Struggling with complexity – the continuing crisis in Israel and Palestine

“For every complex problem there is an answer that is clear, simple, and wrong.”

I often think of these wise words when reading “hot takes” on social media on whatever issues are on the front page at a given time. As a lawyer, I tell my junior colleagues that the correct initial answer to any legal issue is often “it depends” and to distrust attempts to oversimplify the complicated.

As we have all grappled with yet more tragic news from Israel and Palestine, we have seen commentators and politicians often explain their thoughts by saying that the issues are “complex”. This is undeniably true but at the same time, though complexity should caution us against glib, easy answers, it should never be an excuse for failing to engage with rights and wrongs.

In my professional life, I engage with complicated legal issues by trying to break it down into constituent parts as much as I can. Through this I can sometimes get a greater understanding of the whole and, at the very least, it allows some answers to be agreed along the way. So this week, I have tried to do the same in my personal engagement with the situation in Israel and Palestine.

In doing so, like readers of this short article, I have tried to read widely. I have benefited from communicating with an Israeli friend living in Jerusalem and from reading the wisdom of our own Layla Moran MP – with her writing from the perspective of being the only British MP of Palestinian heritage while embracing a deep commitment to peace and justice in the Middle East for Israelis and Palestinians alike. I also spent time talking with a colleague who is passionate about the plight of the Palestinian people.

I struggle to say what I think about the totality of it all, but I can identify building blocks along the way where my personal view is clearer. I am not seeking to offer answers to everyone but rather I’m sharing my process in case that is helpful to anyone.

So, what do I believe?

I support the existence of the State of Israel on international recognised borders and preferably alongside a free Palestinian State.

I support the right of Israel to defend itself and its people.

I understand that there can be no peace in Israel-Palestine without respect for the legitimate security concerns of both Israelis and Palestinians. Israel’s need for security must be understood in light, not just of last weekend, but also that its neighbours have repeatedly tried to destroy it since its foundation in 1948. The collective trauma caused by centuries of European anti-semitism (culminating in the Holocaust) is relevant too.

Like people of goodwill everywhere, I condemn without reservation the bloody actions of the Hamas government of Gaza last weekend.

Hamas, in its original founding documents, calls for the murder of Jews (NB Jews) and is an ugly anti-Semitic and fascist organisation. No crime against the people of Palestine justifies an iota of support for Hamas and their allies.

At the same time, and without changing anything that I have said above, Israel must respect international law and the human rights of the ordinary citizens of Gaza. We demand the same of Russia in Ukraine. We would demand the same of anyone.

As a liberal, I believe in the inherent value of every person whatever their nationality, race, religion, gender, sexuality and gender identity. We must never choose between cherishing the humanity of the people of Israel and the humanity of the people of Palestine.

We need Israel and Egypt to work together with humanitarian organisations to facilitate the safe evacuation of the civilians of Gaza.

Israel is entitled to security and self-defence but not to revenge….especially revenge against civilians.

I appreciate my views don’t really matter. Few will read this. I am (thankfully) no opinion-former and world leaders are not nervously waiting for my judgement. But what is right and wrong does matter and as a citizen of the world I must try (with humility) to make sense of it the best I can. I can’t simply watch the news and shrug – even if it is complex.

I worry about the safety of people of Israel and Palestine and I worry about the safety of our world. I am sure we all do.

I encourage us all not to run away from complexity and try to embrace it as best we can while avoiding seductive “easy” answers that don’t serve us well. Little that is worthwhile is easy.

* Stephen Harte is a lawyer and a member in Edinburgh West.

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This entry was posted in Op-eds.


  • Ruvi Ziegler 14th Oct '23 - 11:17am

    Thanks Stephen- your analysis chimes with many of my reflections from Monday morning – it’s hard to believe it’s only been a week as for those of us directly involved this feels like a lifetime (

  • nigel hunter 14th Oct '23 - 10:28pm

    The failure to solve the Palestine 2 state solution and allowing Netanyahu to run a right wing ,hate ridden govnt is making the situation worse.

  • George Thomas 15th Oct '23 - 8:41am

    I applaud the actions of Layla Moran MP who speaks about this issue in times of relative peace – how many posts on this website about this issue 6 months ago compared to this week? We need to speak about it during relative peace or no progress will be made.

  • David Symonds 15th Oct '23 - 4:11pm

    The problems with Israel and Palestine have been on going for a long time. The sad reality is that it is the ordinary men, women and children who are caught in the crossfire and they just want to live their lives. The evil done by Hamas cannot be tolerated but i do worry that Israel may march into Gaza and overreact. How do they know or will they know who is Hamas and who is not? Their intelligence may not be 100% accurate. The hatreds on both sides cannot be easily removed and one must still pray for peace and for humanitarian help for those “caught in the crossfire”

  • I condemn the terrorist actions of the Hamas last weekend and their continuing attacks on civilians. I think that they have made the prospects of a lasting peace during my lifetime impossible.

    It has been estimated that only 59,000 Jews (9.9%) lived in Palestine in 1914 and that according to the 1920 census there were 83,700 (11.1%) Jews living in Palestine, which had risen to 608,230 (32.9%) by 1945.

    The 1947 UN Partition plan gave 56% of the land of Palestine to the Jewish state for 498,000 Jews and 407,000 Arabs (32.9% of the Arab population of Palestine). It should have come as no surprise that the Arabs rejected this. It would have been much fairer if the new Israeli state only had been allocated 33% of the land.

    The 1949 Green Line armistice line was never meant to be an international border leaving Israel with 77% of Palestine.

    According to the UN ‘over half of the Palestinian Arab population fled or were expelled’ in 1948-49 and about half a million more fled in 1967. The Israeli government has not allowed them to return. It is therefore a justifiable fear for some of those living in Gaza (and possibly of Egypt) that once they have fled to Egypt they will never be allowed back to Gaza.

    The best hope for peace was at the 2000 Camp David Summit, but the Israeli government didn’t make enough concessions. It also seems that 58% of the Israeli public thought that Prime Minister Barak had conceded too much.

  • Helen Dudden 17th Oct '23 - 11:31am

    I am praying for a very young child who with his family never survived.
    For the last week I have tried my hardest to give this small child his deserved heritage. The final respect he deserves.
    The last week has also discussed the way forward. The inhuman approach of Hamas to their own is well known.
    May their memories be a blessing.

  • Peter Hirst 28th Oct '23 - 1:53pm

    Over-complicating is also a common error, even an epidemic in modern thinking. Simplifying tends to reduce the impact of emotions in the present that as we are seeing with this crisis can and do change. Both Palestineans and Israelis deserve to live secure, healthy and productive lives. Whether they do this as one nation or as two is to me a detail.

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