Israel-Hamas conflict: A notion of belonging beyond National Security

With the escalating conflict between the Palestinian group Hamas and Israeli force, many of Israeli’s allies including the USA, a number of European states, India-have conveyed their solidarity for Israel and condemned the attack and violence by the Hamas. A surprised attack known as operation “Aqsa typhoon” by the Hamas was launched from Gaza on 6 oct, Saturday at dawn during the Jewish holiday of Simchat Torah. It is reported that several rockets were fired into southern Israel by Hamas and the most fighters entered through breaches in security barriers separating Gaza and Israel. A motorboat carrying fighters was also seen heading to Zikim, an Israeli coastal town with a military base. The Israeli town of Sderot, another community Be’eri, and the town of Ofakim, 30km (20 miles) east of Gaza were raided by Hamas. Several Israeli hostages are being held by the group in Gaza now. Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu has stated, “We are at war.” According to local reports, the ongoing conflict in the Gaza Strip has resulted in a tragic loss of life and numerous casualties. It is reported that approximately 256 Palestinians have lost their lives in the Gaza Strip, with an additional 1,800 individuals sustaining injuries. On the Israeli side, it has been reported that at least 300 individuals have tragically lost their lives. The United Nation Security Council is holding emergency closed consultation over the escalating violence. As this attack on Israel questions its national security policy, my article argues that the escalating violence between the Israeli force and Hamas is not merely about politics or national security policy but also about the notion of identity.

Since the Six-Day War in 1967, the major political issue in Israel has revolved around the debate about the future of the West Bank and Gaza, often referred to as the Palestinian problem. Even though Israel’s domestic and foreign policies are driven by the concept of “national security,” it is essential to recognize that this security paradigm is deeply rooted in Jewish identity and Zionism. As the author Shlomo Avineri mentioned in his article “Ideology and Israel’s Foreign Policy,” there are two main schools of thought regarding the border issue of Israel. One school supports the idea of territorial expansion and Jewish settlement in the West Bank, which implies incorporating a large number of Palestinian Arabs into a Jewish state. On the other hand, the sociological school of thought opposes the aforementioned idea, as it believes that acquiring additional territory would bring about a fundamental change in the sociological and demographic nature of Jewish society in Israel.

Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu wholeheartedly supports Jewish settlement in the West Bank, despite it being considered illegal under international law. In June, Netanyahu approved a plan for the construction of 4,560 housing units in various areas of the West Bank. According to a report by Al Jazeera, nearly 750,000 Israelis now reside in 250 illegal settlements in the West Bank, a territory captured by Israel in the 1967 war. As a result of this ongoing process of illegal Jewish settlement in the West Bank, Palestinian Arabs have witnessed territorial occupation by Israelis, the demolition of their homes, attacks on their communities by Jewish settlers, and unfair treatment towards their community.

 In his article “The Clash of Civilizations,” author Samuel P. Huntington contends that the significant divisions among humankind and the primary source of conflict will be cultural. When decisions were made regarding Israel and Palestine, the Europeans did so without adequately considering the major factor of “cultural identity.” The nature of Israel as a Jewish state is inherently controversial, as it revolves around the notion of belonging. Israel is defined as a ‘Jewish’ state where the official language is Hebrew. This definition shapes the understanding of Israeli citizenship. However, for those who are neither non-Jewish nor Hebrew speakers but have been living within the territory of Israel, they possess a distinct cultural identity and history. This raises the fundamental question about “notion of belonging”.

 The Balfour Declaration of 1917 supported establishment of “national home for Jewish people in Palestine” by the British colonizers that also mentioned that ‘Non-Jewish’ would not be prejudiced. However, the terms ‘Palestinian’ and ‘Non-Jewish’ were not amply specified, leading to multiple interpretations about the identity of majority of inhabitants of Palestine. Though this overture of the British, which was the founding document of ‘Mandatory Palestine’, support for Zionism increased. But it has also been a sore point among the Palestinians. In February 1947, the United Nations Special Committee on Palestine recommended the establishment of separate Jewish and Arab states to be joined by economic union, while Jerusalem-Bethlehem region would be an enclave under international administration. The Plan was accepted by the Jewish Agency for Palestine. Jewish community came down to streets to celebrate the decision, minority factions such as Revisionist Zionists rejected it as they felt that legitimate Jewish territory was being bartered. However, Arab leaders and governments did not accept any form of territorial division. There were discussions among Muslim community that UN votes were casted under pressure and duress. Other Arab states who had recently achieved independence from colonial powers did not support the trade-off given to Jewish. Subsequently, a civil war broke out and the plan could not be realised.

