Scientific paper shows that Israeli attacks merely perpetuate violence

on 9 Comments

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.

9 Responses

  1. Donald
    October 7, 2010, 10:44 am

    I think these authors, though well-intentioned, have buried the lead. This is the statement I found most interesting–

    “in the levels specification, 10% of all Qassam
    rockets (358 in number) can be attributed to prior Israeli attacks
    on Palestinians, but only 4% of killings of Palestinians by Israel
    (158 in number) can be attributed to prior Palestinian attacks on
    Israel. In the incidence specification, 6% of all days on which
    Palestinians attack Israel with rockets, and 5% of all days on
    which they attack by killing Israelis, can be attributed to retaliation;
    in contrast, this is true for only 2% of all days on which
    Israel kills Palestinians.”

    As they also point out, Israel controls Palestinian lives in ways that are far more pervasive than anything Palestinians can do to them in return, and most of the deaths in this conflict are Palestinians killed by Israelis. The paper was apparently written to refute a previous paper by Jaeger and Paserman that claimed to show that Israeli violence was retaliatory and Palestinian violence random (which was supposed to show that the Palestinian side is inherently violent). Though obviously that’s a popular view in the US and Israel, anyone familiar with who controls whom and which side does most of the killing could see what’s wrong with that.

  2. Diane Mason
    October 7, 2010, 12:23 pm

    There have suggestions from time to time in the Israeli press that not only do Israeli attacks perpetuate violence, but that some Israeli govts know this very well and have intended for this to be the outcome when authorizing some IDF operations. (I suppose the underlying logic would be that escalating violence is a good bet when you are the militarily-dominant party). Off the top of my head, I remember Ha’aretz hinting at the possibility that maybe the real purpose of Israel’s assassination policy was to provoke retaliatory Palestinian bombings that could be used to justify IDF operations in the West Bank, right after Raed Carmi was assassinated while his faction and the IDF were supposed to be observing a reciprocal ceasefire. And a guy called Motti Morel, who was an advisor to Amram Mitzna, caused a stink during Mitzna’s election campaign when he talked openly about how difficult it was to campaign on issues that were good for the Labor Party, seeing as whenever Sharon wanted to distract attention away from social/economic subjects he could just launch an assassination, knowing that Hamas would respond with Qassems from Gaza, and hey presto the debate would immediately turn back to the Likud’s favorite topic, i.e. security. And there’s that much-cited Haaretz story, “More than a million bullets”, that came out early in the second intifada, about how Israel’s own actions escalated mass protests into a military confrontation.

    Prof Steve Niva of Evergreen Univ looked at this in a systematic way, in an article maybe four(?) years ago on the timing of Palestinian suicide bombings in Israel. He found that the single most reliable predictor of when there would be a suicide bombing was for the Israeli govt to assassinate the leader of a Palestinian faction while it was maintaining a ceasefire with regard to Israel. The pattern of Faction Declares Ceasefire… Faction’s Leader is Assassinated …. Faction Declares Ceasefire Off and Launches Suicide Mission was so repetitive that Niva’s conclusion was that it seemed the only thing more threatening for Ariel Sharon’s government than Palestinian terrorism was a Palestinian cease-fire.

    • Sumud
      October 7, 2010, 7:48 pm

      There have suggestions from time to time in the Israeli press that not only do Israeli attacks perpetuate violence, but that some Israeli govts know this very well and have intended for this to be the outcome when authorizing some IDF operations.

      This is Norman Finkelstein’s theory also, but he expands it somewhat, from isolated incidents to entire campaigns, like Israel’s 1982 invasion of Lebanon (which Israel started after an Israeli diplomat was wounded by a non-PLO group in London, meanwhile Israel has killed hundreds of Palestinians not long before when they bombed a building in Lebanon), and the attack on Gaza in 2008/09 (which occurred after Israel broke the succeeding cease-fire on Obama’s election day, November 4). Finkelstein’s thesis is that whenever Palestinians get too reasonable, Israel launches a large military campaign designed to derail any moves towards a permanent settlement.

      ‘Foiling Another Palestinian “Peace Offensive”: Behind the bloodbath in Gaza’
      link to

  3. Eva Smagacz
    October 7, 2010, 12:52 pm

    Give the guys a break, they need money for future research, they can’t be in your face, or they will earn an indelible black mark of being “politically active pro-Arab extremists”; the label that kills careers.

    • Chaos4700
      October 7, 2010, 9:19 pm

      It’s true, sadly. The truth doesn’t just hurt — it kills careers in the Western world.

  4. Sumud
    October 7, 2010, 1:23 pm

    Separate but related: Alison Weir of If Americans Knew did a hair-raising study of US media (NYT, CBS, NBC, ABC) reporting during the second Intifadah, the following three links are an intro talk by Weir and then she does into the actual study:

    Part 1

    Part 2

    Part 3

    If you don’t know about Weir’s study I urge you to watch the clips, it’s less than 1/2 hour in total. It totally destroys the hasbara line about Americans siding with Israeli because of “shared values” and “we’re both democracies.”

    *I’d be really interested to see the results of an updated study.

  5. lareineblanche
    October 7, 2010, 3:08 pm

    “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,”

    – This is very important, as it illustrates the thought processes that authorize atrocities and injustices. One wants sympathy for one’s own transgressions (as outgrowths and natural results of the difficulty of one’s own living conditions), but the transgressions of others are to be condemned, and are deserving of no sympathy whatsoever – “they’re like that”.

  6. Tuyzentfloot
    October 7, 2010, 3:22 pm

    The press likes ‘cycle of violence’ though, at least over here – europe. Cycle of violence is a symmetric description which makes it a relatively safe harbor against accusations of bias.

  7. Keith
    October 7, 2010, 5:37 pm

    What rarely gets mentioned in all of this is that for warfare states such as the US and Israel, violence is where their competitive advantage lies, therefore, war (preferably against a defenseless opponent) is a preferred option. This is why the US, following World War II, has more-or-less been at war against the entire Third World. War spending is the core of the American economy.

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