Polarization in the Middle-East-Conflict

This article (Polarization in the Middle-East-Conflict) is a translation of a
german blog-entry (deutsch): Polarisierung im Nahostkonflikt

Moral Confusion is inteded

The Middle-East-Conflict polarizes many people. In doing so, many seem to lose their moral compass. The reason for this is that conflict lines are misidentified. This does not happen without a reason. The reason for this strong polarization in the Middle-East-Conflict is that some actors in this conflict are very successful in masking the conflict lines in order to prevent a discussion of their methods, or in declaring them as adversary propaganda and thus undermining them.

Illustration to a blog article 'Polarization in the Middle-East-Conflict' | Hugins-Blog.deMoral Confusion

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Polarization in the Middle-East-Conflict: Diametrical Players

Two parties are trying to rally everyone in this conflict, but in doing so they obscure the true lines of conflict. There are people on both sides who, in terms of territory, claim the entire disputed area for their party.

On side of the Palestinians some people argue among other arguments, that the establishment of the State of Israel after the Second World War and the Holocaust was contrary to applicable international law and that Palestinians already lived in the territory. Therefore, they question the right of the State of Israel to exist and claim the entire territory for the Palestinians.

Conversely, on the part of the Israelis, some people rely on the belief that the Israelites as „chosen people“ had been assigned the territory by God. Following this, the whole area is claimed for the Israelis. Among other things, this belief results in the construction of israelian settlements also in the territories that have been granted to the Palestinians.

Of course, these positions are not shared by all Palestinians and all Israelis, but the representatives of these positions are diametrically opposed. They are the basis for polarization in the Middle-East-Conflict.

Assessment of the palestinian claim

It is a fact that even before the establishment of the State of Israel, predominantly muslim Palestinians lived in the area. Of course, Jews and Christians have been living in the area since ancient times side by side to the Muslims. In fact, when the state of Israel was founded in 1948, the proportion of Jews was only about 30% of the population. This is a snapshot, as many Jews had already immigrated in the years before and the State of Israel was always open to the immigration of more Jews. The declaration of independence of the State of Israel thus contradicted the will of the majority of the local population. In the War of Independence that followed the founding of the state, some 750,000 Palestinians were displaced to neighbouring countries, some of them still living in refugee camps.

However, even assuming that the establishment of the State of Israel was not legitimate, this does not mean that today this entity simply could be eliminated and, with it, the people who live in it. I share the view that we need to talk about the conditions for the return of displaced Palestinians and about ways of compensating them. But to expel the people who live in Israel today would be just an evil unlawfulness. More on that later.

Assessment of the israelian claim

Religious belief alone, I am sure, is not a legitimate basis for political or legal decisions or claims. Just because someone believes to be right does not make him to be. Anyone who assumes that all human beings are entitled to the same degree of dignity must doubt that there could be people who are chosen and favoured by (a) God. In my eyes, favouring one’s own affiliation in this way looks like nationalism or racism.

Moreover, one may ask how certain these people can be that they can trace their origins back to the biblical tribes, and how strong this bond should be. Conversely, one may ask why others should not be able to attribute their origin to this. In fact, it seems quite plausible to assume that many of today’s muslim Palestinians could trace their origins back to pre-islamic jewish roots, if their ancestors had always settled in the same area. – I find such considerations idle and nonsensical. If all human beings are accorded the same degree of dignity, such considerations of origin are meaningless.

At this point, however, it must also be mentioned that the State of Israel occupies a dominant position. Israel is acting from a position of strength that the Palestinian side has little to oppose. In this way, they manage to create a relative degree of safety, at least for their own group. This is so far legitimate, but one must be aware that violence or force does not create rights and justice. Just because you can do something doesn’t mean you have the right to do it.

On evil unlawfulness (*) and redress

Every human being has the right to life and physical integrity. It also has various human and civil rights. The basis for this is that every human being has the same degree of dignity.

