Journalists, aid workers, tourists, and visitors with similar micro-level views wonder why Jews and Arabs cannot live peacefully. Talking to Jews and Arabs, they find little of the seething hatred that permeates their respective politics and media. There are so many examples of friendship between Jews and Arabs.

Superficially, people want peace. Mobs, however, prefer mild conflicts which give the mob—especially a faithless, de-ideologized, falling-apart mob—a sense of identity.

Most individuals can be convinced to do good. Two people of good faith can normally find a mutually acceptable solution. With crowds, it’s different. Mobs are glued together by common feelings; the common denominator is the lowest. Hatred is the most simply generated mass feeling and the best raison d’etre for a mob: a common enemy strengthen the group’s sense of identity. Individual crowd-members flaunt their enmity to the enemy; parading one’s loyalty to the group makes for easy social advancement. Unlike in economic affairs, vociferousness becomes a dominant advantage, and many economic losers catch the opportunity; their fiery demagoguery inflames the mob and sets a behavioral example.

Individuals care about prosperity. Unable to deliver it, their leaders offer high-charged substitute—ideology, specifically hatred. Individuals, packed in crowds, swallow the pill of hatred for several reasons. To swim against the current is hard; following the popular course is easier. Protesting the actions of the hoodlum leaders is dangerous; believing in the wisdom of leaders is safe and socially acceptable. Obeying the wrong pronouncements weighs on one’s morality; by accepting that the official ideology is correct, one absolves oneself of guilt. On top of that, mad hatred is pleasant; it’s comforting to know that an external enemy is responsible for all ills, that one is not responsible for one’s own poverty, ignorance, or bad leaders. The external conspiracy absolves everyone of responsibility for the hard things.

The conflict is not about morality. Each side is somewhat moral, but morality is an intra-group phenomenon. People can be moral to neighbors with whom they share basic values and objectives. Jews and Palestinians are aliens with incompatible basic objectives: both want the land for their state. Judea is the land of David and the Maccabees to the Jews, and of their grandparents’ olive trees to the Palestinians. Divorcing couples fight over a house or miserable belongings important to both. It therefore stands to reason that two peoples would fight over land.

Jews and Arabs lived together in Palestine relatively peacefully before the issue of statehood emerged. We lived peacefully when we interacted as individuals rather than the public bodies both peoples want to be now. Do we need to be public bodies? Is statehood indispensable? Hebrews entered a Canaan similarly populated by aliens. Historians suggest that the conquest of Canaan was rather a slow infiltration of Hebrews. The Torah deals with that matter when the Hebrews are commanded to settle in towns governed by judges without creating a state. The Hebrews deliberately avoided arousing our neighbors before we became sufficiently numerous and strong to take over the land de facto, and expanded further by overt military campaigns. Modern Jews, fleeing anti-Semitic Europe, flooded Palestine and aroused hatred before establishing political dominance and without establishing overwhelming demographic dominance. Both the Biblical model of conquering Canaan and the historical model of infiltration are workable. This time the Jews chose a different approach—arrogant immigration—and suffered the negative effects of statehood—the hostility of foreigners to an alien state or state-like body—but lacked the power of an ideologically charged, resolute state to do away with its enemies.

Can’t the people remain peaceful individualists so that a Jew might forge neighborly relations with an Arab? People are peaceful when there is no good reason for war; they don’t conflict in peaceful situations. Here, Arabs are offended at the influx of Jewish aliens in the Arab land—aliens who bring their rules, majority, and sovereignty, and otherwise relegate Arabs to less than the dominant status they had enjoyed for so long. Jews are offended by the Arab presence in the Jewish state, their refusal to evacuate the land the Jews consider theirs, and their obstinacy in rejecting economic benefits in favor of healthy nationalism.

Nationalism is self-reinforcing. When they sense danger, individuals cling to the mob for safety. The mob is glued together by nationalism and fear, and wider or stronger attachment to the mob strengthens nationalism and the sense of danger. A small number of instigators can launch a spiral of militant nationalism and enmity. Radicals herd crowds into conflicts. Individuals can be just, compassionate, and pacifist, but societal realities are as inescapable as the realities of nature: crowds depend on hatred of outsiders. The military-industrial complex drops its weight behind nationalism and then cries, “Fire!”

The shift from a society of reasonable individuals to the madness of crowds comes imperceptibly. The radicals were few and laughable yesterday, but today everyone shares their views. The explosion is foreseen, but comes as a surprise. In Palestine, it is coming now. Hopefully, in Israel, too.