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Though there is a cease-fire in effect at the moment (is there still? It was when I started writing...), the conflict in Gaza is still anything but over. And as the conflict escalates, both my Facebook and my Twitter timeline are flooded with posts either defending Palestinian or Israelian actions and, of course, criticising the other side. I vowed (just to myself) never to write about the ongoing Israel-Palestina conflict, because it's just too frustratingly complex. But then... I don't like the way it is portrayed out of context all the time. I'm still anxious about what I'm writing here, because I have a lot of doubts and I see many impasses and few options that would open up roads for peace. No wonder I don't see them, because if they were obvious, the people involved would already have found them...

I'm aware that it might look like I'm taking the cheap way out by saying "it's too complex" and "I don't feel comfortable chosing sides". I'm not "neutral", I don't think "everyone is equally to blame", because that's not true. I rather think... the blame lies with neither Palestinians nor Israelians - there's either an entire context to blame, because this is just a friction point inside a dysfunctional system, or, if there's someone to blame, it's us, or rather, our ancestors, in Europe.

Picking sides in the conflict as it is now, would feel like sitting in an ancient Roman colloseum rooting for one of the gladiators fighting for their lives for my benefit.

So, here's why I think we Europeans have to take the blame: It's because we invented and promoted nationalism. And there would be no conflict in Palestina without nationalism. In order to understand what I mean by that, we have to take a little superficial tour through European history and the history of (European) political ideas. It might look theoretical and abstract in the beginning - but I hope I can take it back to the matter at hand before it gets too out of sync with the conflict in question.

Let's start about two and a half centuries ago. In the period now commonly referred to as "Enlightment", Europe re-invented the way it viewed the world.

Of course, things were much more complex and multi-layered than that and it began before "Enlightment", but I don't have the space here to lay it all out. It is hard now to determined whether new ways of economic organisation, technological innovation and scientific discoveries triggered the need for a new frame of reference or whether it was the other way around, a new frame of reference that triggered innovation. (I'm sure there's literature argueing for and against both cases.)

One of the (many) key issues debated was an ancient, classical question of European political philosophy: What legitimises political power in a State?

The "old" answer from the Middle Ages was, of course, God. Legitimate political power was awarded by God to a ruler who was part of a very small, privileged caste of people who were on top of the known world through Divine Providence. In practice, this meant you could only inherit a throne, either through direct lineage or through marriage (or occasionally other schemes, and you might have to convince the Pope). Additional legitimacy was provided through the catholic church (before Reformation), so, the legitimate regent of the Holy Roman Empire had to be crowned or at least sanctionned by the Pope. Everyone else in the state who wasn't part of the privileged few belonged to different castes of subjects to the legitimate ruler. Flawed as this system was (there are good reasons why it didn't survive) - everyone essentially had their proper place inside the system, and that included Jews in Europe, too.

Now, I don't want to pretend that it was a particularly comfortable place and antisemitism has a long history in Europe even before the word was invented - but while Jews were in trouble for religious reasons, they were also subject to the same ruler as everyone else and they even fulfilled certain vital functions inside this system. So, for centuries, while in a precarious situation for religious reasons or whenever anyone needed someone to blame for something, Jews were part of Europe and European culture.

This changed with Enlightment, because philosophers came up with a "new" answer to the question posed above. (Arguably, since Reformation, (the Christian) God just wasn't strong enough to legitimise political power on His own, since there was no consensus as to which kind of Christian belief got it right.) The answer eventually was: "political power is legitimised through the people". Essentially, it is the idea that we now call democracy. In a sense, what we're dealing with here is one of the dark sides of democracy. And though I'm convinced that democracy is the best of all the bad choices to legitimise political power (as Winston Churchill reputedly said) - the birth of modern democracy also created some ugly side-effects. And I mean really ugly.

If you want to legitimise political power through the people ("of the people, by the people, for the people", as Thomas Jefferson said), the question who is part of the people - and who isn't - becomes crucial. This question is particularly important for the big colonial empires, since if the answer were "everyone who lives on our territory" (the way everyone on the territory was subject to the regent before on different scales), the inhabitants of the colonies would outnumber those in the metropolis and the metropolis would lose power. Also, if this were the answer, were would you draw the line? Could a rival neighbour state just send enough people around when you have an important vote, so it can take control of your institutions, because everyone on your territory is part of the people?

