The Impossibility of Peace in a Divided world

Everyone wants peace don’t they, don’t we, and yet our world is beset with violence and conflict.

The latest expression of hate and intolerance is once again in the Palestinian territory of Gaza. Enraged (and somewhat embarrassed) by the barbaric attack on 7 October by Hamas (or the Islamic Resistance Movement), the far right Israeli government, led by chief warmonger Benjamin Netanyahu, predictably, and tragically, launched a ruthless retaliation on the people of Gaza. A brutal response that should be condemned, as the vicious attack by Hamas should also be condemned.

Hamas has governed the Gaza Strip since 2007, it is a Palestinian nationalist party, consisting of both a military arm and a political, social body. Classified by Israel and western Governments as a terrorist group, the recent assault, in which Israeli civilians, as well as IDF members were killed and kidnapped, was indeed a terror attack. But the actions of Hamas take place within the context of long-term systematic terrorism by the Israeli State against Palestinian people in Gaza and the West Bank over a period of five decades. A relentless genocidal campaign carried out in the full light of day.

As Diana Buttu, a former adviser to the Palestinian delegation to peace talks with Israel put it,  “The world keeps saying this attack is unprovoked, but in fact the world is ignoring how violent the daily [Israeli] occupation [of Palestinian territories] is.”

The causes and ‘provocations’ of the Hamas attack are clear: the occupation of Palestinian territory by Israel; the illegal Israeli settlements, the indiscriminate arrests and imprisonment of Palestinians including children, the house demolitions, the sniper attacks; the Israeli check points inside Palestinian land, the destruction of olive crops by Israeli settlers, the brute force employed by the IDF, the refusal to enter into reasonable dialogue to reach a peaceful resolution; the breaking of international law, with impunity, and on and on goes the list of ‘provocations’. And unless these are dealt with and the subjugation of the Palestinian people ends, explosions of frustration, large and small will inevitably continue.

On top of the stifling Israeli assaults that Palestinian people endure daily, a little over two weeks ago, the Israeli Prime-Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu (its hard to believe he’s still holding office of any kind), addressed the UN General Assembly (22 September 2023). He spoke endlessly and self-righteously about peace in the region, whilst brandishing a map entitled ‘The New Middle East’, in which Palestine was wiped out and Gaza and the West Bank were incorporated into Israel.

The Palestinian Ambassador to Germany Laith Arafeh, responded, saying there was, “no greater insult to every foundational principle of the United Nations than seeing Netanyahu display before the UNGA a ‘map of Israel’ that straddles the entire land from the river to the sea, negating Palestine and its people, then attempting to spin the audience with rhetoric about ‘peace’ in the region, all the while entrenching the longest ongoing belligerent occupation in today’s world.”

Netanyahu’s inflammatory words, may well have been the final straw that led to Hamas launching the unprecedented attack on Israel.

Commons sense dictates that all pressure should be brought to bear on the Israeli government to stop the attack on Gaza, and an immediate ceasefire agreed. Chances are neither will happen, certainly not immediately, because hate and bitter revenge is driving Israeli actions, not common sense and certainly not compassion.

Division leads to conflict

Despite the fact that most people genuinely yearn for peace, humanity is not peaceful, and appears, by all the evidence to not know how to live in peace.

As well as this latest explosion of violence in Israel/Gaza there are dozens of armed conflicts taking place in the world. Inside communities, cities, towns, villages, there is violence, discord and enmity. Human relationships of all kinds contain within them tensions, which often lead to anger and violence, verbal or physical.

Violent conflict does not exist in isolation from other aspects of life — all is interconnected, this much is clear. Many of the pervasive structures and doctrines of our time are inherently divisive, and where there is division there will be conflict — within or without: Tribal nationalism (a burgeoning phenomena in recent years), as well as isms of all kinds — political, economic, religious, social. Competition and conformity (the dual pillars of much education), the pressure to conform and the focus on material success and pleasure.

These toxic ideals push the good — inclusivity, tolerance and kindness, to the margins, and collectively have created divided unhealthy communities (locally, nationally and globally). Selfish short-term behaviour, by governments, corporations and individuals is encouraged, contributing to a plethora of social ills including environmental vandalism, which is itself an act of  extreme violence.

Peace is impossible whilst these destructive ideals dominate.

If there is to be peace anywhere in the world, including Palestine/Israel, social justice must be created, sharing  and compassion cultivated, tolerance and understanding of others fostered (none of which exists for Palestinians in Gaza or the West bank e.g.), allowing forgiveness to naturally occur. Such perennial principles of goodness, held as ideals for generations, need to animate the socio-political systems, including education and crucially the economic structures. Indeed they should form the very foundation of such systems.

It is a truism to say that hate generates hate, violence begets violence; as the Buddha taught (Dhammapada chapter 3, verse 5) over 2500 years ago, “In this world Hate never yet dispelled hate. Only love dispels hate. This is the law, Ancient and inexhaustible.”

Imagine if you will, that the Israeli government had not reacted to the 7 October assault with hate, had not attacked Gaza, but had stopped for a moment to reflect, and had entered into discussions with Hamas. A bizarre naive suggestion perhaps, but one that would have saved thousands of lives and probably led to the hostages taken by Hamas being released. Instead there is carnage in Gaza, a major humanitarian disaster unfolding and the possibility of the conflict expanding.

 Humanity is one, how many times has it been said, – Jew or Arab, Christian of Buddhist, Hindu or Jain, man or woman, black or white, etc, etc, all are part of one group called humanity. And, unless we begin to lay aside our so-called differences, hatreds, prejudices and fears, and start to design systems and ways of living that are based on this inherent fact peace will forever remain a distant dream, and tragedies like the events taking place in Gaza will continue.

Graham Peebles is an independent writer and charity worker. He set up The Create Trust in 2005 and has run education projects in India, Sri Lanka, Palestine and Ethiopia where he lived for two years working with street children, under 18 commercial sex workers, and conducting teacher training programmes. He lives and works in London. Read other articles by Graham, or visit Graham's website.