The Palestine-Israel Journal is a quarterly of MIDDLE EAST PUBLICATIONS, a registered non-profit organization (No. 58-023862-4).
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Editorial Board

Adnan Abdelrazek

Danny Rubinstein

Sam'an Khoury

Daniel Bar-Tal

Walid Salem

Galia Golan

Gershon Baskin

Hind Khoury

Edy Kaufman

Ata Qaymari

Benjamin Pogrund

Nafez Nazzal

Dan Jacobson

Jumana Jaouni

Moshe Maoz

Munther Dajani

Khuloud Khayyat Dajani

Izhak Schnell

Lucy Nusseibah

Meir Margalit

Menachem Klein

Ali Abu Shahla

Ilan Baruch

Hanna Siniora

Yehudit Oppenheimer

Mossi Raz

Susie Becher

Frances Raday




Vol.15 No.3 2008 / Human Security

Focus

Why Human Security Is Relevant to the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

Reframing “security” as “human security” can clear the path for a genuine search for peace.

     by Lucy Nusseibeh

In spite of the full application of all the traditional security measures on the part of Israel in order to achieve security, the majority of Israelis still live in fear. The majority of Palestinians live in fear, too, because of the occupation and Israel’s application of these security measures. Thus, neither Palestinians nor Israelis have any sense of security.

Is the answer, then, an increase in this security apparatus? In the acquisition of more and better weapons, and in the reinforcement of personnel and the improvement of their skills? Or does the answer lie in a new approach to security, which could prove to be both a way of moving the peace process forward and making the region more secure?

Within the international community, there is an increasing shift in focus from a definition of “security” in military terms, such as defensible borders, numbers of armed forces, etc., to security as “human security” ¯ the extent to which daily life, in terms of education, health, recreation, etc., can be lived and enjoyed in safety and security by each and every individual. This shift in focus, this reframing, has not yet reached the Middle East; perhaps it is time it did.

Reframing Security

The basic tenets of human security are freedom from fear and freedom from want and, as a corollary, the right to personal dignity. The scope and the emphasis vary from the narrowest protection of individuals against violence to the broadest understanding of individual security, which includes protection against disease and global warming.

State or military security and human security are not contradictory or mutually exclusive, although military security is closer to war and human security is closer to peace. If anything, they are complementary or, at least, should be. Ideally, individuals should be able to live securely in states with secure borders. Ideally, state security would deal with external security issues and human security would be more inward-looking. The question here is whether in the context of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, where there is occupation and annexation, where there are no clearly defined borders, and where the levels of fear are very high, it might not be helpful to place less emphasis on the issue of borders and more on the safety and dignity of the individual.

In fact, the reframing of security is particularly appropriate in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In this situation of occupation, as the occupying army and the population under occupation are constantly intermingled, there is, as a result, constant insecurity that has nothing to do with borders or traditional confrontations between military forces. On the contrary, the traditional military security approach leads to a less secure situation, as soldiers tend to use violent military reactions against a subject population, thereby creating a spiral of violence of which they are the center.

Military Force Does Not Provide Security

The system of checkpoints set up by the Israelis could be said to protect their national security, as it makes it very difficult for Palestinians from the West Bank and Gaza to enter Israel, or to even move from one part of the occupied territories to another. But the checkpoints have a strongly adverse effect on Palestinian human security, as they create fear and humiliation via the treatment Palestinians receive at these checkpoints. This system also creates want, as the checkpoints destroy the infrastructure and the connectivity essential for a functioning, let alone a thriving, Palestinian economy.

Fear, want and humiliation are integral elements of the occupation. The Palestinians do not feel secure¯ whether as Jerusalemites, always concerned (amongst many other issues) about the impermanence of their residency status; or as West Bankers, subject to control over their every move and still at risk from Israeli incursions; or as Gazans, sealed off by Israel from the outside world, frequently denied the most basic resources, and subject to random bombing and attacks.

For these same reasons and many others, the vast majority of Palestinians also feel humiliated. It is no accident that the third tenet of human security is the right to dignity. Humiliation can be as devastating as physical violence and can provoke extreme forms of hatred. Dignity is a core element of humanity and history is filled with examples of people willing to die for it. When military superiority is used to humiliate, it is sowing the seeds of war, not of peace.

