The current course of action by all players in the Israel-Hamas war will only fuel future extreme views on both sides.
AS readers of my October 30 column will know, the response and events following the Hamas attack on Israel were morbidly predictable.
It led me to consider the logic of actions by both Hamas and Israel, and how this affects any prospect of positive outcomes for both Israelis and Palestinians.
An important distinction is that the Palestinian people are not one and the same as Hamas. They are suffering as a result of Hamas’s actions, both in attacking Israel and then hiding among them when Israel retaliates.
At a basic psychological level, the recommendations for de-escalating conflict in any context would be to compromise, to actively listen, and to reflect on the real issue. Further, it’s important to address the behaviour but not to blame the individual, as blaming builds resentment.
I’ve wondered if there is any common thread to come from these tragedies that could bring Palestinians and Israelis together: a starting point for discussions.
Acknowledgement by both sides – the broader Palestinian community and Israel – of Hamas’s unnecessary brutality would help, as would an acknowledgement that, regardless of nationality, pointless civilian deaths should never occur and is worthy of some attempt at diplomacy.
The reality is that this situation requires so much more.
An interesting template for future action is detailed in the academic journal Studies in Conflict & Terrorism, in an article titled ‘Preventing Violent Extremism: A Review of the Literature’ by Stephens, Sieckelinck & Boutellier (2021).
It notes that to stigmatise any group makes them vulnerable and at risk of radicalisation. It also identifies four themes across the literature in relation to preventing violent extremism.
Firstly, that creating resilient individuals is necessary, achieved through developing cognitive resources, fostering character traits and promoting or strengthening values.
In particular, it observes that us-and-them thinking cultivates extremist ideologies. Another relevant point to the current context is that violent acts against others are enabled by moral detachment, made possible through the dehumanising of others.
The second theme is of individual identity, targeting adolescence as the time when people develop who they are, what they believe and where they belong.
Dialogue and action are the third theme, and the argument here is that dialogue within safe spaces enables extreme views to be critiqued.
It is notable that political agency and voice forms part of this theme, which is a sentiment expressed by Palestinians in Gaza.
The fourth theme is community focused, identifying that engaged and resilient communities protect young people from radicalisation. The community as a whole is resilient to extremism.
Reading over these points with the Israel and Hamas conflict in mind, one can draw two primary conclusions.
Firstly, it should come as no surprise that the conflict has dragged on for decades and exploded in the past month.
Secondly, that the current course of action is ineffective in preventing future extreme views from either side. In fact, it is more likely to cultivate them.
The article concludes with a call for a shift in perspective, away from prevention and towards positive reinforcement that strengthens individuals and communities in a way that cannot be derailed by polarising forces.
This validates my own personal perspective that extreme views always create opposing extreme views, which is increasingly relevant in a click-bait world driven by outrage. This general societal observation is further exacerbated by a distrust of media, where reports have emerged of Palestinians denying the brutality of Hamas due to a distrust of media and Israel.
Warranting a mention is the view of acceptable outcomes for each party. Author Catherine Cleveland wrote in September 2023 for the pro-Israel Washington Institute that 47 per cent of those living in Gaza felt being part of Israel was better than being in Hamas- or Palestinian-ruled lands.
In terms of support for Hamas, 58 per cent of Gazans expressed a positive opinion of the governing party, while 47 per cent believed Palestinians should escalate resistance against Israel.
The rest were split between negotiation, dealing with practical daily issues, or accepting an absence of viable alternatives. How these statistics evolve after recent actions will inform future de-escalation or retaliation debates.
All of this suggests that current actions are creating an environment – both in the short and long term – that is further away from peaceful co-existence.
The hope is that somewhere inside all this shared suffering there is a blueprint for constructive dialogue and action that stabilises the Middle East: one that we can all learn from.
• Kristian Constantinides is the general manager of Airflite, and chairperson of AIDN-WA; the opinions expressed are purely his own