3 dimensions of war

This post is not specifically about the current war but, rather, for people who wish to understand what Israelis and Palestinians have been fighting about for decades.

Please note that I understand that this post might come across as overly simplistic, because regardless of what some people would have you think, you cannot boil down a century of conflict into a 10-slide infographic. 


I believe there are three dimensions to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict:

#1 narratives

#2 religion

#3 territory

Western commentators and politicians largely focus only on the third dimension. But that dimension is actually the easiest to solve. Neglecting the first two points and focusing only on the third is a fundamental misunderstanding about what the conflict is actually about. 



The Zionist narrative — and the predominant Jewish narrative — is that the establishment of the State of Israel is the reclamation of a long-persecuted nation’s ancestral homeland, the culmination of a 2000-year-old dream to re-establish Jewish sovereignty in our ancestral land. 

The ethnogenesis of the Jewish people in the Land of Israel, the continuous Jewish connection the land even while in exile, and the repeated attempts to reestablish sovereignty are extensively well-documented. I’ve dedicated probably hundreds of posts to this topic, so I won’t delve into it further here. 

The predominant Arab and Palestinian narrative is that a people foreign to the land established a colonial outpost in the Middle East, thereby largely displacing who they deem to be the region’s native population. 

For this reason, Palestinians have largely historically rejected the State of Israel’s very existence, deeming any form of compromise between the two parties unacceptable. Even before there existed any proposition to partition the land, Palestinian leadership rejected the possibility of an independent Arab Palestinian state in which Jews would be granted equal rights (e.g. rejected binational and Arab-majority proposals in 1937 and in 1947). 

This is, of course, due to a combination of factors: (1) Arab antisemitism (e.g. the long history of Jewish second-class citizenship in the Arab world), and (2) the belief that Jews shouldn’t be granted any rights in Palestine because we have no right to Palestine. 

Similarly, the Palestinians rejected any form of division of the land outright, whereas the mainstream Zionist movement was willing to compromise. 



Jews wanted sovereignty in at least part of the land. Palestinians did not want Jews to have sovereignty in any part of the land. 

"His Majesty's Government have thus been faced with an irreconcilable conflict of principles…For the Jews the essential point of principle is the creation of a sovereign Jewish State. For the Arabs, the essential point of principle is to resist to the last the establishment of Jewish sovereignty in any part of Palestine." — British Foreign Minister Ernest Bevin*, February 1947

*Bevin was no friend to the Jews, by the way. 



The religious dimension of the conflict ties closely to the dimension of opposing narratives.

There is virtually no line between Jewish religious, cultural, and national identity. The Land of Israel is, of course, the Jewish holy land, and Jerusalem is our holiest city, followed by our three other holy cities, Hebron (which is in the West Bank, complicating matters), Safed, and Tiberias. 

For the majority of Palestinians, who are predominantly Muslim, Jerusalem is their third holiest city. Al Aqsa Mosque, sitting atop the ruins of the destroyed Jewish Temple, is where they believe the Prophet Muhammad ascended to heaven. 

Islamist fundamentalists see Palestine, and Jerusalem specifically, as a part of the future Islamic Caliphate (empire). This vision is fundamentally incompatible with Israel’s very existence…or with any compromise. 

To prevent inflaming tensions, in 1967, immediately following the reunification of Jerusalem, Israel agreed to leave the Jordanian Islamic Waqf in charge of Temple Mount, known to Muslims as Haram al-Sharif. The status quo agreement is (objectively) discriminatory toward non-Muslims, who are only permitted to visit at limited hours, and are forbidden from praying at the site. 

While most Jews take an “it is what it is” approach to the status quo, a small minority — usually religious extremists — seeks to change it. Both Israel and Palestinians frequently accuse each other of violating the status quo, and since the 1920s, Arab and Muslim extremists have disseminated the libel that Jews intend to “destroy Al Aqsa,” oftentimes inciting antisemitic massacres and terrorist attacks. 



On the surface, there should be no conflict here. The land is sacred to Jews, Christians, and Muslims. We should be able to share it. 

The issue arises when fundamentalist groups, predominantly Islamist groups, but also a fringe but growing contingent of the Jewish population, believe that one group and only one group has a right to live and pray in the land. 



In 1967, Israel captured the Gaza Strip and the West Bank from Egypt and Jordan, respectively. Since then, Israel has built over 130 settlements in non-annexed territories. 

Inexplicably, the Israeli-Palestinian peace process has focused almost exclusively on the conflict over the 1967 territories, rather than on the actual core of the conflict: the conflict over Israel’s very existence. 

If the conflict were truly about the military occupation of the West Bank or about the settlements, it would have been solved already. In both 2000 and 2008, for example, Israeli prime ministers made offers to withdraw from Gaza and almost all of the West Bank (making up for the rest with land swaps), and both offers were rejected, without a Palestinian counter-offer. 

In 1994, early into the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat gave a speech in Arabic at a Johannesburg mosque implying that his going along with the prospect of a two-state solution was merely a “step one” in his vision for a Palestine “from the river to the sea” (meaning all of the territory encompassing Israel and the Palestinian Territories). 

Similarly, two hours after Israel unilaterally withdrew from the Gaza Strip in 2005, Hamas began firing missiles at Israeli civilian population centers, making it abundantly clear that what they wished was not for an end of the occupation of Gaza, but rather, the destruction of Israel. 

The West Bank, known historically as Judea and Samaria, is at the heart of Jewish history. For this reason, on the Israeli side, as of 2020, about 25 percent of Israelis wanted the Israeli government to annex Jewish settlements in the West Bank (about 18 percent of the West Bank) to the State of Israel. 

While, as I’ve argued, the settlements are hardly the core of the conflict, Israeli settlement expansion has been an inflammatory issue. 



Though making concessions is painful, it is possible. In fact, it is the easiest part of the conflict to solve, because it is a physical problem, not an ideological one. But for this to be a reality, this requires two willing parties who understand that they will not get everything they wish for, but that painful compromise is better than an endless cycle of bloodshed. 

For a full bibliography of my sources, please head over to my Instagram and  Patreon

Back to blog