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Thursday, January 14, 2016

Comparing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to Turkey's Kurdish Question

Ever since its formal establishment in 1948, the State of Israel has been involved in a back-and-forth border dispute with their Palestinian neighbors.

The conflict is a nasty, bloody tornado of terrorism, poverty, extremist ideologies, and violence on both sides.

Hamas lobbing rockets into Israeli territory.
Fundamentalist Palestinians stabbing and killing Israelis without provocation.
Pizza places and buses blown up in Tel Aviv.

And on the other side, similar atrocities.

Fundamentalist Israeli settlers torching Palestinian homes.
In the 1990s, Baruch Goldstein, the butcher of the Cave of the Patriarchs, went on a murderous rampage in a mosque which only ended when worshipers overpowered him and beat him to death.
Yigal Amir, a Haredi fanatic whose cold-blooded murder of revered Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin sent Israel into mourning at a time peace looked like it could finally happen.

Some miles northeast, violence continues in southeastern Turkey, eerily similar to the continuing strife in Israel and Palestine.

Turkey, in the Treaty of Lausanne, officially recognizes three ethnic/religious minorities. They are Armenians, Greeks, and Jews. One minority is suspiciously missing from this list, however, and that's the Kurds. For many years, Kurds were referred to as "Mountain Turks", a symptom of Turkey's strong sense of nationalism. In 1978, a militant left-wing terrorist group called the Kurdistan Workers' Party was formed, and they have been fighting Turkey since their creation and into the present.

The PKK uses many of the same methods as Islamic fundamentalist groups such as suicide bombings and most of their victims are Turkish soldiers, but atrocities are committed in both attacks and counterattacks.

Both Palestinians and Turkish Kurds cite the opponent's stubborn nationalism as a main cause for armed struggle and terrorism.

Israel is defined in its law as a Jewish, democratic state. Its national anthem, a haunting, solemn tune called Hatikvah (The Hope), speaks about the Jews' desire to "be a free people in our own land...the land of Zion and Jerusalem."

Zionism is by definition a nationalist ideology that calls for a Jewish homeland in the Holy Land, and it has both religious and secular components just as the religion it comes from. Benjamin Netanyahu is a member of the secular center-right party Likud. Likud, the largest party in Israel's Knesset (Parliament) is a secular Zionist party, while its coalition party The Jewish Home is a religious Zionist party which sits to the right of Likud on the political spectrum.

 Zionists defend their ideology as a simple and reasonable idea that Jews should be able to have a Jewish state in the region of the Middle East known as Israel. Its critics claim it to be a prejudiced and colonialist ideology that discriminates against Palestinians and other Arabs, some going as far as to say that Israel's government is as discriminatory as South Africa's was under apartheid.

The Republic of Turkey is not much older than Israel. It was founded in 1923 by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk as the Ottoman Empire collapsed. The new country embraced Kemalism, a political ideology that serves as the foundation of modern Turkey.

Kemalism is made up of six different ideas, known as the Six Arrows, which today adorn the crimson banner of Turkey's secular, social democratic Republican People's Party.

The first is carved into the halls of Turkey's Grand National Assembly. "Sovereignty unconditionally belongs to the nation." In other words, the people of Turkey are to be the only entity to be tasked with the governance of the Turkish state. Ataturk did away with the slogans of the Ottoman Empire and replaced them with a new identity based on the idea of civic nationalism. "Long live the Sultan/Sheikh" was gradually replaced by "How happy is the one who says 'I am Turkish.' "

To the Turkish people, this national identity is cherished and touted. It has played a large role in Turkey's development into a regional power and one of the most democratic, free countries in the Middle East. Ataturk's face is everywhere in Turkey.

Unfortunately, many Turkish Kurds do not share the same glowing view when it comes to Turkey's national identity. Turkey's lack of recognition of Kurds as an ethnic minority, even calling them "Mountain Turks" instead of Kurds, has isolated them within the Turkish borders and caused them to take up Kurdish nationalism rather than to embrace a Turkish identity that they feel is forced upon them. After 1980, Kurds were forbidden to speak their native tongue. Although this has changes considerably (state run broadcaster TRT now broadcasts some programming in Kurdish) many Turkish Kurds still support the efforts of the Kurdistan Workers' Party, the left-wing terrorists mentioned before.

