7

I think many people agree that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is exceptional - in terms of the media and public attention it attracts, as well as in terms of the passions it arouses. However it is less clear what exactly makes this conflict exceptional:

  • The number of casualties in the conflict varies somewhere between 50 and 150 thousand over the whole history of the conflict (depending on whether we count only the Palestinian and Israeli deaths or add those in the Arab armies that at various points fought with Israel - see Arab-Israeli conflict.) This is less than in recent conflicts such as American-led invasion of Iraq, NATO invasion of Afghanistan, Syrian civil war, or the conflict in Ukraine - all of them incurring larger numbers of casualties in shorter time period. This is further dwarfed by war in Vietnam or the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, where the death counts are in millions.
  • Duration of the conflict is again not a decisive parameter here - Wikipedia List of ongoing armed conflicts lists many conflicts that last as long and/or incurred as many casualties as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but many of which are barely mentioned/known beyond the regions where they take place. History has known much longer conflicts - e.g., the French occupation of Algeria lasted about 130 years, the rivalry between France and Britain had known periods like hundred years war, etc.
  • Nature of the conflict is not exceptional either - e.g., Northern Cyprus has been under Turkish occupation for half a century, and the Turkish-Kurdish conflict bears many similarities with the Palestinian struggle for independence.
  • Prominence of Jews - one could argue that the conflict provides a safe way to express hatred of the Jews. Indeed, antisemitism had existed in the west for centuries, but became a taboo after Holocaust. A simple litmus test here is whether one applies even-handed standards to Palestinian and Jewish victims, and whether one denounces the abuses of Palestinian authorities against their own people as much as one denounces Israel's actions - recent incidents on the US campuses certainly speak volumes about this. However, antisemitism is largely a western phenomenon - it is unclear why it would matter, e.g., to Indians or Chinese (unless they are Muslim, in which case they may support Palestinians on religious grounds - a common misconception is that all the Palestinians are Muslims.)

Remarks:

  • The answers in the suggested duplicate deal mostly with the causes of the conflict, and why the west might care about it... but it is true for many other conflicts as well - as described in this question. The answers here need to take the bulleted points into account - either by going beyond them, or demonstrating why these are particularly important in this conflict.
18
  • 8
    Voting to close - duplicate of Why is the Israeli-Palestinian conflict such a big issue?. If you are unsatisfied with the answers there, seek clarification in comments there. If you don't get any satisfactory response, please update the Q here with your new doubts, for review.
    – sfxedit
    Commented Jan 10 at 16:05
  • 2
    @sfxedit this question is more specific.
    – Morisco
    Commented Jan 10 at 16:46
  • 8
    What exactly is your question? There's not an objective list of what is an exceptional conflict. Different conflicts are treated differently: that's obviously true. But you need to ask the specific question: why is so-and-so treating such-and-such a conflict in such-and-such a way. You can find lots of different reasons to argue such-and-such is exceptional but that's because exceptional is such a vague word. The war against Daesh/Isis was exceptional. The Ukraine war is exceptional. The Kosovo war was/is exceptional. The DRC civil war is exceptional.... Define your terms, and be specific.
    – Stuart F
    Commented Jan 10 at 17:22
  • 5
    Specific about what? Even just the accepted answer covers all the points you raised (except antisemitism) and also rightly emphasises ... question is much harder to answer with reliable metrics, and much more subject to opinion. It is beyond the scope of what can be reasonable discussed here ... . As with any duplicate Qs, the proper approach is to make comments to the answers there and seek clarification. If your clarification doesn't get answered, then you can ask a new question based on that, referring to the duplicate Q if necessary.
    – sfxedit
    Commented Jan 10 at 17:34
  • 5
    I think, you have pretty nailed it with the last bullet. Take it to the Jordan Black September, Kuwait Palestinian Expulsion or the military occupation of Gaza and West Bank before 1967. No one cares. No Jews - no news.
    – dEmigOd
    Commented Jan 11 at 6:45

6 Answers 6

12

Associate professor Omar Shahabudin McDoom tackles precisely this question in How Unique is the Israel-Palestine Conflict?. Here is a summary of the features he says makes the conflict unique:

  • Occupation and settler colonialism
  • Religious significance, to Christians, Muslims, and Jews, and the struggle over sacred land.
  • International support from external communities. I.e the Jewish diaspora and its allies (Christian Zionists)
  • The unparalleled level of support Israel receives from the United States
  • The distinctive feature of Zionism as Jewish nationalism. The idea that the homeland should be established in a foreign land (i.e Palestine) against the wishes of the natives.
  • Western guilt over the Holocaust
  • The longevity of the occupation

He claims that, while none of these features are truly unique, taken together they make the Israel-Palestinian conflict unique.

