Scientific paper shows that Israeli attacks merely perpetuate violence

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An important new paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences uses statistical data on violent attacks during the Second Intifadah to show that violence breeds violence in Israel and Palestine. It reminds me of Ari Fleischer’s boast to a Cincinnati synagogue, during the 2004 campaign, that he had never used the words “cycle of violence” while he was Bush’s mouthpiece. No, all the Israeli violence was good violence. Reuters covers the paper here.

Excerpts from the authors’ statement– scroll down to Nancy Kanwisher’s interpretation of the data, underlining the simple idea, No justice, no peace. Emphases mine:

Author Johannes Haushofer: ““We find that when one side attacks the other, they directly inflict a certain additional number of fatalities or rocket attacks on their own people, because they can expect that the other side will retaliate. For example, when Israeli forces kill 5 Palestinians, they automatically increase the probability that Israelis will die from Palestinian attacks on the following day by 50%.”

The study, published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences this week, overturns earlier findings which had suggested that only Palestinian attacks lead to retaliation, while Israeli attacks did not.

“The previous evidence suggested that Israeli attacks were often responses to Palestinian aggression, whereas this did not appear to be true for Palestinian attacks,” says Anat Biletzki, a professor of philosophy at Tel Aviv and Quinnipiaq Universities, and former head of BT’selem, an Israeli human rights organization that collects the data that were used in the study. “This implied that the conflict was one-sided, with Palestinians attacking Israel, and the Israeli army merely responding to this aggression. Our findings suggest that the situation is more balanced than that.”

More from the statement:

The study appears as a new series of peace talks between Israel and Palestine appears bound for failure. The team analyzed a large dataset of killings and rocket attacks in the Second Intifada between Israel and Palestine, spanning the years 2000-2008…

“”Psychologists have long known that people tend to understand their own behavior in terms of the external situation they find themselves in, but another person’s behavior in terms of that person’s inherent character,” says Nancy Kanwisher, a professor of neuroscience at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the senior author of the study. “This cognitive bias may exacerbate blind spots on both sides of the conflict. Thus, Israelis tend to think of themselves as victims who merely respond to external violence, without appreciating their own causal role in provoking those acts of violence. As Israel’s primary ally, Americans should be working to help Israelis understand how their own actions – seizure of Palestinian land, deprivation of basic human rights of Palestinians, etc. – perpetuate the conflict, and hence how ending those provocative acts will be essential to ending the conflict.”

More broadly, the team say their goal was to infuse facts and hard evidence into the public debate around the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. “Our motivation in doing this analysis was to cut through the rhetoric, prejudice and ideology that dominates the discussion, and instead bring the focus back on hard evidence and a sober, detached understanding of the facts,” says Haushofer.

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