The overwhelming military superiority of the Israelis should give them security. But still most Israelis will say they live in fear, and that they do not have security. In fact the extreme asymmetry of the power relations in the conflict exacerbates the situation, as it is via a highly militarized society that the Israelis impose their control on the lives of the Palestinians. Israeli fears lead them to perceive the presence of their army and the system of walls and checkpoints, for instance, as helping their security. They fail to see that by denying the Palestinians their basic human rights, this increases the levels of anger and frustration and, in fact, makes the situation less secure.

The militarization of any society must imply the heightened perception of military or violent means as the way to solve problems. Israeli society is highly militarized, as the majority of young people are required to undertake military service and then mostly continue on with reserve duty for many more years. The demands for progress in the peace process have nearly all tended to focus on increasing militarization within Palestinian society as well, via the establishment and reinforcement of armed security agencies. The influx of arms into the Palestinian territories (mostly with and since the signing of the Oslo Accords) has significantly increased the dangers for both Palestinians and Israelis and decreased the overall level of human security.

The association of power with the power of guns in the minds of Palestinians who have grown up at the mercy of armed Israeli soldiers means they are more likely to use guns to express their power and to overcome their humiliation. Therefore, again, in this way, too, the general level of human security is reduced by the overall militarization of the conflict. As more Palestinian men go without work and without the dignity of being able to provide for their families, and as the levels of want (which they can do less and less to alleviate) increase, the frustration and the anger and the likelihood of violent expression of these also continue to rise.

So the traditional definition of security and the increased militarization seem to lead to a number of questions: Does the focus on the military¯ i.e., traditional, state-based security¯ provide the individual with security, or does it actually increase the danger for everyone? What security does military security provide? Protection against the armies and missiles of other countries? Perhaps, but in cases where extreme military imparity exists, how can this kind of security make any significant difference? The Palestinian resistance has been mostly popular movements, not pitched battles between equal armies, where military superiority could make a difference. On the other hand, the (very brief) period of direct armed confrontation between the two sides (the Israeli army and armed Palestinians) was also the time when many suicide bombings were carried out on the part of the Palestinians, and the Israeli military could not stop them. This was, therefore, a time of great fear for the Israelis as well.

The combination of the militarization of Israeli society with the apparent immunity offered by their military superiority, along with the high levels of fear, the ensuing demonization of the Palestinians, and the increasing absence of any kind of normal social contact between the two sides, all contribute to a situation where security is considerably diminished for the Israelis. In other words, Israeli violent actions can only provoke Palestinian anger and hostility and, in return, encourage Palestinian violent expressions.

State Security vs. Human Security

In relation to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Mary Kaldor along with Mient Jan Faber (two of the world’s experts on human security) describe the situation as “a conflict between state security” (needed by the Israelis) “and human security” (needed by the Palestinians).1 This encapsulates the problem of the internal contradiction of militarization versus individual human security everyone needs. How can one people governed by another people with guns ever manage to get on with their lives in peace and dignity?

If both peoples are basically interested in getting on with their lives in peace and dignity, surely part of the answer has to be to reduce the guns and the emphasis on military might, and to eliminate the humiliation. Shifting the focus to human security instead of military security would encourage the development of mechanisms for the protection of individuals¯ on both sides¯ in a way that would not depend on the power of guns but on the needs of those individuals. As a bottom-up approach, an emphasis on human security could perhaps enable people to see that real security for the region will only come through the dismantlement of walls and checkpoints, the encouragement of economic and personal growth and, of course, through ending the occupation.

Benefits of Human Security

The reframing of “security” as “human security” can, therefore, clear the path for a genuine search for what is actually needed for peace, where addressing the needs for basic human dignity and self-respect are fundamental:

Human security means protecting vital freedoms. It means protecting people from critical and pervasive threats and situations, building on their strengths and aspirations. It also means creating systems that give people the building blocks for survival, dignity and livelihood. Human security connects different types of freedoms¯ freedom from want, freedom from fear and freedom to take action on one’s own behalf. To do this, it offers two general strategies: protection and empowerment.