The solution for this dilemma (if you want to call it that), was the concept of nationality or nationalism. To emphasis this and to make it absolutely clear:

before Enlightment, before the turn of the 18th to the 19th century in Europe, there was no concept of a nation, the way we understand it now. No French, German or Swiss or any other nation. There were people called "French" or "German", but the idea behind it wasn't very strong and it certainly didn't have the importance as an identifier it has now. After all, a territory could switch from being "French" to being "Austrian" just because an Austrian prince married a French princess and acquired a new territory as part of the dowry.

It is difficult to fathom today how much of an effort it was for European states to build and create their nations and define what was and wasn't part of the nation. For example, in France, before the effort of nation-building as part of nationalist ideology, there were a plethora of local dialects to the French language - until nationalists decided that a particular variety of the French language (the one spoken on "Ile the Paris" at the centre of Paris) was the "true French" and everyone else in the country had to learn it in order to be considered French. The reasoning behind this was that the French language was an essential part of what set a French national apart from other nationals and this policy was rigorously enforced. And now, this effort has paid off, since French is a much more unified language than multi-centric languages like German or English - and variants only strived in places outside of France, like Quebec.

This also means that there is no "natural" nation. The group identification and affiliation to a nation isn't something that you are - it's something that you are made and given. It's constructed - even if the construction is thus that you think it's so obvious and all-encompassing, it  must be natural.

Jews on the one hand embraced this idea by creating the concept of their own "Jewish nation". On the other hand, they quickly saw that they needed a way to protect themselves against the exclusion from European nation building processes. Along with nationalism, there was the parallel development of racism as an academic concept (in the early 20th century, there were actually racism classes at university, where you could study the essential differences between the "races" and the concept of "natural superiority" of some races over others). For Jews, this development was dangerous; firstly, because emerging European nations didn't consider them as nationals the way Christians were and secondly, because Jews were considered part of another race, read "inferior".

If they didn't want to be crushed by the obvious antisemitism of over-zealous nationalists, anxious to form their country after that ideal, they needed their own Jewish state for their Jewish nation. A Jewish state was the only way to insure Jews that they had a safe place in this world they could go to.

That's the basis of Zionism.

So, Zionism is the same as European nationalism, anchored in Jewish religion and the idea that there is a Jewish nation. Nationalists are very dilligent to root their claims on what territory is "rightfully theirs". They do that with reference to myths, historic events and romanticised versions of both. Nationalists tend to measure the strength of a nations' claim on a particular territory on such stories. (It's either "I was here first, therefore it's mine" or "I was here longest, therefore it's mine" or "this land is the birthplace of our nation, therefore, it's ours".)

This nationalist idea caused bloody conflicts and attempts of ethnical cleansing on several occasions. e.g. Kosovo, a region that is claimed by Albanians and Serbians alike. While there are more Albanians living in the area and they could claim "we were here longest", it had been mythologised by Serbian nationalists as the birthplace of Serbia to the point that they were unwilling to let go of it for no price. It seems as if this conflict has calmed down, Kosovo has proclaimed its independence, but who knows what happens if Serbian nationalism were to flare up again.

Such a struggle is even harder for a nation or "people" who doesn't have a territory to begin with. Like the Jews at the time. Or Sinti and Roma, who had been a travelling people for centuries, and continue to struggle and face discrimination and prejudice. But they never tried to claim any land for themselves.

Zionism naturally turned to the closest they had to a "I was here first"- and "this is the birthplace or our nation"-claim, which is the Holy Land. This controversial piece of land was at the time Palestine under British colonial rule, after having been part of the multi-ethnic Ottoman Empire for centuries.

The problem was, of course, that there were already people living there, who could make the "I was here longest"-claim. Nationalism is an exclusive concept that perceives the influence over a certain territory as a zero-sum game, meaning that any territory can only be claimed by one nation at a time, excluding all others. This isn't a natural concept, either. It's a belief.

Zionists tried to "solve" that problem by emigrating from Europe into Palestine successively and setting up Jewish settlements, so as to slowly create a "we are here now, too"-claim strong enough to establish a Jewish state.