On all sides in the Middle-East-Conflict, a lot of enormous evil unlawfulness has been committed in the past. That is a fact. This evil unlawfulness took different forms. It was murder, expulsion, unequal treatment and arbitrariness.

In concrete terms, the act of establishing the state of Israel could be described as just as an evil unlawfulness as the terrorist attacks carried out by palestinian groups. The same can be said of the establishment of jewish settlements in the palestinian areas, the diverting of water as an existential resource, and of the deprivation or withholding of cultural, economic and also personal development opportunities, which also manifested itself in the past, e. g. in repeated closures of the palestinian areas. And it manifests itself in abductions and stone-throwing as well as sniper shots into crowds. Also in murder, in indiscriminate rocket and bomb attacks as well as in targeted killings and the willing acceptance of so-called collateral damages. Furthermore it shows itself in contempt and insulting others and indifference to evil unlawfulness. And in hatred.

Evil unlawfulness is evident in all those murdered people, not least at the Simchat Tora Festival on November 7th 2023, or in the civilian victims of air strikes in the Gaza Strip.

But it is not only in those acts mentioned. In view of all the evil unlawfulness committed on both sides, I do not know where to begin and end an enumeration and how to do justice to the full scale of the unlawfulness. One cannot do justice to the many unlawful acts by a simple enumeration.

Redress instead of new unlawfulness

Unlawfulness can not be set off against one another. An unlawful act cannot outweigh or make amends for another. Each single unlawful act must be considered seperately.

Instead, one should always seek compensation for unlawfulness. Redress and offender-victim compensation are principles of the modern rule of law.

What do Judaism and Islam say about this?

Excursion: Redress in the Talmud

The Talmud states that an unlawfulness should be compensated in equal worth, which means a real redress, and with regard to five aspects:

הַחוֹבֵל בַּחֲבֵרוֹ, חַיָּב עָלָיו מִשּׁוּם חֲמִשָּׁה דְבָרִים: בְּנֶזֶק, בְּצַעַר, בְּרִפּוּי, בְּשֶׁבֶת, וּבְבֹשֶׁת

One who injures his fellow is liable concerning him for five categories [of payment]: damages, pain, healthcare, unemployment, and shame.

Talmud, Mishna Bava Kamma 8: 1.
Sefaria Community Translation

Many misunderstand the passage „an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth“ as an epitome of vengeance. But that is completely wrong. There is explicitly no right to revenge for humans. At this point only the equivalence of reparation is stressed. This is evident from the entire context of the passage, where it is explained in detail how compensation is to be calculated, not only for bodily injury, but also in the wider context for other unlawful acts such as damaging of property.

Firstly a culprit is liable for compensation, i. e. financial or material compensation for the actual damage caused by the unlawful act. Secondly he is liable to give compensation for pain and suffering. Thirdly, compensation for loss of earnings or incapacity to work or even simply for the loss of quality of life in general and, finally fifthly, redress for humiliation.

Excursion: Justice in the Quran

In Islam, according to the Quran, justice is a general and comprehensive binding precept, to which God has committed all human beings.

يَٰٓأَيُّهَا ٱلَّذِينَ ءَامَنُواْ كُونُواْ قَوَّٰمِينَ لِلَّهِ شُهَدَآءَ بِٱلۡقِسۡطِۖ وَلَا يَجۡرِمَنَّكُمۡ شَنَـَٔانُ قَوۡمٍ عَلَىٰٓ أَلَّا تَعۡدِلُواْۚ ٱعۡدِلُواْ هُوَ أَقۡرَبُ لِلتَّقۡوَىٰۖ وَٱتَّقُواْ
ٱللَّهَۚ إِنَّ ٱللَّهَ خَبِيرُۢ بِمَا تَعۡمَلُونَ

O you who believe, be steadfast for (obeying the commands of) Allah, (and) witnesses for justice. Malice against a people should not prompt you to avoid doing justice. Do justice. That is nearer to Taqwā. Fear Allah. Surely, Allah is All-Aware of what you do.

