Translating Gaza: Conflict & Peace Actions in a Diasporic World

“…whenever Rome conquers and is happy, the rest of the world is unhappy and conquered. Should we therefore attach too much importance to this small measure of happiness when it has been obtained at so enormous an expenditure of effort? Granted that these times did bring about some happiness to a particular city, did they not also weigh down the rest of the world with misery and accomplish its ruin?”

Orosius, Seven Books of History Against the Pagans

This article advances the argument that gender and social reproduction are becoming more central to conflict in the Middle East. It also addresses the historical roots of the crisis, arguing that the failure to address underlying social and economic causes of the Mid-East crisis are threatening to continue the victimization of both Jews and Muslims in the region and beyond. It then provides a new approach to the ontology of states that might provide options for dialogue and peace-building.


Translation requires 1) understanding of a source text; 2) knowledge of and sympathy with the intentions and interests of the text’s authors, and 3) a balanced approach with allows one to remain within the parameters of original meaning while adjusting arguments to suit a new or different audience.

This article translates the ongoing conflict in Gaza as:

  1. an indicator of a shift in the nature of conflict to a focus on gender, demographic and identity factors;
  2. an example of the results of sociological and economic phenomena that continue to influence the nature of conflict worldwide;
  3. a possible catalyst for fundamental change in the nature of international law and global governance.

While the Jewish Holocaust must be put into the context of massive death tolls associated with colonial/imperial projects worldwide, it marks a change in the scale of concerted, calculated attempts at genocide. In many cases, genocide was a result but not a motive of imperial action.

There remains a question mark around the idealist assurances that this type of action will not reoccur. In fact, recent examples of genocide in Bosnia, Rwanda/Congo, Guatemala and Sudan suggest the opposite. I argue that this is primarily because the types of ‘moral exclusion’ that permitted this type of violence have multiplied rather than fallen in the post-WWII and post Cold-War period, despite the Rights Revolution of the post-WWII period.

Historical Background: Palestine as a reflection of Western identity politics

I begin my historical discussion of the present crisis in Palestine in 1880. This year marks the approximate start of the Zionist movement, initiated in Austria as a response to a significant rise in antisemitism following an economic crisis in 1870s Europe. Jews in Europe were using the type of diasporic and transnational networks that many migrants employ today. They were made scapegoats of the crisis and attacked in both the 1880s and 1930s/1940s as agents of the economic decline in the North.

As a major economic crisis looms, I argue that a similar type of backlash against migrants and related ethnic minorities is likely to be a source of major conflict. While many have pointed to globalization as a deepening of transnational social ties, also evident according to authors such as Rosenau is a deepening of reactionary identity discourses.

Evidence of this response to the current economic crisis is already manifest in violence and protests in Eastern Europe and Great Britain. This is rendered even more complex by the feminization of labor migration, and the probable exposure of women to the brunt of this backlash against ethnic transnational networks and ‘cheap’ migrant labor.

At the heart of my argument is a critical realist perspective that includes the geopolitical implications of identity discourse- in particular white supremacy- as a phenomenon that varies with hegemonic crises and techno-economic shifts. White supremacy is a system of entitlement which is the direct result of imposed patriarchal structures in modern Europe which have been exported to the imperial periphery through education, religion and other forms of social media.

It also involves the artificial and unstable dependence of ‘white’ subjects on state welfare, consumer culture and complexes of superiority. This system of entitlement is often challenged in the event of economic or political crises. These crises are then met, not by resistance against the state, but by increased violence against persons characterized as non-white or migrants, often regardless of social or economic standing. This system and the moral exclusions (where violence is justified as a response to an existential threat) it generates can have real consequences for ‘ethnic minorities’ in both autocratic and democratic states, as was evidenced by the Jewish experience in 20th century Europe.

Gender and Geopolitics: Impact of Demographic Anxieties on Conflict

Israel/Palestine presents an example of a cultural conflict engendered by a geopolitical paradigm. Israel’s support from the United States of America is directly associated with the geopolitics of energy/oil in the Middle East. However, it is my argument that the enjeux of the Palestinian conflict itself are predominantly socio-cultural.

Dressing Up the Oil

While solutions to the Palestine question have been often framed as a choice between a two-state settlement or a variation of the Arab League’s early ‘United State of Palestine’ option, I believe that both solutions are being rendered unacceptable to a Zionist Israel by key demographic trends in the area.

In 2002, the Total Fertility Rate (TFR) in Occupied Palestine of 5.9 children per woman was more than twice as high as in Israel (2.9), which is reflected in their respective rates of natural increase (3.5% annually versus 1.5%). The TFR in the Gaza Strip was one of the highest in the world at 6.6 births per woman (2001). While this rate has been slowly trending downwards since 2000, the rate as of 2015 is still 4.11 births per woman, as compared with a steady 3.13 within Israel. Similar trends were to be found within Israel until recently: Jewish women have a TFR of 2.6 compared with 4.7 for Muslim women (2001). Rates for Jewish and Arab-Israeli women have now converged (2015), but remain lower than those of women in the Occupied Territories.

The health status of Israelis is much higher than that of Palestinians. While maternal mortality rates in Israel at at 5 per 100,000 live births in 2015, the Palestinian MMR rose slightly to 24.7 per 100,000 live births with a rate of 19.8 in the West Bank and 30.6 in the Gaza Strip in 2014. Of the 30 maternal deaths recorded in Palestine in 2014, 13 deaths were in the West Bank and 17 in the Gaza Strip. General life expectancy in the occupied territories has remained close to 2001 levels of 71 years in the Gaza Strip and 72 in the West Bank, compared with 82 in Israel in 2015 (78 in 2001). In 2001, mortality rates were higher in the Palestinian Territories than in Israel, with six versus four deaths per 1,000 population, respectively. This is due to the radically different age structures resulting from the different levels of fertility. While 28 percent of Israel’s population is under 15 years of age, almost half of the Palestinian population is under 15. It should be noted that Israel is facing an aging population and its own desperate need for immigrant labour.