Traditionally, human security has been concerned with protecting the state ¯ its boundaries, people, institutions and values¯ from external attacks. In a world of increasing ethnic tension, extremism, epidemics, poverty and gender disparity, however, the goal of human security can no longer be simply the absence of conflict. It is time to rethink security, shifting from an exclusive concern with the security of the state to include a holistic concern with the security of the people.2

This would have many advantages. As long as any peace agreement is linked to military security or to the ending of any form of violence, the extremists can hold it hostage simply by engaging in acts of violence, thereby effectively nullifying the agreement or significantly impeding its progress. With a “holistic concern with the security of the people” on the part of the international community, the daily lives of those suffering in the conflict would start to improve. In societies that have been breaking down in the conflict, the appalling pressures that fuel acts of desperation would be reduced if their urgent needs¯ e.g., economic, medical and psychological¯ started to be addressed and remedied. With the reduction in the oppression, constant pain and fear, the development of human sympathies across the conflict would become a possibility. It would reverse the methodology of the conflict. While it would not, of course, offer any alternative to the many that have vested interests in the continuation of the conflict, it would provide an opening for those who genuinely want to solve it.

The Need for Human Security

Of course, there will always be those who want to exploit the fear and who want to prolong the conflict, etc., and again, the issue of human security is at the core of the solution to this, especially in the context of the new wars.

Kaldor addresses the problem of the abuse of human security and the creation of fear along with the impotence of the military in her analysis of new wars in an essay written in the aftermath of 9/11:

In the new wars battles are rare and violence is directed against civilians. Violations of humanitarian and human rights law are not a side effect of war but the central methodology of new wars. Over 90% of the casualties in the new wars are civilian and the number of refugees and displaced persons per conflict has risen steadily. The strategy is to gain political power through sowing fear and hatred, to create a climate of terror, to eliminate moderate voices and defeat tolerance. The political ideologies of exclusive nationalism or religious communalism are generated through violence. It is generally assumed that extreme ideologies¯ based on exclusive identities ¯ are the cause of war. Rather, the spread and strengthening of these ideologies are the consequence of war.3

To shift the focus from military to human security, therefore, is to work directly to defeat the strategies of sowing fear and hatred that the new wars feed off. The holistic focus on the security of the people would allow the moderate voices to continue to be heard.

The problem of the increasing number of civilians who pay the price for conflict¯ in wars and in terror attacks¯ requires a human security rather than a traditional military security approach as it is civilians who are affected, and the military are not able to do anything about them, especially as often they are inside the same borders and it is non-state actors that are the perpetrators.

Therefore, the process of increasing militarization and increasing polarization of both populations can and should be reversed by all those who are interested in a just and lasting solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. This should not prove so difficult, even in this existing situation of a complicated conflict and pervasive hatred, because there is no long history of hatred; on the contrary, there is a long history of peaceful coexistence. By working with humanitarian law and by refusing the polarization of the climate of fear and hatred, as well as by rejecting those emotions, their hold can be broken. Consequently, a space can be created for working for peace.

The Way Forward

The goal would no longer be “security for Israel and a state for the Palestinians,” in accordance with the current political wisdom, but security for both Palestinians and Israelis and a state for Israel and a state for Palestine. The intermediate goal would be a shift to a focus on the humanitarian needs of all in the conflict, such that civilians, Palestinians and Israelis, would be protected as completely as possible. With this start towards an environment free from fear, free from want and based on respect for dignity, each community would feel more secure and, thereby, be better able to improve their daily realities.


1 Kaldor, Mary and Mient Jan Faber, “Palestine’s Human Insecurity: A Gaza Report,” Open Democracy, May 20, 2007.
2 CHS Report Outline; Human Security Unit of OCHA in New York; p.2 (c) 2002-2003 Commission on Human Security http://www.humansecurity-chs.org/finalreport/Outlines/outline.html.
3 Kaldor, Mary. “Beyond Militarism, Arms Races and Arms Control,” Social Science Research Council, 2001. http://www.ssrc.org/sept11/essays/kaldor.htm.








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