Michael Pascoe: Hamas and Israel both sticking to the bleak, hopeless script

Israel's government and Hamas are not swaying from their bleak scripts, with civilians paying the price.

Israel's government and Hamas are not swaying from their bleak scripts, with civilians paying the price. Photo: TND/Getty


Amidst the horror and terror that has occurred and is occurring in Israel and Gaza is the depressing knowledge that the protagonists are sticking to a script written long before 1948.

More depressing is the knowledge that they are set on a path of perpetuating the death and suffering. There is no suggestion, no hint of change.

All the protests and counter-protests around the world amount to little more than expressions of dismay. They have no power to force change.

There is an academic discipline that studies the cause and paths of civil wars. I’ve mentioned a book about it in this space before, Barbara F. Walter’s How Civil Wars Start and How to Stop Them. It was written in the shadows of Trump’s America showing signs of slipping into anocracy but the patterns and examples of various conflicts are universal.

In particular, there is a script for what happens when a group loses hope.

“Scholars know where civil wars break out and who tends to start them: downgraded groups in anocracies dominated by ethnic factions. But what triggers them? What finally tips a country into conflict? Citizens can accept a lot of pain. They will accept years of discrimination and poverty and remain quiet, enduring the ache of slow decline. What they can’t take is the loss of hope. It’s when a group looks into the future and sees nothing but additional pain that they start to see violence as their only path to progress.

“People are fundamentally hopeful. They want to believe that their life, no matter how bad, will get better with effort. Hope makes the present more bearable and creates incentives for even the downtrodden to work within a system rather than burn it down. But hope requires uncertainty. Citizens can be hopeful because they don’t know how the future will unfold and, in their minds, they can anticipate something better.”

Professor Walter wrote those paragraphs in the context of several examples including Northern Ireland, Mindanao and Syria.

According to the script, when hope of improvement is lost in an anocracy – a state somewhere between a strong democracy and an autocracy – extremists within the disenfranchised population will turn to violence which in turn provokes a bigger violent reaction from the dominant power which in turn tips non-violent members of the downtrodden group over the edge towards violence in a downward spiral of death and retribution.

According to the script, the initial trigger event tends to be extreme, whichever side pulls that trigger – Bloody Sunday in Derry, Assad’s troops’ Daraa mosque massacre, October 7.

Hamas’ October 7 terrorist killing of Israeli civilians fits the extremist script, as does the Netanyahu Government extreme reaction in slaughtering a far greater number of Palestinian civilians.

But the loss of hope for Palestinians leading up to the Hamas attack also is exactly according to the script for war and atrocities and outrage.

Last November’s election of the Netanyahu government with its coalition of ultra-nationalists made terrorism and slaughter inevitable. The government’s official policy was further suppression of Palestinians, increased flouting of international law and zero chance of the now-mythical two-state solution Western governments mouth platitudes about.

Whatever hope Palestinians might have had of peaceful progress died with Netanyahu and sank further into the grave as his regime undermined Israel’s judiciary.

US President Joe Biden and Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meet in Tel Aviv in October. Photo: Getty

It’s a given that Hamas and Israeli Government organs lie as a matter of course in the propaganda war that accompanies every war, so take instead the Voice of America report (yes, the American government news arm) on Benjamin Netanyahu’s priorities upon election:

“Benjamin Netanyahu’s incoming hardline government put West Bank settlement expansion at the top of its list of priorities on Wednesday, vowing to legalize dozens of illegally built outposts and annex the occupied territory as part of its coalition deal with its ultranational allies.

“The coalition agreements, released a day before the government is to be sworn into office, also included language endorsing discrimination against LGBTQ people on religious grounds, as well as generous stipends for ultra-Orthodox men who prefer to study instead of work….

“Its lengthy list of guidelines was led by a commitment to ‘advance and develop settlement in all parts of the land of Israel,’ including ‘Judea and Samaria’, the biblical names for the West Bank.”

Fatah, controlling the ambitiously named Palestinian Authority in the West Bank, has played softer than Hamas – it is not a declared terrorist organisation. Its reward has been to lose more of its territory to militant Israeli settlers backed by the IDF, powerless to stop further dispossession and attacks, powerless to achieve justice after Palestinians are killed.

Israeli ministers now regularly describe Palestinians as non-human. The government’s intentions are explicit.

Meanwhile, Hamas refuses to acknowledge Israel’s right to exist.

Whatever the rights and wrongs of 1948 and Britain’s 1917 Balfour Declaration, Israel does exist and has for 75 years.

Just as the invasion and colonialisation of Australia was illegal under British law 235 years ago, Palestine wasn’t Terra Nullius and wasn’t really property of the United Nations to give away – but Australia happened and Israel happened. It’s too late to unscramble such eggs.

Helping end Palestinian hopes has been Israel’s success in gaining closer relations with Arab states. Those who focus on the broader geo-political games accuse Iran of instigating October 7 to scuttle the progress Israel was making towards normalising its relations with Arab states, especially Saudi Arabia.

If that was the plan, it has certainly worked – but such a view underestimates Hamas’ own unbending desires, reducing it to Iranian puppet status. Locking a couple of million people in Gaza and killing whatever hopes they have doesn’t require Iran to instigate rebellion.

It is the bleakest of outlooks. It is easier to imagine Ukraine and Russia eventually negotiating an end to their war than peace in Israel/Palestine.

Western nations’ various shades of handwringing reflect their domestic politics, not principles. To the extent that the US and Europe might have been able to keep hope alive if they had tried tougher, there is blood on their hands, too, but it’s hard to imagine anyone curtailing the ultranationalists’ ambitions on one side or Hamas’ fanaticism on the other.

As for Australia – we are irrelevant with no sway over either side. The recent behaviour of the Dutton Coalition and Murdoch media are games played for the cheapest of domestic political motives when Australia’s priority should be to minimise the chances of Palestinian or Israeli supporters bringing any of the conflict onto this peaceful soil, a safe haven for those who seek it.

That means being aware of the script and not supporting anyone committing war crimes or acts of terrorism.

Stay informed, daily
A FREE subscription to The New Daily arrives every morning and evening.
The New Daily is a trusted source of national news and information and is provided free for all Australians. Read our editorial charter
Copyright © 2024 The New Daily.
All rights reserved.