Review of “Israelis and Palestinians” by Jonathan Glover: Examining the Psychological Dynamics of the Conflict between Two Nations.
Jonathan Glover’s latest publication discusses the seemingly unsolvable Israel-Palestine conflict and includes a quote from George Orwell regarding the Spanish Civil War. The quote states, “Everyone believes in the enemy’s atrocities and disregards their own side’s without ever examining the evidence.”
This text could have been written in current times, where there is a tendency towards extreme thinking and pressure to choose sides, leading individuals to align their beliefs with their political preferences. Glover completed most of his research before recent events, but the book contains a preface addressing them. It remains highly pertinent. The repetition of these tragic patterns of violence throughout history is unfortunately still occurring today, on a larger and more horrifying scale. Glover is a philosopher and the author of Humanity: A Moral History of the Twentieth Century, a decade-long project that involved meticulous examination of acts of human cruelty and the moral dilemmas surrounding them.
He believes that the best way to put an end to them is by promoting open communication in all its forms. Drawing inspiration from Michael Oakeshott’s concept of “conversation of mankind”, he envisions a type of interaction that is free from coercion or threats. He cites examples of reconciliation in South Africa and peace-building in Northern Ireland, but also acknowledges that the conversation can take various forms, including non-violent protests and cultural exchanges like the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra led by Daniel Barenboim and Edward Said. The key aspect is to break down barriers of denial and acknowledge that both sides are capable of both good and bad deeds. This shift away from solely blaming one side and taking responsibility is crucial.
Glover combines philosophy and psychology to explain that humans commit atrocities due to innate tendencies. Only by acknowledging these tendencies can we control and manage them. As someone who has worked in conflict resolution in the Middle East for 20 years, I have witnessed the significance of integrating these two perspectives. Both the Israeli government and Hamas resort to violence to protect their people, believing it is the only way to communicate with the other side. However, this cycle of retaliation only amplifies the trauma, making peace even more challenging to achieve.
Israel was established after the Holocaust, during which 6 million Jews were killed without being able to protect themselves from organized and government-sanctioned genocide. Every new assault on Israeli citizens serves as a reminder of the intersection between the devastating history and current reality, reigniting profound concerns of total destruction.
In 1948, Israel gained its independence, while for Palestinians it marked the Nakba (“Catastrophe”), a event where approximately 700,000 Palestinians were forced to leave or escape their homeland. Over the span of 70 years, the oppressive and violent occupation has repeatedly caused trauma for Palestinians, extinguishing any aspirations for a brighter, more harmonious tomorrow.
Glover stresses the importance of acknowledging these traumatic histories and moving away from binary thinking. Instead, he advocates for open dialogue and finding common ground in a more nuanced perspective. Currently, individuals have been confined to defining themselves solely in opposition to others, making it difficult to articulate their own beliefs and envision a brighter future.
This situation presents the challenge of handling extremely divergent viewpoints. From my personal encounters, I have learned that even in cases where there is communication, individuals rarely show understanding towards one another or a desire to reach a mutual understanding. Each party tends to have distinct ways of explaining their perspectives, without much consideration for their opponents’ viewpoints. Their intense pain often causes them to focus solely on their own experiences, making it especially challenging to acknowledge the humanity of others as a first step.
We are aware that most individuals desire to reside in harmony, send their kids to school, and enjoy time with their companions and family. Glover references the Palestinian saying: “rather than cursing the darkness, light a candle”, acknowledging that although it may be difficult to consider, without communication, there will only be conflict and warfare.
Gabrielle Rifkind serves as the director of the Oxford Process and is a co-author of the book The Fog of Peace: How to Prevent War (published by Bloomsbury).