nowhere is this effect more evident than Israel and Palestine.
In the mid-19th century, the Zionist movement and the associated ethnic Jewish migration were strongly encouraged by the British and Russian Empires; and both promoted it not only with cultural support for the Jews' nationalist rhetoric, but also by stoking centuries-old antisemitism at home to make conditions more hostile and unbearable. These empires had a vested interest in undermining their common enemy, the Ottoman Empire; by building a pillar of opposition that they hoped would eventually destabilize its hold on the land in question. When both the Ottoman and Russian Empires collapsed outright in WWI, the remaining British Empire no longer needed to support a Jewish State as it emerged victorious, controlling the lucrative bottleneck now called "Mandatory Palestine" as part of the British Empire. But the betrayed Jews quickly found a new friend in the USSR - to which most of them traced their roots, that had very similar economic proposals to their agricultural communes at the time, and which was at its inception very sympathetic to their cause as most of Lenin's original Politburo (Trotsky, Kamenev, Zinoviev) were Jews; resistance to the Russian Empire's repression of Jews having played a huge part in the revolution. You're unlikely to find mention of this in propaganda mills for either side, but the 1920s in Mandatory Palestine were plagued by violence from Jewish Communist guerillas demanding the British withdraw and grant them a Jewish State, guerillas funded and supplied by the USSR. To maintain control of its prized possession, the British Empire began flirting with Palestinians, who at the time were predominantly nomadic tribes - investing in infrastructure and pseudo-independent institutions, but also stoking fear and mistrust in Jews using the worst bigoted stereotypes and marginalizing them with the small minority of guerillas. Recall that in the 1920s and 1930s, antisemitism was a commonly accepted global political trend, and the British Parliament contained a slew of Nazi sympathizers before relations soured due to Hitler's aggression.
When WWII effectively retired the British Empire (as well as France) from superpower status, it's difficult to deny the disastrous legacy of their mandates on the region in general. The borders of the new Arab countries were drawn with further economic colonization in mind and 0 heed to the needs of the locals, and weak, unpopular monarchies were loosely crafted out of tribal relationships with 0 consideration for rivalries that had been stoked for decades. As a result, just about every emerging country has alternated between civil war and brutal dictatorship ever since: Egypt, Libya, Syria, Iraq, Lebanon. But the fight in the UN over partitioning Mandatory Palestine was the longest and most vicious of all; with the British and its newly established Arab puppet monarchies insisting on another monarchy just like them, and the USSR with its Eastern bloc in tow insisting on a pseudo-democratic Nationalist Jewish State ruled by the extremist bandits it had been supporting for the previous 30 years. The US, along with its South American bloc, surprised the world by siding with the USSR, and the geographically unsustainable 2-State clusterfuck drawn in 1947 was the final compromise. Both countries commenced ruled by their worst respective radicals, and unsurprisingly violence ensued within a matter of months. The Jews had the 2 richer and more powerful foreign backers, so they emerged victorious and pushed the Palestinians to the 1949 armistice lines. Fact-cherrypicking pro-Palestinian propaganda will hammer on this event to paint the Jews as the aggressors. But the violence was mutual and the outcome determined by foreign support and funding - it could just as easily have gone the other way, and losing a conflict doesn't make you the victim or the good guy. Stalin's extreme paranoia in his final years would then turn on Israel in the 1950s, severing ties and leaving it a unilateral US colony. But the entire region soon evolved into a Cold War front, with Stalin's successors orchestrating Arab Nationalist military coups in the surrounding countries, and then together with emerging dictators (Nasser, the Assads, Ghadhaffi) supporting and funding Palestinian nationalist guerillas such as Fatah and the PLO. The decline of the USSR in the late 1970s and 1980s brought relative calm and the opportunity for some negotiations, but then the Ayatollahs took over Iran and became the newest challenger to US hegemony - funding and growing the variety of Islamic Fundamentalists that are our #1 enemy in the modern era, with Hamas being only one manifestation. It's worthwhile to mention the one Arab monarchy that remains successful and powerful, that of Saudi Arabia, that has played all sides in the conflict for its benefit for the last several decades.
The No State Solution
As I have hopefully demonstrated, the conflict in question is not between Jews and Palestinians nor between Israel and Hamas, but between global superpowers as has been the case for 1000s of years. The land in question is arid and generally unable to sustain the 12 million Israelis and Palestinians living on it, but the governments of both subsist off foreign aid which also loads them up on weapons they would never be able to afford. This situation makes it very difficult for moderates on either side to take and maintain power. Overtures toward peace and disarmament alienate the patron powers whose interest is hegemonic control and who also supply sustenance, and the competing patron power tends to capitalize through aggression. In 2008-9, for example, war weary Israelis leaned heavily toward more dovish parties in their Knesset, to the chagrin of US defense contractors also suffering from war fatigue back home. But Hamas, supported by Iran, pounced on this - seizing unilateral control of Gaza and engaging in a campaign of violence that invariably brought the hawkish Netanyahou to power and kept him there. Today, the tables are somewhat reversed. Motivated partially by the decline and domestic problems of Iran, the government of the West Bank has made strides in building democracy and resolving its differences with Israel using a peaceful, diplomatic process. But US interests and Netanyahou blew an act of terror out of proportion to justify a campaign of violence to seize more control, violence that will invariably revitalize Hamas and erase the political gains in the West Bank.
While I despise both Hamas and the hawkish elements of the Israeli government for perpetuating this situation, it's also important to recognize that long-term solutions are off the table for both. Castrating Hamas buys Israel a few years of relative calm that it otherwise would not have, even though it realizes the cancer will grow back. For Palestinians, aggression is the only way to force such nationalist politicians to the negotiating table and advocate for better than second-class citizenship status. If moderates could come to power in both places, they could theoretically solve both problems simultaneously and also establish the economic cooperation necessary for any hope of independent sustenance on the land. But invoking the basics of game theory, such an outcome is highly unlikely when lucrative, rich superpowers are constantly prodding both sides toward war.
Cheesy as it sounds, peace between Israel and Palestine will only happen if and when there is peace on earth; a condition that would also require the end of superpowers and the belligerent, overreaching, unaccountable modern State. While I'm hopeful that such a time will eventually come to pass for reasons I will discuss in a different post, it's not quite on the horizon before us, and anyone claiming to have a solution that will create lasting peace in the existing situation is just blowing smoke.