Lessons on the Levant: History and voices in the Israel-Palestine crisis

This is the first of three articles in “Lessons on the Levant: history & voices in the Israel-Palestine crisis”, intended as a short introduction to Ben’s series and its aims. The author rejects in the strongest possible terms all causes of humanitarian suffering and remains firmly neutral on the greater political backdrop for the reasons outlined below.

The author explicitly condemns antisemitism, Islamophobia, racism, and intolerance in all their forms, and hopes to see a lasting peaceful resolution to the Israel-Palestine crisis.

“When we hate something”, wrote the Spanish philosopher José Ortega y Gasset, “the only thing we can see in that idea is the object of our hatred. The rest is either unknown to us, or forgotten as we write it off as the Other.” In other words, we intellectually disconnect from its true meaning.

As the brutal lessons of the twentieth century have shown, instances of human conflict tend to arise in those cases where beliefs are so entrenched and viewpoints so binary that just trying to understand the other side’s perspective is impossible. “They do not share my opinion, so I know they must be wrong” – or so the dangerous reasoning goes. Anything different to what one believes to be true falls on deaf ears a priori.

Of course, this is not to say that we should accept all that we hear. But even in the case of disagreement, we are at the very least required to engage sincerely with the ideas of an interlocutor in order to show the error of his or her arguments.

This metaphysical tangent is an important foreword to a three-part series on the current Israel-Palestine crisis. The recent agreement to a fragile ceasefire does not undo the scenes of destruction which have appalled the Middle East and the world over. I have been following the topic closely for the better part of six years now, and such violence is as traumatic today as it was when I witnessed it for the first time.

That mankind should know better and that armed conflict must cease for good are undebatable. The story of war is too often written in the blood of the innocent.

But it is at this point that the absolutes of right and wrong end. As the conversation branches out from the humanitarian domain and into the broader, political one of Israel and Palestine, the complexity of the arguments alongside their respective interface with history, politics, ethics, and religion make any sort of similarly universal judgement absurd. This is even more true for the average Western observer, far removed from the conflict and too often presented as a one-sided view by the media.

The purpose of this three-part series, then, is not to insist on a particular reading vis-à-vis the question of Israel and Palestine, nor to suggest which viewpoint – if any – the reader should see as ‘right’ or ‘wrong’. Polarisation of this sort has to be avoided, especially given that Israelis and Palestinians hold a plurality of different opinions and cannot be generalised under a simple dichotomy of ‘sides’. After extensive interviews and secondary research, I believe everyone who is well-informed and respectful should be entitled to their opinion, all whilst enjoying the right to respect from their peers.

But in the spirit of Ortega y Gasset’s philosophy, I also believe that casting a light on some of the main viewpoints will not only help the reader to better understand the sensitivities of the topic at hand, but also realise how even well-intended comments made on the crisis have the capacity to do great harm. In the case of Lessons on the Levant: history & voices in the Israel-Palestine crisis, this takes the form of the following two articles which unpack individual perspectives in their correct context.

Every single word in this series has been inspired, revised, reviewed, and approved by members of the communities affected by events both past and present in the Levant. They – like me – ultimately hope it will prove an informative source for all readers wishing to learn more about Israel and Palestine today.

Thanks to the power of information, comprehension, and tolerance, ideological disagreements can and must be put aside in any conflict. Because it is in this way that we can all take steps towards the collective greater good.

Ben would like to thank A.M, N.R, and all other anonymous voices from the Israeli, Jewish, Arab, and Palestinian communities for their extensive contributions to this series’ content and inception.

Ben also thanks George Beglan for his input as an undergraduate reading for Law, and Sabrina Fernandez for her illustration.


A contributor to The Oxford Blue since its inception, Ben’s pieces explore topics as diverse as travel, literature, politics, and wine. His translation work has also helped foreign journalists share their ideas in the English language.