Social Forces Sustaining the Israeli-Palestinian Tensions: A Dynamical Psychology Perspective
Many conflicts people experience in daily life, from frustrating experiences driving to an argument with a spouse about what television show to watch, are relatively minor and easy to resolve. However, a small number of conflicts grow and change, becoming destructive conflicts that are difficult to fix. The ongoing dispute between Israel and Palestine is one of the clearest examples of such a conflict. In this research, I sought to apply my expertise in social psychology and dynamic systems to examine how social forces contribute to this conflict.
For my research, appearing in the International Journal of Conflict and Violence, I examined extensive studies published over the last several decades to identify the social factors that are most important in the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict. By doing this, I was able to integrate ideas from multiple fields of study and identify new ways to approach possible peace-building.
For example, when people lack access to educational and economic achievement, they often develop resentment or hostile attitudes. In time, these negative attitudes can become more extreme. Such attitudes can combine with anger, frustration, and other strong emotions to make it more likely that people support aggressive action or choose to behave in aggressive ways.
Within Israel and Palestine, many people have limited access to higher education and economic security. Peace-building could therefore potentially start from a “bottom-up” approach where communities are enriched by greater access to education and better jobs. By enhancing people’s sense of security and upward mobility, some of the emotions tied to daily life struggles that may become linked to the broader conflict could be, at least in part, diffused.
Thanks to my colleague Ryszard Praskier (University of Warsaw Complex Systems Research Center), I learned about “social entrepreneurs” who are using such bottom up approaches to foster positive social change in Israel and Palestine. I discuss some of these extraordinary individuals in my article, such as Abdelfattah Abusrour who worked to develop youth centers that provide safe havens and new opportunity for Palestinian youth. Similarly Yehudah Paz works in the Negev region of Israel and created the Arab-Jewish Center for Empowerment, Equality, and Collaboration. This center provides opportunities for Jews and Bedouin Arabs to work together to bring about change that mutually benefits communities across the Negev region.
By applying my expertise to understand how researchers from many different fields of study examined the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, I was able to highlight how important social factors are in difficult conflicts. My work provides a case study that may be relevant for the Suncoast and for other communities. For example, I provide an example of a technique my colleague Danny Burns (Institute of Development Studies, Brighton England) introduced me to that is useful for mapping out the many factors that play a role in community problems.
The technique could be useful for helping a community understand poverty or issues related to homelessness, for example. My research will not resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. However, it provides a new way of thinking about this conflict and highlights how the attitudes, emotions, and life circumstances typical people experience in daily life can combine to play a role in broader conflicts. Sometimes the successful path to resolving a difficult problem begins with a new way of seeing and understanding the situation. I hope that my research might be one small stepping stone toward a pathway to peace.