Catherine Lytle: Something about us doesn’t seem right these days

When considering the Palestinian-Israeli problem we are faced with the notion of political master narratives. Historians and politicians are eager to create a narrative that they then make universal and people are forced to comply. However, this spawns more problems than solves because, firstly, I believe that few things are truly ‘universal’ and therefore differences are bound to arise. Nevertheless, there is a skewed perception of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict that we receive from Western media that many people have come to view as ‘universal’. There are of course other factors and truths that play out in this narrative: the question of real-estate as well as religion.

After the Second World War, the Europeans felt guilty for the horror of the Holocaust and therefore since Jews were persecuted for centuries and could only be safe in a Jewish homeland. Furthermore, many believe that Israel deserves special treatment from the United States.1 Israel also received a lot of foreign aid from France and later the US, contributions from Jews from around the world and reparations from the German government for the Holocaust.2 However, when Israel was founded, Jews formed only about 35 percent of the land’s population and owned only 7 percent of the land.3 So how does the expulsion of millions of Palestinians from their homes figure in the justification of the creation of Israel on a moral and ethical premise? There was a similar case of land reclamation and reattribution between Russia and Crimea in 2014 and between Sudetenland and Germany in 1938. Time and time again we have seen where the government and military justifies its actions on a ‘savior complex.’ By taking land from people and giving it to others or creating a country in lieu of another is not ethical nor moral despite any so-called noble intentions. This ethical paradox that the West embraces is one that is deeply flawed and is not forgotten by the people living there no matter how many years have passed by.

In response to this real-estate question Islam becomes an instrument for the mobilization of Muslim populations against control or domination by predominantly non­-Muslim political authorities or foreign occupiers, giving the resistance its religious color. Such instances arise mainly in those cases where ethnicity and Islam coincide to a substantial extent; therefore, the latter can be used as a marker to define ethnic identity in opposition to the ethnoreligious identity of the dominating or occupying non-Muslim ethnic groups.4 Two such organizations whose identity is intertwined with the real-estate question are Hamas and Hizbollah. They employ the use violence that is “the product of struggles that are context specific, nationally and territori­ally bounded, and principally determined by the fact of foreign occupation.”5 This makes them very different from ISIS and al-Qaeda, which, have espoused themselves with transnational violence.  The organizations focus on using nationalism and religion as resistance to foreign occupation. Hamas considers its battle to be with Israel and Zionism and has declared its policy of not picking fights with regional and international powers.6  So then if Hamas and Hizbollah are so fundamentally different from ISIS and al-Qaeda, why does the West insist on blanketing all these organizations with the term ‘terrorism’ and as organizations of equal threat?  A recurring trope that is parallel to these Western historical narratives is lack of understanding and unconditional support for Israel. But what legitimacy does that even give to Israel? Just because the West supports it,  how does that legitimize its identity as either a Jewish State or one that was created on justifiable grounds? Does that not further aggravate the conflict as both parties look for powerhouse umbrellas to protect them?

Gelvin argues that before the 6 day war in 1967, during which the Israeli army captured all of Jerusalem, the West Bank, the Sinai peninsula, the Gaza Strip and a part of Syria, the issue at had shifted from one about the legitimacy of the existence of Israel to a real estate one.7 In exchange for the return of the land Israel demanded recognition and peace settlements. While this exchange appears easy, it has been hard for a couple of reasons: (1) the resolutions are ambiguous because while they call for the withdrawal of Israeli forces “from territo­ries occupied during the recent conflict.” they don’t state that it must be from all territories.8 (2) The Arab states like to point out that the resolution does not call for formal peace treaties with Israel and rather calls for the “right to live in peace within secure and recognized boundaries free from threats or acts of force.”9 (3) The Arab states agreed to unify efforts to “eliminate the effects of aggression” and not to eliminate Israel. This was embodied by the ‘three no’s’ : no negotiations with Israel, no peace with Israel, no recogni­tion of Israel.10

But what does the ‘State of Israel’ even mean? Who composes ‘Jewish People’ and what is their relationship with the Jewish religion? The horror of the 20th century rearranged and divided the world to such an extent that I believe there is no such thing as a homogenous person from a homogenous society anymore. And therefore there should be no justification of action based on a singular identity. Israel promises the non-Jewish inhabitants of Israel “full and equal citizenship and due representation in its bodies and institutions.”11 Israel cannot retain its Jewish character if it allows the right of citizenship to large numbers of non-Jews, such as Palestinians.12 This issue arose again when beginning in 1993, Israel began to replace the Palestinian working community with workers from East and South East Asia, Eastern Europe and Africa. However, more than half of the workers are there illegally and therefore the Israeli government is faced with the same dilemma they had before: by granting them citizenship, Israel may risk losing its identity as a Jewish State, but if Israel refuses then they will be in the same situation as the caste-ridden Gulf countries.13

This conflict is deeply rooted in the ‘savior complex’ of bigger countries saving the small ones or in the empowerment of ethnic minorities. While I do not have any solutions, I know that even the return of Palestinian land to Palestine will not eradicate the resentment that has built up as a result of Israeli occupation. Unconditional support for Israel and the monopolization of land for people of a singular religious belief should be discouraged. It is only through the collaboration of people of different races and beliefs that culture and arts and society can flourish. If segregation, occupation and preference of a singular group of people is revered and encouraged then those supporters’ ideas are, in my opinion, no better than those of Hitler, Stalin and other such historical figures in response to whom, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is so carefully constructed.


End notes

  1. Mearsheimer and Walt, The Israel Lobby and U.S Foreign Policy, 9
  2. Gelvin, The Israel-Palestine Conflict, 271
  3. 3. ibid
  4. Mahallati, class lecture, November 16
  5. Ayoob, The Many Faces of Political Islam, 113
  6. ibid 118
  7.  Gelvin, The Israel-Palestine Conflict, 273
  8. ibid
  9. ibid 275
  10. ibid
  11. Lee, Religion and Politics in the Middle East, 82
  12. Gelvin, The Israel-Palestine Conflict, 272
  13. ibid 277



Ayoob, Mohammed. The Many Faces of Political Islam, Religion and Politics in the Muslim World, Ann Arbor, The University of Michigan Press, 2008

Gelvin, James L. The Israel-Palestine Conflict: One Hundred Years of War, Cambridge,New York: Cambridge University Press, 2005

Lee, Robert D. Religion and Politics in the Middle East: Identity, Ideology, Institutions, and Attitudes, Boulder, Colorado: Westview Press, 2014

Mearsheimer, John J., and Stephen M. Walt. “The Israel Lobby and U.S Foreign Policy.” Middle East Policy 13, no 3 (2006): page 29-87.