After six-day war, which ended with Israel annexing East Jerusalem, West Bank, Gaza, Golan Heights and Sinai, Israel experienced an upsurge of national euphoria.  Jewish diaspora turned their attention towards Israel. Tacit support of returned immigrants gave Israel diplomatic power in western nations. At the same time, Jewish settlers inhabited captured areas illegally, as per international law. There was widespread displacement of Arab population in the occupied territories. On the other hand, anti-Semitism grew in Arab as well as communist nation. In Arab nations mobs attacked Jewish neighbourhoods. These events gave Jewish community an upper hand to enforce two-state solution. The Muslim community in Palestine though reluctant, could not practically bid for a single nation. Thus, the idea of one democratic state of Palestine faded away.

With the possibility of two-state solution sinking into both societies, Madrid Conference of 1991 was an endeavour by the international community to resuscitate the Israeli-Palestine dialogue. It was a successful attempt where both parties came close to peace accord. The Oslo Accord of 1993 was the first direct agreement between Israel and Palestinian leaders which led to creation of the Palestinian National Authority (PNA). The main point of change in perspectives of societies was that they acknowledged political legitimacy of the other party. However, Hamas, a Palestinian Sunni-Islamic fundamentalist organization founded in 1987, vehemently opposed the idea of a two-state solution and criticized the Palestinian National Authority (PNA) for being supportive to Israeli government. This ideological difference between the Palestinian National Authority (PNA) and Hamas has created a division within Palestinian Arab society, making it challenging to reach a consensus on a realistic solution.

In my opinion, the current Israeli government doesn’t seem to prioritize the “two-state solution” but instead focuses on “conflict management.” By allowing Jewish settlements in the West Bank and employing strategies to restrict Arab identity, the Israeli government may be working towards its long-term goal of a one-state solution. However, the question arises of how the clash between Arabs and Jews can be resolved within a single Jewish state with different norms of citizenship. Granting equal rights to the Arab population under the status of citizenship would be a crucial step, but whether this is possible for Israel remains a significant question.

The Author Samuel P. Huntington writes, ” The conflicts of the future will occur along the cultural fault lines separating civilizations.” While globalization has made the world feel smaller, individuals and communities are unwilling to compromise their cultural identity. The Gaza Strip, home to approximately two million Palestinians, has experienced what the UN calls “de-development.” Movement in and out of Gaza occurs through the Beit Hanoun crossing (known as Erez to Israelis) with Israel and the Rafah crossing with Egypt. Both Israel and Egypt have mostly kept their borders closed, further worsening the already dire economic and humanitarian situation in Gaza. Israel permits passage through the Beit Hanoun crossing only in exceptional humanitarian cases, particularly for urgent medical reasons. According to the UN, during the decade from 2010 to 2019, an average of 287 Palestinians exited through this crossing each day.Gaza faces numerous challenges, with around 56 percent of its population living in poverty and a youth unemployment rate of 63 percent, as reported by the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics. Additionally, over 60 percent of Gazans are refugees who were expelled from their original homes in other parts of Palestine in 1948, such as Lydda (Lod) and Ramle. They now reside just a few kilometers away from their ancestral homes and towns, yet are unable to return.Israel has conducted four prolonged military assaults on Gaza in 2008, 2012, 2014, and 2021. Each of these attacks has exacerbated Gaza’s already dire situation, resulting in the deaths of thousands of Palestinians, including many children, and the destruction of tens of thousands of homes, schools, and office buildings.