Quran, Surah al-Māʾida (arabic المائدة ‚the table spread‘) 5: 8.
English translation by Mufti Taqi Usmani (cf. https://quran.com/).

فَلِذَٰلِكَ فَٱدۡعُۖ وَٱسۡتَقِمۡ كَمَآ أُمِرۡتَۖ وَلَا تَتَّبِعۡ أَهۡوَآءَهُمۡۖ وَقُلۡ ءَامَنتُ بِمَآ أَنزَلَ ٱللَّهُ مِن كِتَٰبٖۖ وَأُمِرۡتُ لِأَعۡدِلَ بَيۡنَكُمُۖ ٱللَّهُ رَبُّنَا
وَرَبُّكُمۡۖ لَنَآ أَعۡمَٰلُنَا وَلَكُمۡ أَعۡمَٰلُكُمۡۖ لَا حُجَّةَ بَيۡنَنَا وَبَيۡنَكُمُۖ ٱللَّهُ يَجۡمَعُ بَيۡنَنَاۖ وَإِلَيۡهِ ٱلۡمَصِيرُ

So, (O prophet,) towards that (faith) invite (people), and be steadfast as you are commanded, and do not follow their desires, and say, “I believe in whatever book Allah has sent down. And I have been ordered to do justice among you. Allah is our Lord and your Lord. For us are our deeds, and for you, your deeds. There is no argumentation between us and you. Allah will bring us together, and to Him is the final return.”

Quran, Surah aš-Šūrā / asch-Schura (arabic الشورى ‚the consultation‘) 42: 15.
English translation by Mufti Taqi Usmani (cf. https://quran.com/).

So it is said that the believer has to profess to justice. Even hatred should not lead him to be unjust. Everyone is responsible for their own deeds or actions. God, or for believing Muslims Allah, will unite all people in justice. Justice, then, is something that is not reserved for believers alone.

Justice and Redress are universal principles

You don’t have to be a Jew, a Muslim or a Christian to recognise justice. Every man, whether believer or not, is able to recognise justice, if he just wants to.
So not only the Quran says that people should be just, but we find the call for justice all over the world.

Also arrangements for compensation for unlawfulness are generally considered to be a just matter. Not only does the Talmud deal here with the question of what a just and adaequate compensation should look like, but it is also an issue that people all over the world have also dealt with. As old as the text of the Talmud is, it seems at this point to sound very modern and just.

The issue of reparation, the right to compensation and redress are, as I wrote above, universally recognized legal principles.

Polarization in the Middle-East-Conflict – The Others are always to blame for everything?

One purpose that the polarization in the Middle-East-Conflict serves is that it makes it easy for people to always blame others. The focus is taken away from the specific culprits of unlawfulness and directs it towards „the others“.

It is not acceptable to only ever talk about the injustice suffered by one group. It is also not acceptable to only want to prosecute the culprits of one group. That would not be just.

The law applies independently, i.e. without regard to the person. Anyone who murders or commits other unlawful acts must be held accountable – regardless of whether they are Israelis or Palestinians, Jews or Muslims. Regardless of religion, origin or any group affiliation.

Israelic criminal prosecution must not ignore israelic culprits and must not treat them better. – Palestinians must also see the unlawfulness that Palestinians do to others and name it as such.

Those, who are just, see the unlawfulness of both sides and the culprits and victims on both sides.

Polarization in the Middle-East-Conflict – Collectivization of guilt

It is sometimes claimed that the violence against Israelis is intended to liberate the Palestinians. But this is no liberty. The lack of liberty on the part of the Palestinians is not only due to the evil unlawfulness they have to suffer at the hands of Israel, but they are also not free because of the violence of other Palestinians. It must be taken into account that the armed violence of the palestinian militias is not only directed against Israel, but that they also force the Palestinians to follow them. Therefore, not everyone who professes allegiance to Hamas and the crimes committed in their name should be treated as culprits, because many Palestinians are not free in their statements.

Just because people in the palestinian areas wear Hamas symbols does not make them to culprits of evil unlawfulness. They may just be trying to escape the violence in their immediate neighbourhood. Or they are seen as symbols of their own pop culture. In other parts of the world, not everyone who wears a Che-Guevara-T-shirt is a terrorist revolutionary left-wing extremist and murderer. As much as I detest seeing people cheering the murder of other people, I have to recognize that even if a protester cheers murder, he is not a murderer himself.

Polarization in the Middle-East-Conflict – Collectivization of guilt isn’t just

So not every Palestinian or Muslim is guilty of the evil unlawfulness perpetrated against Israelis or Jews. On the other hand, certainly not every person with Israeli citizenship or every believer of the Jewish faith is guilty of evil unlawfulness against Palestinians.

Is it just, to arbitrarily murder people just because they are categorised as belonging to a different group? – No, certainly not. It is not just when people are randomly murdered and kidnapped at a music festival. And it’s also not just when people bomb entire cities because they suspect there are culprits. Both is evil unlawfulness. Evil unlawfulness only creates new evil unlawfulness on all sides.

Polarization in the Middle-East-Conflict? – Every individual is responsible just for his own deeds!

There can be no doubt that murder is a capital crime and that the culprits belong in prison. Of course, this applies not only to murder, but also to many other crimes and very different types of unlawfulness. There are culprits and victims on both sides in the Middle-East-Conflict.

The culprits on both sides strive to a polarization in the Middle-East-Conflict in their own interests. They seek the affiliation and approval of large groups. This also involves the collectivisation of guilt, the appropriation for their own cause and the creation of common enemy images. This takes the focus off the culprits. However, large groups cannot and must not be held accountable for the actions of individuals. That would not be just.

The modern rule of law focuses on specific individuals, both culprits and victims, and specific offences. The principle of individual guilt applies.
This means that guilt is not sought in entire groups, but that actual specific culprits are prosecuted for specific offences.
The quotes from the Talmud and the Quran cited above point in the same direction.

Polarization in the Middle-East-Conflict: The rule of law must rule

In direct comparison, one can say that Israel is to a large extent a state governed by the rule of law, but that is certainly far from being the case with the Palestinian territories.

For example, Israel has not only accepted innocent victims in recent air strikes, but also in previous targeted killings of suspects. That’s evil unlawfulness. – Under the rule of law, investigations, arrests, trials and thus a conviction based on evidence are the right way to go, not a more or less targeted killing of suspects. This is an example of a blemish in the israelian rule of law, others often show up in questions of proportionality.

The Palestinians certainly have a much further way to go in this respect. It would certainly be desirable, among many other points, for culprits to be extradited and for (not only Israeli) jurisprudence to be recognised. And the extortion of convicted criminals by force is also an unlawfulness and a criminal offence. This applies to the purpose as well as to the means employed and the kidnapping and murder of people.

The evil unlawfulness must be investigated by neutral investigators and heared in front of independent civilian courts. Neither in the palestinian areas nor in the State of Israel has this been fully achieved to date. Both lack the necessary rule of law and sometimes also the sense of the victims for taking this path. A great deal of trust will have to be built up so that people gain confidence in the rule of law. This requires that all sides perceive the work of the institutions of the rule of law as just.

There is no justice in responding to an evil unlawful act with new evil unlawfulness.
Instead of creating ever new unlawfulness there must be redress.

Polarization in the Middle-East-Conflict: The actual real line of conflict

This is not a conflict between Jews and Muslims. Neither is this a conflict between the israelic army and the Hamas. This is not a conflict between Palestinians and Israelis. No, but it is a conflict between those who constantly create new unlawfulness and those who can imagine to live together.

I do not stand with the Muslims or the Palestinians.
But neither do I stand with the Jews or the Israelis. –
I stand with those who want lasting peace and therefore with the just.