Even with the convergence in internal birth rates, it is still probable (despite recent arguments to the contrary) that the democratic state of Israel will contain an Arab, Muslim voting majority in less than a generation. In this case, even a two-state solution in this case may be considered incompatible with ‘cultural sovereignty’ on the part of the Zionist movement. I argue therefore that the status quo in Israel/Palestine is an inherently unstable solution to a historically justifiable Zionist reaction to global antisemitism and the genocide experienced by Jews in World War II.

The Post-Euclidean Option: Confronting Postcolonial Reality with Creativity

My suggestions for peace-building actions in light of the politico-demographic scenario presented above include seemingly counter-intuitive steps. I would like to address the most controversial of them first: a post-Euclidean*option, where both Israel and Palestine exist as states sharing the same borders.

Citizenship and institutional development, rather than exclusive military control over spaces, would then be considered as territory, which allows physical geographical expanse to be shared rather than divided among states. This form of reconciliation is also in line with the ‘contact hypothesis’ in social psychology, which states that more high-quality contact between groups promotes inter-group reconciliation.

I argue that an inevitable outcropping of this will be consultation/debate for the management and protection of the resources of Israel/Palestine as a global commons, which could be an example for other resource commons in the global South. The alternative is what we are currently witnessing: a game of words between idealists and realists, a fruitless orthodox postcolonial debate and increasing human insecurity for both Palestinians and Jews.

There is need for a new type of (post)colonial debate which focuses on human security and development rather than state security as the basis for international public and private law (see HCCH initiatives on the abduction of children). European colonial borders abound in Africa, North and South America and dominate the discourse of state and nationhood until today. While it is useful to recognize priority in migration to various geographic areas, the historical realities of European colonialism make it necessary for multiple states/nations to be allowed to coexist in the same borders.

This is a complex but ultimately feasible solution for negotiations between indigenous Fourth World and First World nations such as is the case in Australia and Canada as well as post-colonial states nations such as Bolivia, Mexico and Israel/Palestine.

(*Euclid’s axioms include, inter alia: a ‘straight line can be drawn between any two points’, and ‘the whole is greater than the part’. However, a straight line cannot be drawn between two points in the same place, nor can a part which is the same as the whole be considered smaller.)

Other Steps for Conflict Reduction and Peace Dialogue

As economic crisis deepens in the West, international Judeophobia, one of the major sources of the Zionist movement, has not be eradicated or even properly addressed in its European cradle. Israel remains at the centre of a deepening multi-polar geopolitical struggle over energy, which inevitably constrains the response of other oil-producing countries in the region. Israel has been at war with all countries with which it shares borders. The added threat of nuclear power competition in the Middle East, especially between Israel and Iran, is a source of provocation, armed escalation and insecurity for the entire region and has pushed the public and political discourse to the right within Israel. In light of this, several steps can be taken to promote dialogue and reduce the pressures that feed identity-, gender- and demography-based conflict in the Middle East and beyond.

The first is ensuring multiple, accessible and long-term safe havens for Palestinians, but Jews in particular. An exodus of Palestinians without resolution in Israel/Palestine will validate the strategies being used against their population and may only prolong the suffering of Palestinians remaining behind.

The second is civil society action to address Europe’s role in the Israel/Palestine conflict, and to support the continuing struggle against white supremacist discourse, judeophobia and islamophobia in the West. Economic and political concessions should be given to both Israel and Palestine in light of the European holocaust. A possible step is the politico-economic inclusion of Israel as part of the European Union, following the example of Israel’s membership in the European regional football governing body, UEFA.

The third is the widening and deepening of international law provisions and enforcement for violence against women and children is necessary, given the predicted increase in attacks on social and physical reproduction as terrorism/militancy. Provisions within the Hague Conventions of 1899 and 1907 were virtually non-existent as is the case of the Nuremberg Trials (1945–1949) and the Tokyo Tribunal (1946–1948). The 1949 Geneva Conventions also barely mention issues of sexual violence, while the 1974 Declaration on the Protection of Women and Children in Emergency and Armed Conflict omits any reference to sexual violence. In the two Additional Protocols to the Geneva Convention, only one sentence in each strictly applies to sexual violence.

Existing provisions include the UN CEDAW treaty and the protocol on Rights of Women in Africa in the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights (2003- not yet in force); and non-treaty HR standards such as the UN Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women (1993) and the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action (1995).

The fourth is pressure for the celebration as opposed to the tolerance of religious and cultural rights of all major global religions. Caribbean societies such as Trinidad and Tobago, Suriname and Guyana can be very useful as models in this regard.

This step should be concomitant with the further guarantee of the economic and political rights of migrants, especially female migrants and their offspring through bilateral and multilateral negotiations on labour migration of all types as shown in the Colombo Process and by the recent international relations of states such as the Philippines and Mexico.

The sixth is the memorialisation and discussion of various holocausts in the modern era as key instances of violations of human security and their causes, while increasing pressure on similar contemporary forms of structural and physical violence as a form of reparation. Among these should be pressure for non-centralised renewable energy sources, and the imposition of stricter measures for the use of non-renewable energy.

P.S. The relevance of this ‘translation’, especially its analysis of the role of demographic change in attacks on minority populations, is borne out by the re-emergence of ethnic conflict in Myanmar. In this case, the high fertility of Rohingya women has openly cited as one of the sources of racial and ethnic animosity towards the Rohingya within mainstream Myanmar social dialogue. Please see my interview with journalist Nyunt Win on this issue.

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