4
  • 3
    This is interesting. However, every conflict can be characterized by a combination of features that make it unique. It is still not obvious why precisely this combination of features stands out.
    – Morisco
    Commented Jan 11 at 14:06
  • 1
    Also, Cold war legacy. Also, historically it has been not only Israel-Palestinian conflict but a whole regional conflict involving Egypt, Jordan, Irak and Lebanon, Syria and Iran. Currently only the last three seem to be opposing Israel in any measure, and mostly by proxy or even (in the case of Lebanon) by being unable to control Hezbollah.
    – SJuan76
    Commented Jan 11 at 17:07
  • 1
    You can also add that this mess has a tendency to export itself. This conflict is a not-negligible contributor to the motivations for Islamic terrorism (yes, the terrorists probably find something else to bomb people about too, but it is a factor). In the 1970s the world economy was durably altered by the OPEC oil actions. And it happens in a region where the West used to get much/most of its oil from. Commented Jan 11 at 17:42
  • The "problem" with this answer is it's a (very good) outline -- I think better than answers to the Q this is a duplicate of -- but it does no good to someone who doesn't understand those bullets already. I mean, "what is western guilt over the holocaust" apparently needs it's own Q. Even the last bullet with "occupation", I'm pretty sure a bunch of people think Gaza is a country next to Israel. Commented Jan 11 at 20:54
0

Both parties have strong sentimental ties to Western countries.

Israel has strong economic relations with the western world. However, the western world has also invested large (1) sums of money into Palestine, in the hopes of preventing such a conflict from occurring again. This is essentially taxpayer money funding a terrorist organization, Hamas, attacking a country which is pretty similar to Western societies. In essence, the conflict is a failure of western societies to subdue Hamas through the economic empowerment of Gaza. This is similar to the Russia vs Ukraine war - the west attempted to integrate Russia into its culture by strengthening economic ties, only to fail in avoiding an open war. There is a growing concern that those failures will result in a bigger war, considering those 2 are related by Iran's involvement with both Russia and Hamas.

Muslim support for Palestine in Western countries is self explanatory, so I will only mention it here.

Essentially, both parties are underdogs, depending on who you ask. Gaza is poor, Israel is surrounded by Muslims.

The global environment is the most complicated it has been in a long time

Following up on the above, we can take a look at the global environment and things aren't very happy: Trade is slowing down, wars involving developed nations, China is attempting to stir things up by threatening Taiwan, North Korea is doing its usual barking, Trump is possibly to be re-elected in US, and the current left leaning leadership of the western world has generally failed to maintain the trust of the population, and far right parties are on the rise again. Inflation and economic slow down caused by the Ukraine war was further amplified by this conflict, which is something Western countries will feel directly.

On top of that, many middle eastern countries are facing difficult times: Syria has been in a decade long civil war, Liban is very weak at the moment, following the explosion, political and economic crisis from a few years back, Yemen rebels raid trade ships out at sea.

The most recent past iterations of this conflict occurred in calmer environments, so people weren't so concerned about it.

There is growing concern in the west, as outlined by some western leaders, that the conflict might escalate in a bigger war in the middle east, which will have at best indirect effect on the western world by rising fuel prices. At worst, the western world gets caught up in the war. And nobody really wants that.

References :

  1. Trade agreement EU-Palestine https://eur-lex.europa.eu/LexUriServ/LexUriServ.do?uri=CELEX:21997A0716(01):EN:HTML
8
  • 5
    "Muslim support in Western countries is self explanatory" - is it?
    – F1Krazy
    Commented Jan 11 at 14:23
  • 2
    @F1Krazy I mean for Palestine.
    – user42328
    Commented Jan 11 at 14:30
  • 1
    Something that I forgot to mention in the OP, but which this answer brings to mind: the conflict could be a proxy for a larger conflict between the West and Islamism (I mean the conflict between Hamas and Israel - I wouldn't associate all the Palestinians with Hamas, as most are just innocent victims.)
    – Morisco
    Commented Jan 11 at 14:32
  • 2
    @RogerV. Technically the west has been in a proxy war with Muslims ever since the fall of Constantinople.
    – user42328
    Commented Jan 11 at 17:00
  • 3
    "western world has also invested large sums of money into Palestine"- "invested" or "given as aid"? There's a large difference between the two.
    – sfxedit
    Commented Jan 11 at 17:31
0

TL;DR: Religion & Money.

When The Jews from the Middle East - following harsh persecution suffering ethnic cleansing - had returned to meet in their home land, their brethren Jews in Israel - and together with the Jews of Europe suffering genocide -- finally reestablished sovereignty in the UN approval, it was event of biblical magnitude for many around the world: Muslims, Christians and Jews.. Again - it was big deal for Muslims. It was big deal for Christians (mainly perhaps evangelical) and of course for the Jews.

In your question you list several reasons why this conflict is not special - but the religion aspect is missing - and in this sense the conflict is exceptional. Note - I am not claiming the conflict is religious (nor I'm claiming otherwise) - I just say that in terms of notability the religion-aspect is an issue.

Many Muslims hate Israel because it is easy to indoctrinate via religion. Many others around the world are simply and bluntly anti-Semitics.

But today many non-religious people do care much about this tiny piece of land. Why is that? Money. I believe the critical mass of people caring about this conflict enabled snow-ball effect: the media "reports" or many social-media influencers that discovered the "hidden truth" share their insights the MSM "hides" and people click on those - because it is the feed - because it once suppressed the critical mass - it is a feed-back loop. Think of this strange sport that in America we call - strangely again - "football" - why it is so popular only there? Are Americans special? No. It is popular because it is in the media. there is nothing inherent in "Football" that makes it so popular. Moreover, there are rich Anti-Israel countries that are willing to invest to ignite the masses.

-2

Zionism appears in the 19th century, precisely when Western nations are colonizing the world. At the time, colonization was not only considered acceptable, it was seen as a proud achievement: as long as the colonizers represent the "modern civilization" as opposed to the "savages", it was implicitly understood that they deserve to rule the place. Thus Zionism is a colonialist movement which appears in a colonialist (Western) world. It is clearly racist, in the same way that the Western world was racist at the time: indigenous populations were intended to be dominated at best, or fought and killed if they resist.

During the 20th century, colonialism is criticized and progressively seen as immoral. It downs slowly on the colonizing countries that the democratic ideals that they supposedly value don't fit well with maintaining many people dominated by force, with less rights than regular citizens, and who often want out. The right to self-determination becomes the basis of international law, and everywhere in the world various movements fight and often win against colonizers. There is a huge decolonization movement, and even in places where colonizing countries still dominate they eventually organize referendums and let people self-determine.

The other huge event of the 20th century is World War 2 and the Holocaust. The genocide of the Jews organized by Nazi Germany is a massive moral failure of the Western world, and causes a lot of Jews to lose their families and their homes. So after WW2, there is an important movement of Jewish people going to Palestine. The combination of the Holocaust and the pressure (including terrorism) of Jewish groups in Palestine caused Western countries to accept the creation of Israel, and later to support it against the various Arab countries which of course disagreed with this colonization project. In 1945, the King of Saudi Arabia noted that Arabs were being punished for the crimes of Europeans against Europeans.

