TAU Anat Biletzki: I don't need scientific research to determine that Palestinian behavior is reaction to Israeli occupation

(Second half of the article "Once Reviled, the Oslo Accords Are Now the Settlers' Best Asset")

By Akiva Eldar, Haaretz


... Not according to a recent article in the important Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, a journal that comes out in Washington. Contrary to the received version that "Israel only reacts" to Palestinian violence, the article scientifically shows that the cycle of violence spins in both directions. The three researchers - Prof. Nancy Kanwisher from the United States, Dr. Johannes Haushofer from Switzerland and Prof. Anat Biletzki from Israel - question previous articles claiming the Palestinian do not need provocations from the Israeli side, and that the terror attacks and rockets do not come in response to assassinations and attacks on Israel's part.

The article sums up a statistical analysis of the data on fatalities and Qassam launchings from 2000-2008, published by the Israel Defense Forces Spokesman and B'Tselem - The Israel Information Center for Human Rights in the Territories. The analysis was done using a method called vector autoregression, which enables isolation and analysis of how a single incidence of violence by one side influences the other.

Haushofer, an economist and neurobiologist at the University of Zurich, says the study shows that every time one side attacks the other, it can know with near certainty the other side will respond with violence. In this way, in effect, violence directly causes more Palestinian casualties or another rocket attack on Israel.

For example, according to the article's model, when Israel kills five Palestinians, the chances an Israeli will be killed by Palestinians the following day increase by 50 percent. Haushofer explains that he and his colleagues conducted the inquiry to "clear out" the rhetoric, the stereotypes and the ideological claims and to focus the discussion on the facts and their scientific and sane analysis.

Kanwisher, who heads the "Kanwisher Lab" for brain research at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, points to a cognitive bias on both sides, which do not see their own reactivity and responsibility for the conflict. "Thus, for example, even though the Israelis are the occupying side, they see themselves as victims of the other side," she says.

Without any direct connection to the article's research findings, Kanwisher says the Israelis do not understand their role in creating the violence of the other side. She suggests the policy makers in the United States direct their attention to the fact that acts like stealing Palestinian lands and violations of basic human rights are perpetuating the continuation of the conflict. And, in the nature of things, a conflict leads to one or another level of violence.

The third partner in the article, a Tel Aviv University professor of philosophy, Anat Biletzki, says the article knocks the scientific basis out from under the claim that the conflict is unilateral, and that the Palestinians attack Israel while Israel "only reacts."

"We are hoping the article will contribute facts and numbers to the public discussion of the conflict," says Biletzki, who for many years headed B'Tselem.

Biletzki contributes a political diagnosis of her own: "I don't need scientific research to determine that all the behavior of the Palestinians is a reaction to the Israeli occupation. For this, common sense is enough."



Public release date: 4-Oct-2010

Contact: Johannes Haushofer
University of Zurich

An eye for an eye

Revenge cuts both ways in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Scientists of the University of Zurich, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and Tel Aviv and Quinnipiaq Universities show that attacks by either side lead to violent retaliation from the other. Both Israelis and Palestinians may underestimate their own role in perpetuating the conflict.

A team of scientists from the University of Zurich, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and Tel Aviv and Quinnipiaq Universities have found that attacks by both Israel and Palestinians lead to violent retaliation from the other side. This finding challenges claims by both Israelis and Palestinians that they confronted with a fundamentally hostile and implacable foe, suggesting instead that part of the violence of each side is a direct reaction to previous attacks by the other party.

The team analyzed a large dataset of killings and rocket attacks in the Second Intifada between Israel and Palestine, spanning the years 2000-2008, using a statistical method called Vector Autoregression. "This technique allows us to study the effect of a single additional attack from one side on future attacks by the other side," says lead author Johannes Haushofer, a neurobiologist and economist at the University of Zurich. "We find that when one side attacks the other, they directly inflict a certain additional number of fatalities or rocket attacks on their own people, because they can be nearly certain that the other side will retaliate. For example, when Israeli forces kill 5 Palestinians, they automatically increase the probability that Israelis will die from Palestinian attacks on the following day by 50%."

The study, published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences this week, overturns earlier findings which had suggested that only Palestinian attacks lead to retaliation, while Israeli attacks did not. "The previous evidence suggested that Israeli attacks were often responses to Palestinian aggression, whereas this did not appear to be true for Palestinian attacks," says Anat Biletzki, a professor of philosophy at Tel Aviv and Quinnipiaq Universities, and former head of BT'selem, an Israeli human rights organization that collects the data that were used in the study. "This implied that the conflict was one-sided, with Palestinians attacking Israel, and the Israeli army merely responding to this aggression. Our findings suggest that the situation is more balanced than that."

The scientists hope that this insight will lead to a better understanding of the forces that perpetuate the conflict. "Psychologists have long known that people tend to understand their own behavior in terms of the external situation they find themselves in, but another person's behavior in terms of that person's inherent character," says Nancy Kanwisher, a professor of neuroscience at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the senior author of the study. "This cognitive bias may exacerbate blind spots on both sides of the conflict and tend to think of themselves as victims who merely respond to external violence, without appreciating their own causal role in provoking those acts of violence."

Tel Aviv University