The just realize that those, who create new evil unlawfulness, are on all other sides, namely among the Israelis as well as among the Palestinians, among the Jews as well as among the Muslims. And no, I am not weighing out the unlawfulness against each other here. That would lead nowhere. Every unlawful act must be avoided or, if possible, prosecuted and compensated. This is regulated in a constitutional state.

There can only be true peace with each other, not against each other. People must learn to live together.

A prospect to a peaceful future

After the current events, it may today be more distant than before. But I do not see the solution to the Middle-East-Conflict in a two-state solution.

On the one hand, I have the impression that Israel does not want a sovereign Palestine. Even the division of territory in the original partition plan seems very idiosyncratic and impractical. But it is also unacceptable to leave the palestinian population in legal uncertainty. They cannot live permanently without rights in areas that are de facto controlled by the israelian state from the outside and terrorized by militias from the inside. The permanance of the refugee camps is also unacceptable.

The Palestinians still have a lot to learn in terms of democracy and the rule of law, and will probably not be able to achieve this on their own. I therefore see a common state as the only way to achieve lasting peace – with full civil rights for all people living in the entire territory. This cannot be achieved quickly or in one step. It will take time. But the conflict has already lasted long enough to give the process this additional time.

There can only be lasting peace, if people learn to live together. They must learn to trust each other and place their lives and security in the hands of a functioning constitutional state that is able to harmonise different interests and confront new unlawful acts with the rule of law. This also means redress and justice. I see the solution in a common state as the humane solution. Because this state would not be a state of Jews or Palestinians, but a state of humans, i.e. also for the people living there. This implies a resolution of the usual polarization in the Middle-East-Conflict. The culprits on both sides won’t like this.

Reading Recommendation

I already stated this in an earlier blog article in 2018:

Blog-Article: Peace for Israel-Palestine – A solution for the conflict in Middle East

To achieve the goal, this seems today to require many more and smaller steps. It will take longer. Let us hope that the embittered older generations do not poison the youth even further with their hatred. They are constantly creating new unlawfulness.

(*) German term “Unrecht” – An issue in translation

The german term „Unrecht“ is essential in my article, but there is no truely fitting word to translate it into english. It is in between some terms. A lot of translators use the term „wrong“, but this seems to be much to weak to express „Unrecht“. „Unrecht“ isn’t just a mistake. Additionally translators use the term „injustice“, but this would be „Ungerechtigkeit“ in german – and we differ these two terms. „Injustice“ to „justice“ is in german „Ungerechtigkeit“ to „Gerechtigkeit“. „Gerechtigkeit“ in german is not the same as „Recht“ (right or law). „Recht“ would be on first sight the opposite of „Unrecht“.

Additionally we differ positive rights and laws from higher or natural rights and laws. When it is related to positive laws, „Unrecht“ would be „unlawfulness“ and „lawlessness“, but this is in german „Rechtlosigkeit“, „Gesetzlosigkeit“ or „Rechtswidrigkeit“. Again different terms. Perhaps we could describe „Unrecht“ as an „unlawfulness“ not related to positive laws, but to higher, natural rights. The term is so strong we sometimes say in german (a little bit theatralic), „Oh, this is an „Unrecht“ so strong, we may raise our fists against heaven blaiming God for its existence.“ or we call it a „himmelschreiendes Unrecht“.

Looking back on the term „injustice“ the difference to „Unrecht“ may be, that we don’t think so much on throwing it into the scales, but on an absolute violation of granted rights. Granted naturally, or simply because you are, or granted, for a believer by God or Allah, who created you.

I decided to use the term „unlawfulness“ (Rechtswidrigkeit) in most cases to express „Unrecht“, even if „Unrecht“ isn’t related on first hand to positive law, but more to natural rights. Sometimes I give the (more moral than legal language) attribute „evil“ to it, as an reinforcer and to pull the expression more to the intended meaning.

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