It’s a Tribal Conflict

Humans have always arranged themselves into families, extended families, and tribes. After all, they are primates, and many other primate species act similarly. Sometimes tribes clash over a piece of territory. Maybe the ground is fertile or the hunting is good. When that happens, the tribes fight. If there are other tribes nearby, each side may seek allies to help them win. This is the way human beings behave. We think we are different today. We are not.

Usually one tribe is the aggressor and one is the victim. The goal of the aggressor is to take what the victim has: property and land, and sometimes to enslave the useful members of the victim tribe. Some tribes have been very successful in serial aggressions, even building empires as they sweep across the land, employing techniques of aggression that they improve with successive conquests. The Arab conquests of the 7th century and the Mongols of the 13th come to mind.

Sometimes the aggressor wins, and sometimes the intended victim beats the aggressor off, or even destroys him. Sometimes there are repeated conflicts with no clear winner over a long period.

When one tribe achieves a conclusive victory, the other tribe usually disappears. They are killed, enslaved, expelled, females raped, and their genetic material fades into the background noise. The culture of the aggressor becomes the dominant culture in conquered areas. Their language and their religion replace those of the losing tribe.

In modern times tribes have coalesced into nations. Sometimes – rarely these days – a nation is comprised of primarily one tribe or a group of closely related tribes. Such a nation is Japan. Other nations are dominated by one tribe, but have significant national minorities, like China or Russia. Usually the more stable nations are the ones that are homogeneous or the ones whose dominant tribes are solidly in control, which in part explains why China and Russia sometimes behave in ways that are considered oppressive to their minorities.

An example of what can happen when there are large national minorities is Lebanon. Lebanon was an experiment in modern politics in which political structures were built to balance the power of the multiple Christian, Muslim, and Druze factions (i.e., tribes). Great care was taken to ensure that no tribe would be dominant. This, it turns out, is precisely the formula for instability – which was exploited by outside forces like the PLO, Syria, and Iran. Today the nation has been reduced to failed third-world state status, without a functional currency or electric power grid. Worse, it has been made into one massive remote-controlled missile launcher for Iran, and will be forced to absorb even more blows if (when) war breaks out between Israel and Iran.

Muslim minorities in non-Muslim states are particularly destabilizing. This is because Islamic ideology contains several concepts that lead to conflicts between Muslim and non-Muslim neighbors. Islamic doctrine holds that women and non-Muslims have fewer rights than male Muslims, something that creates friction in modern liberal cultures. And they believe that it is unacceptable for Muslims to live under a non-Islamic regime, which results in noncompliance with laws and rebelliousness. We can see these phenomena in Europe today.

Israel is in a particularly difficult position, with an extremely large national minority of Muslim Arabs (about one in every five Israeli citizens). In addition to the religious factor they have developed a sense of grievance and a narrative of dispossession and loss of honor. This is a formula for trouble, and indeed it has broken out into open insurrection several times; most notably in the two intifadas, and in the “disturbances” (anti-Jewish pogroms) in cities with mixed Jewish and Arab populations this May during the recent war with Hamas in Gaza.

Recently Arab alienation has taken the form of contempt for the laws of the state, with crime rampant in Arab areas – and spreading outside of them. In particular, Israel’s strict laws regulating the possession of firearms are massively flouted, with Arabs obtaining weapons stolen from the army, smuggled across the border from Lebanon, or even manufactured at home. Some illegal weapons also find their way into the hands of terrorists.

Israelis are worried. Even leaving aside the conflict with the Arabs of Judea, Samaria, and Gaza who have been educated by their remarkably evil leaders over the past several generations to incandescently hate Jews, what can be done to preserve the Jewish state with its increasingly restive Arab Muslim minority?

Back in 2006, a group of Arab intellectuals, citizens of the state of Israel, told us what they thought in a document called “The Future Vision of the Palestinian Arabs in Israel.” The writers were academics, politicians, and social activists, people from the intellectual elite of Arab Israeli society, chosen to represent “different political beliefs and thought schools.” It was a serious project, sponsored by the National Committee for the Heads of the Local Arab Councils in Israel. The final product represented their consensus of opinion.

The document affirms the narrative of Israel as a European colonial project, involving the “Judaization” of the land and the “destruction of Palestinian history.” It asserts that Israel is an “ethnocracy” and not a democracy. The writers demanded that the state “acknowledge responsibility for the Palestinian Nakba” of 1948, and recognize its Arab citizens as an “indigenous national minority” and an essential part of the greater “Palestinian people.” They demanded that the State of Israel redefine itself from a Jewish state into a binational one, with equal political representation for Jews and Arabs, including granting Arabs a veto power over state policies. They demanded “corrective justice … in order to compensate for the damage inflicted on the Palestinian Arabs due to the ethnic favoritism policies of the Jews.” And naturally they called for “Guaranteeing the rights of the Palestinian Arabs in issues obliterated in the past such as the present absentees and their right of return.”

Even much of the Israeli Left was shocked. Such a binational state would in short order make Lebanon look like a success story. Despite the language of human rights that suffuses the document, it represents a demand for the Jews to reverse the outcome of the 1948 War of Independence, and submit to what would quickly become Arab domination. And that in turn – as is normal among primates – would end in murder, slavery, expulsion, and rape, and the final end of the Jewish people in the Middle East and perhaps in the world.

The centrist Zionist position is that it is possible to buy the Arabs off by making it possible for them to have the “good things in life,” like nice cars and fast internet service. After all, they already have the highest standard of living of any other Arab population in the Middle East. In some respects they live better than many Jewish Israelis (compare the large mansions in Arab towns to the cramped apartments of the Jews). But there are some things that we are not prepared to give them: land – they want it all – and their honor, which they believe we took from them in the Nakba. Their honor demands that we become subservient to those whom former MK Haneen Zouabi called “the owners of the homeland,” the Palestinian Arabs. Unfortunately, these are the things they really want, not cars and internet service.

There is no middle ground, just as there is no mutually acceptable “two-state solution” for the Arabs of Judea and Samaria, and no prospect of peace with Hamas. This is a struggle between tribes. And although we are a majority in our state, our tribe is a tiny minority in the region and the world, so it is also a struggle for our continued existence.

This is a kind of struggle that liberal societies are not good at. We want to compromise, to find win-win solutions. There aren’t any here. One side has to win and the other lose. And if we lose, we disappear; so we’d better win.


It’s a Tribal Conflict