Israel: Where the endless cycle of violence in Israel/Palestine begins

by Yaniv Reich on January 25, 2010

From a few thousand miles away, or even from the relative safety of a television image in Tel Aviv living room, it can seem as though the spiral of violence in the Middle East spins ruthlessly with no end and no beginning. In this confusing situation, people then insert their own ideological perspectives: each suicide bombing (during the second intifada, i.e. a long time ago) or rocket attack was seen by many Palestinians as a necessary, desperate response to Israeli violence, and most Israelis found themselves defending even blatantly provocative—and murderous—Israeli attacks as defense measures brought on by Palestinian violence. And on and on we go, seemingly unable to distinguish between these competing claims.

Despite the ideological nature of the debate, these arguments are empirical in nature—they can be decided unambiguously by an examination of the historical evidence.

What does the evidence say?

A team of academics based out of MIT (Nancy Kanwisher, Johannes Haushofer, and Anat Biletzki) compiled statistics using B’tselem data, which place violent attacks in sequential order for the entire period from September 2000 to October 2008 (from the start of the second intifada through eight years of rocket attacks from Gaza). This allows them to identify which party, Israelis or Palestinians, initiated a violent attack after a quiet period.

Their findings are extraordinary, and damning for Israeli claims. No matter how long was the period of calm, Israel was always more likely to have disrupted the calm with violence. And this effect grows stronger the longer the period of calm, i.e. the more long-lasting was the lull in the violence, the more likely Israel was to spark a new round of violence.

The figure below summarizes these data. Along the horizontal axis is the number of days that there was a lull in the violence (starts at one day of calm and goes up to 41 days of no violent attacks from either side). Along the vertical axis is the percentage of total instances of calm that were destroyed by Israel (in black), by Palestinian militants (in gray), and the percentage of times that both sides killed on the same day (in white). In every single case save one (when the duration of nonviolence lasted precisely six days), the Israelis were far more likely to break the nonviolence by killing Palestinians.

Sparks in the cycle of violence

The most striking aspect of this graph is that in almost ALL of the cases of violence that erupted after one week or more of calm, it was Israel that killed Palestinians first. This evidence suggests strongly that in the apparently endless cycle of violence, it is Israel that starts it time and time again.

If peace is a genuine interest of the Israeli government, indeed if Israel even cares about its own citizens and their vulnerability to violence, then it should do much, much more to encourage the development of peace and calm when it has the chance.

Related Posts:

{ 1 trackback }

Previous post:

Next post: