Unraveling the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict: A Deep Dive into Historical Misunderstandings and Modern Realities

5 min read

The principle that we are judged by the way we judge others is a fundamental teaching in Jewish ethics, emphasizing the importance of compassion balanced with justice. This is reflected in Pirkei Avot 1:6, “Judge every person favorably,” which underscores the need for fair and empathetic judgment. Compassion, however, does not mean condoning evil. The balance between Gevurah (strength or discipline) and Rachamim (mercy) must be maintained. Empathy involves understanding that many individuals act from a place of ignorance and fear, often shaped by their cultural and historical contexts.

Historically, the actions of secular Zionists in the late 19th and early to mid-20th centuries, while aimed at reclaiming the land, were often seen as misleading by the local populations, including the Palestinian people. Theodor Herzl, a prominent Zionist leader, initially promoted the idea of purchasing land in Ottoman Palestine. As documented in the “Encyclopedia Britannica,” early Zionist leaders bought land from absentee landlords, which often resulted in the displacement of Palestinian tenant farmers who were living on and working the land.

Initially, many Palestinian Arabs were somewhat indifferent or even welcoming to the Jewish settlers, seeing economic opportunities in the development they brought. However, as the scale of Jewish immigration and land purchases increased, local Arab populations began to feel threatened. This shift is detailed in Tom Segev’s book “One Palestine, Complete,” which explains how the growing realization that Zionists intended to establish a Jewish homeland led to rising tensions.

By the time of the Balfour Declaration in 1917, which expressed British support for a Jewish national home in Palestine, Palestinian Arabs had become increasingly apprehensive about the Zionist project. The declaration, while politically significant, further fueled fears among the Arab population that their land and way of life were under threat. This growing tension erupted into violence, with notable conflicts such as the 1920 Nebi Musa riots and the 1929 Hebron massacre, where both Jewish and Arab communities suffered significant casualties.

These early conflicts set the stage for the larger and more devastating confrontations that followed, including the 1948 Arab-Israeli War. As documented by Benny Morris in “1948: A History of the First Arab-Israeli War,” the war led to the displacement of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians, an event known as the Nakba, or “catastrophe” in Arabic. This period marked a profound shift in the relationship between Jews and Arabs in the region, embedding deep-seated animosities and a sense of injustice that persists to this day.

For those who have grown up in places like the Gaza Strip, their lived experiences create a perception of oppression and desperation. As noted in various historical accounts, such as the works of historian Benny Morris in “Righteous Victims,” these perceptions, whether aligned with broader truths or not, shape their reality and drive their actions.

In their eyes, they are engaged in a struggle not unlike the Jewish historical struggle against Amalek. The Palestinian people perceive Jews as their Amalek, feeling an obligation to fight against what they see as an existential threat. This perception, true or not, becomes their reality and motivates their actions. Similarly, from their perspective, they feel trapped in what they perceive as their own form of a concentration camp, leading to a sense of rebellion that parallels the Jewish historical struggle for freedom and survival.

This dynamic results in a chain reaction of misunderstandings and conflicts, where each side views the other as the aggressor. Both sides feel justified in their actions, believing they are fighting against an Amalek-like enemy. This has created a deeply entrenched cycle of violence and hatred, fueled by long-standing historical grievances and misunderstandings.

The crucial question arises: who sanctioned these modern conflicts? Unlike the wars fought under the divine guidance of the Sanhedrin or the kings of Israel, today’s conflicts lack such spiritual and divine authorization. The Torah in Devarim 17:9-10 speaks of seeking guidance from the Sanhedrin, emphasizing the need for divinely guided leadership. The current governance, often seen as unauthorized and secular, does not carry the same legitimacy as the divinely sanctioned wars of the past.

The narrative of contemporary conflicts being comparable to the divinely sanctioned battles of King David or the miraculous victories of the Jewish people is flawed. Those historical battles were fought under clear divine mandate and guidance, whereas today’s wars are driven by human decisions, often lacking moral and spiritual clarity.

Therefore, understanding the complexities of these conflicts requires a deep sense of empathy and balanced judgment. Rabbi Jonathan Sacks zt”l often spoke about the importance of understanding the ‘other’ in his book “Not in God’s Name,” where he explains how misinterpretations and lack of empathy can fuel conflicts. While we must never condone evil or violence, recognizing the emotions and perceptions that drive these actions is essential. Only through such understanding can we hope to break the cycle of hatred and violence, paving the way for a future where long-lost relatives and neighbors can coexist in peace.

In essence, the greatest misunderstanding of our times has fanned the flames of a nuclear-like hatred between long-lost relatives and neighbors. To truly address and resolve these conflicts, we must strive for empathy, balance justice with mercy, and seek paths of reconciliation that acknowledge the deeply rooted historical and emotional contexts that shape each side’s perceptions and actions.

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  1. 1
    Zarayah Israel

    Shalom ♡ Blessings with Gratitude 🥹 for your article.
    Re: The “Napka
    The true “Nakba” described by Syrian author Constantine Zurayik in 1948.
    The meaning of the disaster, by Constantine K. Zurayk. Translated from the Arabic by R. Bayly Winder.
    Zurayq, Qusṭanṭīn, 1909-
    Publisher Info.
    Beirut, Khayat’s College Book Cooperative, 1956.
    Has anyone read this book?
    I heard a person speaking that the “Napka” is not what we have heard or learned. Qusṭanṭīn Zurayq was the author of this word, allegedly writing it concerning the context being the new Yisrael winning against the Arab armies.
    Amazon does not have this book.

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