In other words, the Western world was encouraging a colonizing project almost at the same time that the world was decolonizing. To this day, the colonizing nature of Israel goes against the progress of human rights which slowly took place almost everywhere else: in the modern world order, it is simply not considered acceptable to grab land by force anymore. Practically every such attempt has faced strong opposition (e.g. Kuweit, Ukraine). But Israel's violations are still tolerated by Western countries: Israel colonizes the West Bank, discriminates against Arab citizens, and implements ethnic cleansing (in particular through automatic citizenship and various advantages to Jewish immigrants: Aliyah). The confusion between anti-zionism and anti-semitism has often been used as a way to censor critics of Israel policies, leaving the international community apparently powerless despite clear violations of human rights. Contrary to previous Israeli governments, Netanyahu made it clear that he rejects the peace process and plans to keep illegally colonizing the West Bank. Israel is behaving like a rogue state, but doesn't face any serious sanction so far. This is why it has become a symbol of the racism of Western countries in the Arab world and the global South.


Update based on comments: Some pro-Zionism people argue that there was a continuous Jewish presence in Palestine to justify the legitimacy of Jewish people there. While this is true, the Jewish population in nowadays Israel comes in their vast majority from post-WW2 immigration, i.e. colonization. In the 1880s, when the first colonies were formed, Jews made up only 3 or 4 percent of the inhabitants of what would become Palestine..

17
  • 2
    1. Doesn't answer the question, as it doesn't differentiate Israel from similar cases mentioned in the question. 2. Arabs don't have a history of the land of Israel "before the Jews came", Jews do have a history of the land before the Arabs came (650CE). No other case of colonization matched this. (actually, Arab violence against Jews in the land of Israel is as old as the histroy of Arabs in the levant, interesting point) 3. At least half of Israel's Jews are solely from middle-eastern decent. Are Jews expelled from Egypt and Syria to Israel "colonials"?
    – Jacob3
    Commented Jan 11 at 23:36
  • 3
    @Jacob3 "Arabs don't have a history of the land of Israel "before the Jews came", Jews do have a history of the land before the Arabs came" You may be unaware, but Christianity and Islam spread by conversion.
    – Peter
    Commented Jan 12 at 2:14
  • 3
    @RogerV.: colonization: In the 1880s, when the first colonies were formed, Jews made up only 3 or 4 percent of the inhabitants of what would become Palestine.. The vast majority of Jewish families living now in Israel didn't live there in the past centuries, some came before 1948 and most of them arrived after WW2.
    – Erwan
    Commented Jan 12 at 13:29
  • 3
    The intent of Zionism was to create a Jewish state on a territory which was inhabited by people who were in their vast majority not Jewish. This implied either living with these people or removing them. Israel chose revisionist zionism, the latter.
    – Erwan
    Commented Jan 12 at 13:34
  • 3
    @RogerV. as a British colony, Palestine would have been decolonized like every other British colony after WW2. The essence of decolonization and self-determination is that people who live there choose, but Israel never intended at any moment to let Palestinians choose anything. Religions don't have a right to self-determination, obviously: what if Hindus reinterpret their holy book and discover that California is their holy land, are they allowed to take it and kick out current inhabitants?
    – Erwan
    Commented Jan 12 at 13:52
-2

The mistake here is to think this conflict is primarily about Israel and Palestine. The Levant is a long-standing region of conflict for two reasons:

  • It is the seat of Christian faith, and Western Christian powers have a history of trying to take control of it stretching back almost a millennium
  • It is a major oil-producing region, and Western secular powers have a long history of trying to destabilize the region to keep any one power from securing control over those resources.

The Jewish return to Palestine conformed to Christian teachings and introduced a large cadre of Western-assimilated people into the region. I imagine that Western powers thought this would serve both as reparations to the Jews for the atrocities they suffered under the Nazi regime and as an infusion of pre-Western ideals into the region. I don't think they expected the subsequent insurrection against the Palestinian state and creation of the state of Israel, but having encouraged Jewish emigration to the region they were loathe to withdraw their support, and the presence of the state served longer term goals quite effectively. At this point, Western powers do not want the region returned to Palestinians (who are now thoroughly anti-Western in attitude), and they do not want Israel to go overboard and commit human rights violations (which would reflect badly on the West). The conflict takes on an exceptional nature because many powerful outside parties have an interest in the region, and no one is willing to accept any solution that puts them at a disadvantage.

