Wading into the Moral Quicksand that is the Middle East

Stephen Yearwood
3 min readMar 10, 2024
Photo by Luca Annoni on Unsplash

Before the attack on Israel by Hamas back in October, it looked as though progress was being made along a wide front to ‘normalize’ relations between Israel and its Arab neighbors (keeping in mind that Iran is Persian, not Arabic). Basically, that meant nations that are predominantly of the Sunni sect within Islam. Still, that represented huge progress towards a more stable and (eventually, we could hope) peaceful Middle East.

At bottom, such approachment on the part of those nations indicated a recognition that Israel is here to stay. The nation of Israel is a fact of material existence for the present and any foreseeable future.

Recognizing material reality is always a good thing for human beings to do. We can want something different and act to bring some different reality into existence, but recognizing ‘what is’ is fundamental to human — rational — existence. No matter how religious — or ideological — any human being(s) might be, facts of material reality are what they are. To act as though things were different is always a recipe for material disaster — of natural or human origin.

That has undeniable implications for relations between Palestinians and Israelis. Both must accept, as a matter of sheer material reality, the given existence of one another.

Both must also accept that each has suffered horrible injustices, the worst being the death of unarmed people in both groups. Those are injustices that cannot be redressed through restitution. There simply is no way to make up for the loss of life of unarmed— even if not entirely innocent — human beings.

Too many people in both groups have only been willing to acknowledge the losses suffered by them — not only in losses of life, but also in other respects. They have refused to recognize what people in the other group have suffered. They have justified their own acts of injustice while refusing to consider any justification for any unjust acts committed by people in the other group.

Yet, toting up the losses for each group is not a viable starting point for a pathway to a better future. The best human beings can do in the situation in which Palestinians and Israelis find themselves is to acknowledge all of the losses suffered by both groups and try to do better. That is the only possible starting point available for those long-suffering peoples to achieve any kind of peaceful existence.

That would in effect be a ‘peoples-level’ application of the ‘reconciliation’ process that has been successfully applied in more intimate contexts where injustices of the worst kind of transpired. On a more realpolitik level, to the extent that Hamas is influenced by (Shi’ite Islam) Iran, that October eruption can hardly have been a coincidence. Israel has allowed itself to be pushed off the road that was leading to peaceful relations with many of its neighbors, into the ditch of ‘Israel vs. any who would differ with us’.



Stephen Yearwood

unaffiliated, non-ideological, unpaid: M.A. in political economy (where philosophy and economics intersect) with a focus in money/distributive justice