by Daniel Bar-Tal
Inter-group violence is the physical or psychological harm that results from one group acting against another, or when groups act against each other. Individual acts that harm others can be considered inter-group violence if the perpetrators are acting as group members. This definition is accepted by many social scientists and activists. It encompasses various forms of violence, including those carried out by states, ethnic groups or organizations, which may not only injure, torture, destroy, expel or perform ethnic cleansing and genocide, but also exploit, discriminate, deprive, harass, pressure or control other groups.
Violence has been used by human beings from the start of their evolution, (perhaps even more than by other species), as a means to achieve their goals and, sometimes, even as a goal in itself. There is not one nation in this world that has not used violence to achieve its goals. History is filled with episodes of violence - from wars, rebellions, conquests, and slaughters to forced conversions, pogroms and ethnic cleansing. Moreover, most of this violence is revered by the nations carrying it out, and participants in these acts are often viewed admirably. The most revered heroes of each nation are usually leaders in acts of violence.
In most cases, nations justify their violence as a determinative phase on the way to achieving their goals. Almost no nation views its own violence as negative, but rather, is able to justify it as a necessary means to an end. In only a few cases have nations re-evaluated their violence and begun to perceive it negatively. But among these cases, some re-evaluated their violence under pressure from the victors. Even when the violence is eventually viewed negatively, it is usually then denied or pushed into oblivion.
Looking at the history of humankind, we find that almost no group has voluntarily given up land, resources, power or status to another group, even when the demand of the other side was justified. Therefore, the demanding side has resorted to violence to achieve what it sees as a justified goal, as in the case of the Israelis and the Palestinians. Each side has resorted to violence to achieve its own goals. Over the years, each side has used violence, has praised its own violence and has delegitimized the violence of the other. Thus, we, the Israeli Jews, are proud of the violent activities of the underground organizations (the Hagana, Etzel and Lechi) in the pre-state period. We revere the wars and other military operations performed by the Israeli army after the establishment of the State of Israel. We delegitimize all the violent activities carried out by the Palestinians and repress memories of violence by our side considered excessive or atrocious. In turn, the Palestinians have revered their violent resistance to Jewish immigration and settlement, the Arab rebellion, guerrilla activities and terror attacks. They also delegitimize Israeli violence and ignore the immorality of their own acts. In general, each side sees its own violence as a reaction to the violence of the other, or as essential to achieving existential goals and, therefore, justified and glorified.
We live in times in which new ideas are developing which suggest that non-violent protest is a preferable way to achieve goals. Moral criteria for justified cases of violence have appeared, and an International Court for Human Rights has been established. The continuing violence between the Israeli Jews and the Palestinians is tragic and unnecessary. Both sides inflict losses, pain and suffering on the other. At present, the Palestinians engage in terror attacks using suicide bombers, targeting public places, indiscriminately killing civilians and causing fear among the whole Israeli population. They shoot at vehicles on roads used by settlers and carry out guerrilla activities against military targets - all of which we label as terror attacks.
On the other hand, we, the Israeli Jews, continuously confiscate and settle on Palestinian land and prevent economic development. We arrest and torture Palestinian suspects denying them civil rights. We press Palestinians to collaborate, destroy their olive trees and fruit orchards. We carry out collective punishments, impose curfews and closures and put up checkpoints and roadblocks. We assassinate Palestinians suspected of terrorist activity and destroy their homes. We bomb the buildings used by the Palestinian security forces, kill civilians during the fighting and make incursions into the Palestinian territories, gradually re-occupying the West Bank.
Each side is convinced its violence is justified and that the other side is brutal, untrustworthy and violent. It generally does not occur to either side to think about the other - to realize that losses of human life are terrible, irreplaceable and therefore unforgettable. That land is sacred to all nations and throughout history people have always been ready to sacrifice their lives to defend it. Security is a basic need people cannot live without, collective punishments are immoral and illegal, and no one has the authority to violate fundamental human and civil rights. Egocentric and socio-centric views are responsible for much of the evil that both side perpetuate, and for the rationalizations each uses to justify it.
Where does this lead? Does either side think its own brand of violence will solve the problems? Does either side think violence will make it possible to impose a solution on the other side? Violence breeds violence. Nations do not yield easily and can continue their struggles for generations and even centuries. It is unfortunate that neither side seems to understand this. Both the Israeli Jews and the Palestinians are here to stay and the only approach that can benefit both sides is to find a non-violent way of pursuing their goals, including peace making. The present collapse of trust, that has led to mutual delegitmization and underlies the return to violence, is the primary reason for the Israeli and Palestinian publicís support of violence. This situation is not irreversible. People created it and they can change it. It is extremely sad that neither sideís leaders understand this.
It is the time for those who have remained above the fray of this bloody cycle to take concrete steps to stop the violence and embark again on the road of peace. There are still many Israeli Jews and Palestinians who understand the consequences of violence and object to it. They have to voice their opinion loudly and bravely to overcome the madness that spreads only death, fear and hatred.