Home demolition in Beit Hanina. November 2011. Simon Krieger/Demotix. All rights reserved.Conflict is expensive. In purely economic terms it is estimated that the conflict in Gaza will cost upwards of almost US$ 3bn or 1.2 % of total economic output (for Israel). Moreover there are the costs associated with the destruction of civilian infrastructure in Gaza; homes, schools, hospitals and Gaza’s one and only power station have not been exempt from attack. The destruction of infrastructure in Gaza is estimated to amount to US$5bn. Then there is the loss of life. In purely numerical terms approximately 1400 Palestinian lives have been lost. Of the lives lost 80% were civilians and 20% of those were children. Three Israeli civilians and a Thai national have been killed along with 56 Israeli soldiers. There is no doubt that the loss of life will leave a scar that will take some time to heal.
However another big casualty of this conflict that has often been overlooked, is the loss of the middle. It may also be aptly described as the centre, the moderates or those willing to engage, so as to bring about a resolution of the greater Palestine-Israel conflict. This is not to say that the middle has been completely deserted. Rather it is evident that there is a growing polarisation in attitudes amongst Palestinians and Israelis towards one another.
There are abundant signs of the weakening of Palestinian and Israeli willingness to engage with one another. This can be seen in the lack of humanity and empathy that people are able to express. In Sderot, an Israeli town that borders the Gaza Strip, local Israelis have made a habit of coming together to witness the attacks on Gaza. However they do not come to watch and wish it to end: for them it is a spectacle, a social outing. There is seating, drinks, snacks, people bring binoculars and take ‘selfies’, all the while they are cheering on the Israeli Defence Force (IDF) offensive.
Then there is the fear, which many Palestinians who habitually reside in Jerusalem feel. They fear harassment, physical intimidation and violence from Israeli Jews as a result of the conflict in Gaza. This violence is promoted by Facebook pages that call for ‘death to Arabs’. Some include pictures of IDF soldiers posing with similar ‘death to Arabs’ slogans drawn across their body whilst holding a gun. The number of ‘likes’ numbers in the thousands. As such, Palestinians in Jerusalem are blamed for the conflict in Gaza and rockets targeted at Israeli cities.
The lack of empathy, growing polarisation and promotion and popularity of violence is not limited to Israelis. Similar sentiments can be found amongst Palestinians. Signs abound comparing the State of Israel with Nazi Germany. There appears to be an abundance of toy guns amongst children running about the streets (which could be a coincidence). Children are dressed up, painted with fake wounds and blood so as to symbolise the children killed during the conflict and they are also carried in the rallies that clog the streets at night. However, some are probably too young to really understand the events that are taking place. Then there is the music that features amongst it all. Popular at the rallies (compiled in 2012) is a song that promotes the bombing of Tel Aviv. The song can also be heard when walking down the street blaring from the stereo of the odd car that passes by. However, what’s more alarming is hearing the song being played at a children’s centre and the children present singing along to it.
The propagation and rise in popularity of views that support violence is worrying, but at the same time it is somewhat understandable. In the case of the Palestinians, they are undoubtedly tired of having been told to be patient, to wait and to compromise all in the name of a Palestinian State that has been forthcoming for over 60 years yet still remains out of reach. For Israelis, particularly those on the border with the Gaza Strip (rightly or wrongly) they fear for their lives. Many have taken to the roads, travelling away from their homes in search of refuge. However tempting it is to resort to violence, or at least espouse beliefs that advocate violence, this temptation must not be allowed to take hold.
In the case of the Palestinians, resort to violence will only provide greater grounds for Israel to delay resolution of the greater conflict and the denial of a Palestinian state. For Israelis, violence will give greater credence to those groups that espouse violence as the only means to securing a Palestinian state. It will do nothing to bring about either a lasting peace or security. This might seem idealistic. However the reality is that it remains in the interests of each to see and empathise with the other and to come back to the middle. Coming to the middle does not guarantee that the greater conflict will be resolved overnight, however, the failure to come back to the middle guarantees that this conflict will not be resolved. This conflict will only be resolved when each sees the other and is willing to engage. That will only occur in the middle.