War: Rooting out ‘Rooting out the men of violence’

The concept of ‘rooting out the men of violence’ is an appealing one to those of a militarist mindset. It projects a simple solution to problems by ‘going in’ and killing or arresting those who are military opponents. There is one major problem; it doesn’t work. Of course it may achieve something like success in the short term, in ‘pacifying’ a group or an area, but in the longer term it is disastrous because it creates martyrs, hatred, and thereby increased resistance as time goes by.

There were those in Northern Ireland who advocated ‘rooting out the men of violence’, and internment in 1971 was one botched early attempt at this which backfired spectacularly. In the recent Troubles it also took the British state perhaps a decade and a half to realise that killing people in circumstances where they didn’t need to (within the logic of military fighting) did create martyrs and was counterproductive to building peace.

The ‘Troubles’ in Northern Ireland was a relatively small guerrilla war with a few thousand people dying over a period of thirty years. It was often bloody, ugly and dirty, and has had lasting effects, but it was also limited by a variety of factors including public opinion (not least by those supporting paramilitary groups) and international pressure. The pain and hatred involved is still incalculable.

The war in Gaza is of a different order entirely with a vicious assault by Hamas on both Israeli military and civilians in southern Israel on 7th October 2023 with around 1,200 deaths and a couple of hundred hostages taken. This was followed by an all out assault by the Israeli state on Gaza resulting in around 25,000 deaths to date, many of them children. The Israeli government committed itself to total victory over Hamas and its complete destruction. Gaza has been turned into a wasteland of destruction and death. The couple of million people in Gaza are now mainly homeless and hospital-less with nowhere safe to shelter and that shelter may be a makeshift tent, and malnutrition and disease waiting outside it.

The magnitude of the war in Gaza is totally different to Northern Ireland. Comparisons can seem crass. But there is certainly one commonality; the concept of rooting out the men of violence is a gross mistake and failure. This leads to the increased production of enemies, and, aside from genocidal destruction, the only way to get rid of enemies is to turn them into friends. Even after, specially after, the assault by Hamas on 7th October that is the only lasting solution to the issues of Israeli-Palestinian conflict, creating a viable Palestinian state which can build the future for the Palestinian people that they deserve. It is that, and only that, which will create real peace and security for Israel and the people of Israel. It is the denial of that right of statehood for the Palestinian people which has created the current catastrophe.

The extent to which the peace process in Northern Ireland is replicable elsewhere is open to debate, and it is possible that particular accounts, important as they may be, see e.g. https://www.transcend.org/tms/2024/01/how-israel-failed-to-learn-from-the-northern-ireland-peace-process/ may effectively overstate the importance of one integral factor because it does not cover others. Nevertheless it is possible to draw some conclusions from the Northern Ireland experience about the importance of an equal playing field, inclusion, and a process over a considerable period of time with support from governments internationally which builds on common interests to create a momentum for peace which can build up towards the climax of a peace agreement. Though, as we know in Northern Ireland, that a peace agreement is not an end but only a beginning. Ironically, the USA which was a major supporter of the peace process in Northern Ireland is a major player in backing and supporting Israel and its war efforts, financially, diplomatically and militarily, and it also bears responsibility for the deaths in Gaza.

There are common interests for the people of Israel and Palestine but they are almost totally obscured or even obliterated in the craziness and obscenity of war, and more generally by Israel’s colonial project on Palestinian land.