Power, Not Morality Drives Violence in Israel-Palestine

Social media comments and infographics appearing on the internet have been insisting that this iteration of hostilities in Israel-Palestine is clear-cut and not complicated. Israel is the colonizing apartheid state and the Palestinians are defending themselves as best as they can. Israel is under the threat of terrorism from Hamas in Gaza. The complexity of this state of affairs has not suddenly disappeared. It remains one of the most convoluted political flashpoints in the world and its nuances are not to be dismissed. The classic disclaimer when dealing with the Israel-Palestine topic applies here as well: this article will not satisfy all audiences or affect a solution to the situation.

As in other instances of armed conflict, accepted norms of morality become blurred. The empathy expressed for anyone suffering under the renewed wave of hostilities in Israel-Palestine is a testament to the good nature of humanity among observers around the world. But the language of war and political violence is not the good nature of humanity. It is expressed through violence and its goal is power. When seen through its true lens, the decision of the belligerents involved to continue the use of force becomes clearer.

The recent week has seen the Biden administration approving a $735 billion weapons sale to Israel, the US blocking three calls for a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas at the UN Security Council, and the daily exchange of explosive ordinance between the two sides. Presently, the violence seems to have come to a momentary standstill, as Israel and Hamas seem to have negotiated a ceasefire. This comes on the heels of another deal that was rejected by Israel last week, a decision that was easy to understand given tepid resistance from its US ally. Though President Biden has since praised the ceasefire, he had also previously reiterated his firm support for Israel’s right to defend itself, seemingly playing both sides of the conflict. Lest we forget, this temporary peace is still incredibly fragile.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s right-wing Likud party stands to maintain firm control of the Israeli political scene by showing force during this crisis. There is widespread nationalist support in the country for such heavy-handed actions toward the areas of the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. Thus, the escalation from tensions to conflict represents the show of force and response to force that define power in Israel-Palestine. In the grammar of power, when the strain began boiling around Ramadan last month, Israel had to deploy security forces and in turn, Hamas had to express that it would not stand for Israel’s excessive use of force. When the rockets began flying after the lapse of Hamas’ ultimatum, the path to violence was paved.

Israel has major political tailwinds in this fight, both domestically and from its allies, and has the incentive to carry on with its use of force. On the other side, Hamas continues to retaliate to signal the continued resistance against Israel’s domination. Only time will tell who will blink in this test of power. It is worth pointing out here that the lever of power in terms of political support and material sophistication is cranked overwhelmingly in favor of Israel. One needs only to consider the numbers of Palestinian casualties compared to Israeli casualties to assess arms effectiveness. At a glance, the optics certainly suggest that Israeli forces are punching down below their weight class. This obvious imbalance is the source of some of the outcry against Israel’s actions and in support of the civilians suffering from the current crisis.

Despite Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s rhetoric on a ‘rules-based order,’ the status quo in Israel-Palestine reflects the structure of political realism’s might makes right. As mentioned before, the US has approved new weapons sales to Israel, a continuation of the US tradition of arming their ally in the Middle East. On the defensive side, Israel’s iron dome system intercepts a majority of incoming rockets. From the confines of the blockaded Gaza Strip, Hamas has accumulated smuggled rockets by way of Egypt and Iran as well as homemade munitions based on foreign blueprints. Other supporters include Syria, Qatar, and Turkey. In the end, though, neither side can consider the military situation in isolation from the political and geopolitical stakes. For both sides, public opinion and the stances of supporting countries matter. At the moment, the exchange of bombs, destruction of infrastructure, and harm brought upon the civilian population is a duel over a political edge and favor in the overall narrative.

As has been the case in the many other outbreaks of violence in Israel-Palestine, morality takes a backseat this time again. Civilian casualties and the deliberate selection of civilian targets have occurred in this round of conflict just like many before. Residential areas are bombed and non-combatants are caught in the crossfire. Unfortunately, this will continue and will happen again in the future without binding and agreeable terms of peace that have been made to last.

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