The Kurdistan Worker's Party, or PKK as it is often known, is considered a terrorist group by the United States and Turkey. It primarily wages its war against Turkey in the form of suicide bombings (primarily in the 1990s) and attacks on Turkish soldiers. On paper, the PKK fights for the rights and self-determination of Turkish Kurds. At one time they supported independence, which if it ever happened, would mean a significant loss of territory for Turkey.

Poverty also plays a role in these conflicts. Like much of Palestine, the Kurdish areas of Turkey are poor and conflicted.

Israel does not have a national identity comparable to Kemalism in Turkey, but it does have some ethnic tension. About 20 percent of Israelis are Arabs, and they lead conflicted lives to say the least. While some have accepted Israeli citizenship and assimilated into Israeli society by participating in learning Hebrew-both Hebrew and Arabic are official languages in Israel but Hebrew is more widely spoken-many refuse, seeing that action as a betrayal towards the Palestinian struggle.

In order to find permanent solutions, there will have to be concessions on all sides.

Israel does some things well. It is always quick to condemn act against Jewish extremists when they rear their head. When an atrocity is committed in Israel in the name of Judaism or Zionism, even Israel's far-right nationalist political parties speak with contempt and disgust about it. Demonstrations against the atrocity occur. And perhaps most importantly, the perpetrators don't get far. The Jewish Underground, a terrorist group in the 1980s, was only able to carry out one act of brutality before the Shin Bet (Israel's equivalent to the American FBI), with the help of an informant, caught a large number of the terrorists planting bombs on buses and sent them all to prison-the group is now defunct. In a more present-day example-suspects thought to be the arsonists that killed Palestinians have also been taken into custody.

One of the biggest problems in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict lies in the settlements. After the Six Day War in 1967, Palestine's borders were pushed back to the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Israel's isolation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip since then has exacerbated tensions, and the settlements have pushed the borders back even further.

Immediate withdrawal, however, isn't quite the instant solution some may believe either. Israel withdrew completely from the Gaza Strip in 2005 under Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, and tensions have not ended in that area.

Israelis deserve to live in peace and they have the right to defend themselves. However, the two-state solution often considered the best way forward, does not seem to be much of a priority under the current government.

Unfortunately, the solution likely does not lie with the Palestinian Authority either. The Palestinian Authority is entirely corrupt and ineffective. Hamas is a terrorist group that embraces Islamism and anti-Semitism and rules Gaza with an iron fist.

While Palestinians have the right to live in their own country, the power structures within their borders offer no help to their cause when they scream wildly anti-Semitic rhetoric and cheer terrorists who kill Jews as martyrs.

If there is a permanent solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, it will likely require some land concessions from Israel and a major overhaul of Palestinian civil society away from Islamic fundamentalism.

Since the PKK is not an Islamic fundamentalist terrorist organization, it does not inspire the same fear that groups like Da'esh do. However, just as groups like Hamas will never solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict with their methods, it's unlikely the PKK will achieve their goals for the Kurdish people with theirs. Kurds in Turkey can be and often are subject to repression that Turks don't face, but killing Turkish soldiers is fighting fire with fire.

Turkey's governmental structure is faulty as well. In order to get into the Turkish Parliament, a party needs to get 10% of the popular vote. This makes it a nail biter every time the Kurds try to send a party to parliament-even in Turkey, where turnout is very high in elections, the most recent Kurdish party (the People's Democratic Party) considered 13% of the vote to be high. That's only 3% away from the threshold. Lowering that threshold would allow Turkey's democracy to diversify and cement Kurdish representation, though this is unlikely to happen in the current political climate with President Erdogan's Justice and Development Party in power.

The chances of Turkey finding a permanent solution might be a bit more likely than that of the Israel-Palestine conflict, and that's because Turkey's nationalist spirit is in many ways rooted in ideas rather than religion. Turks and Kurds are both predominantly Muslim. If Ankara was to concede minority representation (official constitutional recognition, language representation at the regional level, a lower threshold to get into Parliament, perhaps cultural exchanges) to Turkish Kurds, it could undermine the radical Kurdish groups such as the PKK.

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