Israel has employed various tactics, including closures, in the Palestinian territories as a means of exerting control over the Arab population. In the West Bank, the division of authority and control can be quite perplexing. For instance, in the West Bank, Jewish settlements often enjoy superior housing and other amenities, often safeguarded by Israeli security forces. In stark contrast, it is a common sight to witness Palestinian Arab communities adjacent to these settlements facing significant deficiencies in basic necessities such as water and electricity, despite being situated within areas that technically fall under Israeli administration. This stark disparity in living conditions between settlers arriving from outside the region and the Palestinian Arab population has created a deep sense of discrimination among the Palestinians. It exacerbates existing tensions and contributes to the broader complexities of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

“The United States unequivocally condemns the unprovoked attacks by Hamas terrorists against Israeli civilians,” a White House statement said, adding that National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan was in close contact with Israeli officials. Canada, the European Union, Israel, Japan, Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States have designated Hamas as a terrorist organization. New Zealand and Paraguay have designated only its military wing as a terrorist organization. It is not considered a terrorist organization by Brazil, China, Egypt, Iran, Norway, Qatar, Russia, Syria and Turkey. In December 2018, a resolution to condemn Hamas as a terrorist organisation failed to pass the United Nations General Assembly. I argue that it is important to understand what is the reason behind the creation Hamas. The organisation like Hamas are being created due perceived injustice, need for identity and belonging. The Palestinian Arab community has endured a prolonged period of systemic violence, leading to a stark disconnect between their sense of belonging and their formal designation of belonging, a situation largely determined by Israel and supported by Western nations.

The persistent and seemingly intractable nature of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict raises critical questions about why it has been so challenging to find a lasting solution. Despite the international community’s recognition of the State of Palestine and its non-member observer status at the United Nations, achieving meaningful progress towards peace has been elusive. One of the reasons for this difficulty lies in the complex power dynamics at play. While the West has played a significant role in shaping the conflict’s trajectory, it has been challenging to find a solution that satisfies the interests and demands of both sides. Israel has effectively leveraged its economic, military, and technological prowess to maintain international support, which has further complicated efforts to hold the nation accountable for its actions. The Jewish diaspora in the United States has also played a crucial role in bolstering Israel’s position, with its influence extending to securing American support for Israel. Following the passing of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, no subsequent Palestinian leader has managed to garner the same level of international popularity and support. Another aspect that hinders the Palestinian cause is the Western nations’ inclination to identify more closely with Israeli culture and history, often overlooking the unique cultural identity of Palestinians. This preference can lead to biased perspectives that favor Israel. Furthermore, there is a perception of hypocrisy in the international community’s response to the conflict. While Israel receives financial and political support from Western allies, similar support for Palestinian entities is scrutinized and criticized. This double standard undermines the credibility of international efforts to mediate and resolve the conflict.

Beyond the political considerations and strategic interests that have defined the Israeli-Palestinian conflict for decades, the human toll of the conflict cannot be understated. Civilians on both sides have borne the brunt of this protracted struggle, enduring violence, displacement, and loss of life. In the context of the United Nations’ 2030 Agenda, which emphasizes the importance of peace, justice, and strong institutions, addressing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict takes on a heightened urgency. While the ongoing violence between Israel and Hamas may temporarily be controlled and manged but it never offers a lasting and comprehensive solution to the underlying issues that perpetuate the conflict.

A sustainable peace requires a deeper understanding of the core factors driving the ongoing hostilities.

One such critical factor is the profound importance of identity in this conflict. The Israelis and Palestinians each have a deep sense of historical and cultural identity, rooted in their own narratives and experiences. Recognizing and respecting these identities is essential to fostering a meaningful and lasting resolution. The international community, particularly Western nations and Arab Nations, should consider the centrality of identity in the conflict and work towards solutions that address these core concerns. A comprehensive approach that recognizes the rights, histories, and aspirations of both Israelis and Palestinians is more likely to lead to a just and enduring peace. It is incumbent upon the global community to take a firm stand and commit to meaningful engagement in resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, in line with the principles of the UN’s 2030 Agenda. Only through genuine efforts to address the underlying issues, including the need for identity and belonging, can a permanent solution be reached that ensures peace, justice, and strong institutions in the region.

Archana Sharma
Archana Sharma
I am a freelance Geopolitical Research Analyst. My area of research includes Foreign policy and Space diplomacy. I hold a Master's degree in Diplomacy, Law and Business and a Bachelor degree in Electronics and communication engineering.