The Israeli-Palestinian Conflict: It’s Neither Ancient Nor Particularly Religious

Andrew Sullivan writes in a blog entry, “The Siege of Gaza,” the following rubbish: “The latest twist in this ancient and hopeless struggle is hard to address without equal measure of distaste for Hamas’s religious barbarism and dismay at Israel’s apparent determination to commit slow suicide.”

This is not an ancient struggle. European Jews began migrating to Palestine in the late nineteenth century and the colonization of Palestine began in earnest in the twentieth century. Before that time, Arabs, Christians, and Jews lived side by side in relative harmony. Sullivan attempts to mystify the cause of the conflict by rooting it in ancient history. Typical propaganda tactic: naturalize a conflict by making it primordial.

This is not at its core a religious struggle. This is an iteration of settler colonialism, in this particular case European Jews dispossessing indigenous Arabs of their land and lives. To be sure, religion, as it almost always does, fits in here in some way. Religion rationalizes oppression, fills the gaps in the consciousness of purpose, represents to the oppressed the heart in a heart world, the hope that finds hopelessness. But religion is not the ultimate cause of current situation.

The final cause of the situation really requires no analysis. Did Native Americans sit by idly while Europeans dispossessed them of their land and lives? Can anybody seriously claim that religious fanaticism drove Indians to massacre white settlers in North America? How should any people in possession of self-dignity act when colonized and oppressed? Sullivan’s claim that the Palestinians are guilty of “religious barbarism” is an attempt to shift the burden of responsibility: Israel is responsible for the predictable consequences of its behavior. The question for the international community is whether it will hold Israel accountable for its wrongdoing.

Israel is not committing suicide by pursuing this course of action. It’s leaders are orchestrating a situation – as they have been doing for decades – designed to incorporate Palestine into the state of Israel. Israel is the region’s sole nuclear power armed to the teeth with the most advanced weaponry the United States can provide. It enjoys the vast military arsenal of the US at its back. It enjoys the blessings of US client states in the region. If the surrounding Arab countries were likely to come to the defense of Arabs in Palestine, then Israel might be in some peril. But given the unlikelihood of such an outcome, Israel is, from a strategic imperialist point of view, strengthening its position with respect to its long-term project of consuming Palestine.

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Andrew Austin

Andrew Austin is on the faculty of Democracy and Justice Studies and Sociology at the University of Wisconsin—Green Bay. He has published numerous articles, essays, and reviews in books, encyclopedia, journals, and newspapers.

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