Palestinians resisted, seeing this as colonialisation of their land - but there is at least a possibility that the entire thing might have gone down less bloody and with less deadly opposition, if Europeans hadn't decided that they really had a "problem" with Jews and started discriminating against them more violently - and persecute them, and in the German case actually trying to literally erradicate them.

Though - don't make any mistakes here, since Zionism is a form of nationalism and nationalism regards territory as a zero-sum game, "I was here first" means "you have to go or I kill you".  So, for those Jews who took Zionism to the letter, it must have been clear that they'd have to get rid of the Palestinians eventually.

I hope this makes it clear that these troubles were a direct consequence of European nationalism. Even if concrete examples of anti-semitic outbreaks in Europe had been caused by other circumstances, nationalism provided the frame and legitimisation for such attacks. It had designated the Jews as a malicious "other" to the Europeans. An "other" they could define their own national identity against. It was this that prompted mass-emigration of European Jews to Palestine and made Zionism more than just an idea of some fundamentalists.

Even the Nazis originally weren't opposed to emigration of Jews and in some cases allowed them to leave for Palestine before WWII began. This only ended when Hitler decided on the disgustingly euphemous "Final Solution".

So, to make a long story short(er) - the Israel-Palestine-conflict really is an "outsourced" European conflict.

This on two accounts: the idea that prompted the Jews to want to claim Palestine as their territory was prompted by nationalist concepts developed as a framework to legitimise European domination over the world. It was a concept to creating a group identity of a souvereign people by distinguising themselves against an alien "other". This pulled Jews out of Europe dreaming of their own nation state. And Europeans made sure the Israeli went through with their idea of a Jewish state, because they had excluded and opposed Jews in their definition of their nation. This pushed even more Jews out of Europe. Those two dynamics re-inforced each other.

I want to highlight this, because if you ask who is the unmitigated winner in this dynamic, it's European nationalists. And Europeans, period.

In a sense, the creation of the state of Israel after WWII is a moderate European antisemit's wet dream. It's no wonder many members of the far right in Europe are virulently Pro-Israelian. Since there is now a Jewish state, European antisemits have more reason to claim that Jews really have no place in European nations and should be gone already. Also, since there had been a lot of Muslims who have immigrated into Europe in the last decades (paradoxically also due to the ongoing conflict between Israel and Palestine and the turmoil in the region), Muslims have taken up both the role of scapegoat and of malicious "other" against which European nations can create their identities. Funnily enough, in the original racist theory Arabs (and of course, all Muslims are Arabs in this mindset) were put together with Jews as "the semitic races".

So, anti-semitic focus has shifted from Jews to Arabs, since they are now perceived as a greater threat to Europe, but it's really the same mechanism. And though the semantics have changed, you could call both anti-judaism and anti-islamism "anti-semitic". (Just shows how arbitray these categories really are.)

Anti-semits in Europe live in a total win-win-situation and they have entirely new ways to camouflage their ideology.

If you are really afraid of Muslims and you don't like Jews, either - just support Israel. Israel is fighting against these evil Muslims and as long as it exists, you won't have to deal with too many scary Jews in your backyard. Bonus point, you can also pin a "I support Israel, therefore I'm not an evil anti-semit" badge on yourself, because you know that anti-semitism is kind of dodgy after what the Nazis have done.

If you really, really don't like Jews and you believe all that Jewish world conspiracy bullshit and see Jews as the sum of all evil, you can just be anti-Israel and hide behind the facade that you're just doing it to support these poor Palestinians.

You win either way. Your anti-semitism goes unchallenged, you can take a stance and keep the moral high-ground.

This doesn't suggest that everyone who supports Israel or everyone who supports Palestine or both are anti-semits. But you can be anti-semitic and take both stances, without having to question your anti-semitic beliefs. Which in turn helps perpetuate anti-semitic structures inside our European societies.

I won't address Muslim anti-semitism here, since this is about European responsibility for the current conflict and the love-hate-triangle between Christians, Muslims and Jews is just too much to disentangle in one post. (I wrote my diploma thesis on Samuel Huntington's Clash of Civilisation and the concept of "us vs. them", "enemies" and the creation of identity by antagonism.)

Here's where the hypocrisy really starts. European public opinion is now for the most part heavily pro-palestinean (for good reasons, I'll come to that) and is very liberal with pointing fingers at Israel for basically doing what our ancestor told them to do and have done to them before:

"We don't want you here. You are not part of our precious nation. Go look for a place of your own. Here, see, we give you Palestine. - Hey, hey. Stop. Why are you so mean to the Palestinians? They have a right to be there, you know! Hey, Palestinians, why do you want to eliminate Jews, you evil anti-semitic people?"

I'm not saying that this legitimates Israeli actions in this conflict. Just because we have done it and it was wrong, doesn't mean they should do it. But it's a little cynical to point your finger at your victim for using the same strategies you used - and still continue to use in other contexts. Nationalism isn't dead in Europe, just have a look at recent election results. Just because there hadn't been the "need" or the circumstances favorable to the kind of aggressive nationalistic policy that wrecked havoc at the beginning of the 20th century doesn't mean they are gone and unthinkable now. We have a nationalist party in Switzerland backed by about 30% of the electorate.

I once had an interesting evening discussing world politics with an American traveller I met in a Hostel common room in China. He was in his late fifties and very decidedly pro-palestinian. He said that for him it was clear that Palestine belonged to the Palestinians, since they had lived there for centuries before the Jews started flooding in. And, he argued - it wasn't Palestinians who had forced Jews to quit Europe, it had been Europeans. In fact... isn't it odd, he asked, that Germany tried to eliminate all Jews from the face of the earth and Germany lost the war - and yet, it's Palestinians who had to give up their homes to make room for a Jewish state? And not, you know... Germans.

He was of the opinion that the Allies should have attributed a core part of Germany to the Jews as a territory for a Jewish state. Let's say, Bavaria. And I'm sorry for all the Bavarians that might read this, I just chose at random. It could have been Nordrhein-Westfalen or Berlin and Brandenburg. So, imagine for a moment, this gentleman's plan had been made reality. And imagine that Jews accepted Bavaria as their new Israel and left Palestine (a little unlikely - and besides all the mythological background of biblical origins and so on, I can understand any Jewish person who wouldn't want to return to a territory surrounded by those who months ago tried to erradicate your entire people).

So... for the sake of argument, imagine all Bavarians were told to leave Bavaria, so the Jews could come and settle there to create their state of Israel, a safe haven for Jews to live in, after the horrors of the Shoa - and the Allies pledged to guarantee their protection. Do you think we would have had peace in Europe since WWII? For real? How long do you think it would have taken the brown scum to crawl out from under their rocks and try to reclaim Bavaria for the slighted Germans, whose native territory this was?

And, you know, if you can imagine Bavarian terrorists trying to take back Bavaria for themselves, because it's outrageous to think that all inhabitants of Munich had to leave the city to make way for Jews - even after Germany lost the war and tried to erradicate all Jews - is it such a leap to understand why Palestinians could feel entitled to "get their land back"?

To me, it is very clear that if this measure had been taken after WWII, Europe probably wouldn't have stayed as peaceful in the wake of it as it stayed in our version of history. Actually, by "transplanting" the European "Jew Problem" to Palestine, we really only bought our peace at the expense of Palestinians and Israeli alike.

And just to make this absolutely clear: that's not the Jews' fault. If you say so, congratulations, you're an anti-semit. The Jews are a victim in this. Just as the Palestinians.

(Another argument I get really pissed at - all these really clever people who suggest that the Jew could have created their state somewhere "uninhabited", like... Siberia. You're an ignorant idiot. There are no "uninhabited places" on earth. Yes, there are actually people living in Siberia. Their traditions, beliefs and lifestyles are all but gone, thanks to Russian colonialism and the Sovjet ideology. In some cases, it's lifestyles that had been perfected over millenia and were uniquely adapted to the rough climate of the area. It breaks my heart to think that anyone would feel entitled to rob these people of there land again, after Russian imperialism has already pushed them at the margins and force yet another occupying force on them. But sadly, the Siberian people wouldn't be strong or numbered enough to challenge the incoming Jews, so... this "solution" would've likely produced "peace".)

We invented nationalism. We pushed the Jews away. We made Zionism a thing. And we decided that Palestinians had to give up their territory. The British decided that they would legitimise the Israelian claims on part of the land. They could, since they controlled it at the time. And why wouldn't they? It was a neat way to export a struggle we had created in Europe by deciding a person couldn't be a proper national of our European nations if they were also Jewish. And "the Jews wanted it that way" isn't a sufficient argument, if they didn't really have a proper choice.

If you're still struggling to understand what political power and privilege means, this is it. Having the power to unload your own problems you created yourself unto others and watch them kill each other as a consequence, while keeping your hands clean and claiming the moral high ground.

Israel is a deeply nationalist state. Its policies are nationalist and discriminatory towards everyone who doesn't fit their criteria of an Israeli. That's disgusting. But it's not as if they invented that concept. It's the concept of nationalism itself that is disgusting, flawed and broken - but Israel isn't the only state endorsing it.

Of course this is frustrating, because if you took the entire thing out of context, there would be a strong case in favour of Palestinians.

They had already been there when Jews "returned" to Palestine. For all intents and purposes, the Israeli are European colonists who just came and took their land. Or worse, they were colonists who were settled there by the British imperialists, because they looked more familiar than the locals and were the more approachable of the two "others" (they were Europeans after all!). In a nationalist perspective, Palestinians are just a people defending their homeland against foreign invaders. That's what probably made them feel entitled to downright reject the existence of Israel in the first place.

What to do about it, if you consider the context?

Israel has already existed for more than 60 years. Through our contemporary lenses, it might seem weird that the Brits could just attribute part of the Palestinian lands to the Jews. But it was considered legitimate at the time. Of course acting within a legal and ethical framework of a given time doesn't excuse your actions and it doesn't make it right. But there's no reason to blame Israel for these decisions. They were made by the British and actually Europeans in general.

If someone were to blame for the injustice now suffered by the Palestinians, it would be Europeans, their Empires, their racist and imperialist ideology of the time and of course, the Germans in particular. And it should be them who paid the price, but the world isn't fair as it is.

It's not that Palestinians haven't done anything to fuel the conflict.

The British proposed a two-state solution in 1947 that divided the land between the Palestinians and the Israeli. It was the Palestinians who first attempted to scare the Israeli away and reclaim all their land, while the Israeli had originally accepted the borders as they were drawn by the UN. The then dominant part of Zionism was in favour of trading land for peace, making sure Palestinians could survive, so they would leave Israel in peace as well.

It had been the constant pushes by the Palestinians and their neigbouring allies in the beginning of the conflict that had fuelled the rise of the right-wing Zionism that is now mainstream in Israel. If Palestinians had accepted the boarders early on, like Israel, the conflict might have been avoided or at least less skewed in favour of Israel.

If you were cynical, you could call it a strategic error on their part.

There are two or three generations of Israeli who have been born in Israel now and for whom this land is their land. There's no going back to an imagined state "before Israel" without creating new injustice for everyone. History can't be reversed. There's no way anyone could tell the Israeli that they should abandon their state again, now and return to where they came from. It'd just make the conflict spread.

And I guess it's too late to give them Bavaria instead of Palestine, now.

As unfair as it might seem to certain people, Israel exists and it isn't going anywhere. Any solution that wants to have a viable future has to include Israel. So... all these fantasies about eliminating Israel... Just forget about them. It's not going to happen. If you indulge in it, you're part of the problem in the same way Israeli who dream about eliminating Palestine are. You aren't better. Eliminating an entire people or pushing them somewhere else is wrong. Always. Whoever it is who does it.

This also means, of course, that Israel is wrong with its settlement and blockade policies, because they are trying to solve "the problem" by eliminating Palestinians.

We have at the moment two sides who want to eliminate each other - albeit one who has much more leverage than the other.

I'm convinced that there are (slim, far off) possibilities to resolve the conflict. Either by creating two different states or by forming some kind of federal state. There is no indication that it is entirely impossible for people of different races or religions to live in the same state together and to govern it together. I don't see any of this happen in the forseeable future. This kind of solution is difficult to create as long as nationalism is a thing. Particularly in a belligerent environment like Israel and Palestine that lacks trust on even the most basic level.

Unfortunately, there's no indication that nationalism is going to stop being a thing, seeing as it is shoved into our faces every day. It's celebrated at every big sports event, where national teams compete against each other for national pride, even the European Song Contest and so on. How should people learn that nationality is an arbitray and not particularly good category, if your entire daily life is shaped by it?

Another problem lies in the fact that the conflict won't ever calm down, as long as either party feels it has something to gain from resorting to violence. And unfortunately, that's both of them, which all but ensures that the conflict won't be resolved.

Any solution, however it might look like and whoever would promote it, has to make sure that the use of force (and what's considered as violence by the other party, e.g. continuing illegal settlements) has a negative impact on the perpetrator, while opting for peace has to be beneficial regardless of the other's reaction. I don't know how you do that - but you have to twitch the circumstances in that way.

Also, it doesn't help the conflict if it's analysed without context and in a stupid binary us vs. them, friend - enemy perspective.

Though the conflict is continued to be presented that way and it feels very tempting to look at it like that (my entire post so far focussed on this perspective, too), this isn't a conflict of a homogenous bloc of Palestinians against a homogenous bloc of Israeli. There's more to it - there are Palestinians with Israeli citizenship. There are liberals, progressives, conservatives, nationalists, religious fundamentalists, atheists, idealists, pacifists, people of different social classes, rich people, poor people, academics, proletarians, people with different colours of skin and sexual orientation... a whole bunch of different people with different perspectives on the world, on the state of Israel, on the Palestinian autonomous government, on the conflict... they are on all sides... one step to loosen the conflict might simply be to make them heard, let people see that this isn't a war between two homogenous, completely antagonistic entities, in which you have to pick sides.

You can see Palestinians and Israeli demonstrate for peace together. They exist. Very traditional Muslims and orthodox Jews share a closer world view than orthodox Jews and laicistic Jews. And so on.

It can start by acknowledging that there are similarities between certain Israeli and Palestinians that are stronger than the differences. Acknowledge that this conflict is more complex than two stupid extremist people killing each other off - stupid right-wing Israelis who continue the settlement program and who think bombing schools and hospitals is a good idea or stupid fundamentalist Palestinians who still want to eliminate Israel, even if it kills their own people and who think that they can use their compatriots as human shields.

I might be a naive idealist, I know how difficult and complex the situation is, but I refuse to believe that there is absolutely no chance for peace. I refuse to believe that this is just how these things work. I refuse to believe that it is as simple as us vs. them. Because if you take the current conflict to its logical conclusion (assuming circumstances don't change), it means that the conflict will continue until one of the conflicting parties is eliminated entirely or reduced and scattered to the point that they pose no threat to the other and have no claims left to make.

The way it looks now, the party eliminated would be Palestinians. That's why I find it easier to have compassion for them. But... you know... just taking away weapons from the Israeli fundamentalists or giving weapons to the Palestinian fundamentalists to level the field wouldn't solve the underlying conflict as long as nationalism exists. It would just perpetuate it even more. Nationalism and Zionism have to be weakened. It could be something we could do here - start contesting nationalist ideas, start building alternative ways to define who constitutes the "people" in a democratic society.

If I say Europe is to blame, I think we should own up to it. However, I don't think it'd be wise to ask Europe to go in and solve the mess it has created. Because I don't trust us not to screw up again - Europe has been fired from its position and it should stay out. But they should support whatever peaceful solution might come from other efforts.

In conclusion, I feel like an unwilling Roman citizen, sitting on the ranks of the coloseum, watching the cruel fight of two gladiators. I didn't pay to be here, but I have to watch. One contestant has been nearly beaten to death in his previous fight by our own contestant, but he was rescued just before actually dying. Then he has been trained back to health, put on steroides and now, we watch him fighting against another poor chap who is close to death. Will we save him at the nick of time, too? Will they then put him on steroids, too, for our entertainment? What if I don't want to be forced to root for a contestant in a fight that's rigged and controlled from the outside, a fight of two victims of the same oppressive idea?

Of course that doesn't make any of the actions of any of the contestants any less brutal and gross, it doesn't legitimise the means they use. But the fact that they are both victims of the same structural power, though at different times and in different ways does make it really hard to take a clear position. And the fact is... both Israeli and Palestinians would have real reason to unite and turn against us.