Violence and Civilian Support for Militancy: Evidence from the 2015 Intifada

By Emily Gade
Submitted to Session P4634 (Security & Confrontation, 2016 Annual Meeting
Pol Science
Security Studies;
LCD Projector without Audio;
Why do civilians support militantism? Traditional explanations for civilian behavior in conflict zones expect civilians to maximize their survival, supporting whichever groups will best protect their interests. However, these explanations ignore social and psychological factors influencing civilian attitudes in conflict zones. I argue that social identity and violence are powerful factors in determining when and under what conditions civilians are likely to support violence in response to state repression, and how that differs from civilian responses to insurgent violence.

Understanding why individuals believe militancy is justified first requires understanding individuals’ personal experience with violence and with actors in the conflict. Research on social psychology identifies three ways violence influences attitudes: the character of the violence (structural violence vs. bombing); exposure to violence (did it happen to you personally or to a friend or family member); and the actor committing the violence. I argue that the experiences of violence help shape individual attitudes about militancy.

I focus on Palestine – a place where the state has used violence to counter growing unrest, resulting in increasing militancy in some members of the population and a quest for peace in others. I seek to understand this variation. I test my argument using qualitative and quantitative data drawn from an original survey of 1500 respondents as well as 74 life-story style interviews, conducted between Oct and Dec of 2015. I use in-depth semi-structured interviews, large-N secondary data, and an original survey fielded in the West Bank to test my argument and the alternative explanations. My qualitative research traces the mechanisms behind civilian attitudes about militancy. My quantitative analyses test the relationship between instances of violence and political attitudes to demonstrate the generalizability of individual accounts.

Whether a population believes an actor’s militant action is justified or whether nonviolence is a superior course of action is central to security policy and the peaceful resolution of civil conflicts. Civilian militancy can lend support to movements or the civilian ‘compliance’ with state forces leading to the dissolution of terrorist groups. Nonviolent resistance provides an alternative, but one not often examined within the context of civil war or insurgency. Militancy and its effect on civil conflict are among today’s greatest security challenges, generating high rates of civilian casualties and leading to state, regional and international instability. Equally, civilians’ rejection of militancy and support for nonviolence or for a negotiated settlement is critical to conflict resolution and lasting, stable peace.