Wars based on sacred values are known to be particularly difficult to pacify.
Political scientists mostly believe that the reasons for war are accessible to reason, that is, they can be analyzed with the intellect and, in the same way, can be resolved.
It is increasingly evident, however, that this approach does not apply to conflicts in which profound sacredness lurks. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict, like so many others that have always, and still today, plague the world, certainly belongs to this category. It seems clear to me that the religious convictions of the two peoples facing each other in Palestine have represented for a century an obstacle, perhaps the main one, to the achievement of peace.
It therefore seems important to me to analyze the psychological and social significance of “sacred values”.
When one people opposes another on the basis of mutual sacredness, they become devoted actors and their struggle escapes any consideration of realpolitik. They are driven by their own values and emotions, and their struggle itself becomes a sacred value. Pious actors therefore escape any consideration of material benefit and well-being that peace can bring them. The very idea of compromise between the opposite needs is emotionally rejected.
It may seem strange, but the analysis of the sacredness of conflicts has always been neglected and only in the last decade have scholars have begun to study it in depth.
Today I will tell you about a study carried out by American and French sociologists on the meaning and consequences of fidelity to one’s own sacred values in the context of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict*.
The study involved 555 Palestinian teenagers from the West Bank and Gaza, divided into two groups: one who declared itself religious and the other secular. All responded to a questionnaire concerning various aspects of the conflict: Jerusalem, the right of return of Palestinian refugees, the creation of the State of Palestine, the recognition of Israel, and others.
The study came to some interesting conclusions:
Unlike the laity, the devotees proved to be completely indifferent to social pressure, that is, to the prevailing positions in their own social group regarding the issues addressed in the questionnaire.
The devotees who considered the historical events of their people as sacred, perceived them as practically contemporary, even if very distant in time. For them, time had stopped, that is, in their minds, time had undergone a formidable compression. For example, they perceived the Nakba, that is, the “catastrophe” of the more or less forced exodus of the approximately 700,000 Palestinian Arabs from the territories occupied by the Israelis in the war of 1948-49, as a much more recent event.
The devotees rejected any compromise solution to achieve peace, even in exchange for material goods, individual and social well-being and prosperity.
The authors also concluded that, on the basis of other similar studies, it was very likely that the same considerations could also apply to Israelis.
From other studies and observations, it was evident that fidelity to one’s sacred values is the main cause of the persistence of conflicts throughout generations, beyond the material and human costs.
We Westerners, oblivious to our millenary history, do not seem to be fully aware of this. In our attempts at pacification between contenders who carry the banner of sacredness, we offer our (recent) rationality, which always fails because it is light years away from the sacred emotions of the peoples we want to pacify. What to do? Is there a different way to address an issue that causes immense suffering to so many of humanity? For me, it is clear that, in this context, religion is a problem.
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** Ann N Y Acad Sci. 2013 Sep;1299:11-24. Sacred values in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict: resistance to social influence, temporal discounting, and exit strategies – Hammad Sheikh, Jeremy Ginges, Scott Atran