If the conflict had taken place anywhere else in the world — as many other small, regional conflicts have — it would have flared up and died off over a matter of months as the peoples involved drained their resources and became exhausted with the conflict. But in the Levant the constant influx of foreign resources keeps the conflict interminably alive.

-2

J'Accuse!

Because hate of Israel has become a convenient proxy to channel hate for Jews. It's an outlet for such hate.

In most of the Western World, antisemitism has come to be viewed as a form of racism roughly concurrently with the establishment of the State of Israel. This is despite the fact that antisemitism has existed for millennia before.

While one can argue that the drop in antisemitism has happened as an outcome of the Holocaust, that argument seems disingenuous.

  • A number of genocides around the world have not managed to gain their victims the same level of sympathy.
  • Nor did previous numerous massacres and exiles of Jews gained Jews much sympathies.
  • The countries which do not recognize Israel's statehood have the most endemic antisemitism. And if one needed any more of a thought experiment, one would only have to look at the countries which succeeded the former USSR. The antisemitic sentiments have dropped significantly since they recognized Israel. Despite the fact that antisemitism was endemic in the USSR, which did not have diplomatic relations with Israel until almost the very end of its existence.

And if one needed any more evidence, Israel's government is clearly held to an impossible standard, a standard all countries do not even apply to themselves, with respect to the Arab populations of the territories which Israel captured in defensive wars.

This standard ensures that anyone wishing to channel their hate of Jews has an outlet for it.

The argument that 2 million Arab citizens of Israel enjoy the same rights as the the Jewish citizens usually gets lost, or dismissed as propaganda; it doesn't fit the false narrative that the diminished rights of Arabs living on the occupied territories are diminished (by Jews) because they are Arabs. The fact that their allegiance is to entities hostile to Israel is not even allowed to be a part of the conversation.

In reality, obviously, this is done to give an outlet to anyone who wants to demonize Jews individually. By allowing these false narratives about Israel to persist, it allows the demonization to be channeled towards Israel as some sort of abstract or collective Jew.

5
  • 8
    Many one-sided "mistakes". The USSR did recognize Israel (it recognized it just three days after it declared independence). "[the Israeli government is held to an impossible standard other countries do not even apply to themselves]" Most countries in the world do not hold foreign populations as second class citizens for decades. Just saying. And of course, the repeated, nonsensical claim about "Israel was there before" as if it gave any right (the Roman Empire was there before, too, and the Ottoman Empire, and the Egyptians, and the Greeks, and ...)
    – SJuan76
    Commented Jan 14 at 2:31
  • 8
    In general, this is less of an answer and more of an "everybody who does not agree with Israel is anti-Semitic" rant. E.g. the SU ended supporting the Arabs because Israel sided with the west; but at the beginning, when Stalin expected it to be pro-Sovietic, there were escorts of weapons from countries under Soviet control.
    – SJuan76
    Commented Jan 14 at 2:50
  • 3
    @SJuan76 ago Most countries in the world do not hold foreign populations as second class citizens for decades. - this statement ignored the distinction between the Israeli Arabs and those in WB and Gaza. The former enjoy all the civil rights, while the latter do bot think of themselves as an "israeli population".
    – Morisco
    Commented Jan 14 at 9:29
  • 1
    @SJuan76 Palestinians are mistreated for generations in Lebanon, Syria and Jordan. Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and many other countries are run by ethnic groups, discriminating the rest. Saudis, Qataris and others discriminate women and numerous foreign workers. Then there are Ouïghours and millions of illegal immigrants in the US and Europe. Finally, Hamas and PA are not paragons of human rights either - especially in respect to non-muslim, women, and non-Arabs.
    – Morisco
    Commented Jan 14 at 9:33
  • 1
    @SJuan76 the only true claim in your 1st comment is that I misstated USSR's involvement. I said it didn't recognize Israel, while I should have said it didn't have diplomatic relations with Israel. But I fixed that passage a long time ago. The rest of your comment is simply false. The fact that the moderators refuse to remove it despite it clearly being rude is more a statement about them than anything. "nonsensical claim"? That is rude. You then proceed to state a claim which I haven't actually made. Not that I disagree with it, but I haven't made it here. So the comment is off point.
    – wrod
    Commented Jan 16 at 4:46

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .