October 05, 2010

Whose violence begets violence?

According to this article in Ha'aretz, it is Israel's violence that begets Palestinian violence:
Famously, the Arabs don't need excuses to kill Jews. As everyone knows, only self-hating Jews believe there's a connection between the Israeli side's behavior in the occupied territories and violent acts by the Palestinian side. Right?

Not according to a recent article in the important Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, a journal that comes out in Washington. Contrary to the received version that "Israel only reacts" to Palestinian violence, the article scientifically shows that the cycle of violence spins in both directions. The three researchers - Prof. Nancy Kanwisher from the United States, Dr. Johannes Haushofer from Switzerland and Prof. Anat Biletzki from Israel - question previous articles claiming the Palestinian do not need provocations from the Israeli side, and that the terror attacks and rockets do not come in response to assassinations and attacks on Israel's part.

The article sums up a statistical analysis of the data on fatalities and Qassam launchings from 2000-2008, published by the Israel Defense Forces Spokesman and B'Tselem - The Israel Information Center for Human Rights in the Territories. The analysis was done using a method called vector autoregression, which enables isolation and analysis of how a single incidence of violence by one side influences the other.

Haushofer, an economist and neurobiologist at the University of Zurich, says the study shows that every time one side attacks the other, it can know with near certainty the other side will respond with violence. In this way, in effect, violence directly causes more Palestinian casualties or another rocket attack on Israel.

For example, according to the article's model, when Israel kills five Palestinians, the chances an Israeli will be killed by Palestinians the following day increase by 50 percent. Haushofer explains that he and his colleagues conducted the inquiry to "clear out" the rhetoric, the stereotypes and the ideological claims and to focus the discussion on the facts and their scientific and sane analysis.

Kanwisher, who heads the "Kanwisher Lab" for brain research at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, points to a cognitive bias on both sides, which do not see their own reactivity and responsibility for the conflict. "Thus, for example, even though the Israelis are the occupying side, they see themselves as victims of the other side," she says.

Without any direct connection to the article's research findings, Kanwisher says the Israelis do not understand their role in creating the violence of the other side. She suggests the policy makers in the United States direct their attention to the fact that acts like stealing Palestinian lands and violations of basic human rights are perpetuating the continuation of the conflict. And, in the nature of things, a conflict leads to one or another level of violence.

The third partner in the article, a Tel Aviv University professor of philosophy, Anat Biletzki, says the article knocks the scientific basis out from under the claim that the conflict is unilateral, and that the Palestinians attack Israel while Israel "only reacts."

"We are hoping the article will contribute facts and numbers to the public discussion of the conflict," says Biletzki, who for many years headed B'Tselem.

Biletzki contributes a political diagnosis of her own: "I don't need scientific research to determine that all the behavior of the Palestinians is a reaction to the Israeli occupation. For this, common sense is enough."


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