DISSERTATION Project:

EXPLAINING THE OCCURRENCE AND DYNAMICS OF DOMINANT GROUP VIOLENCE: UNCERTAINTY, THREAT, AND ISRAELI SETTLER VIOLENCE IN THE WEST BANK

Why do dominant ethnic groups perpetrate violence against ethnic minorities and why does this violence vary in its frequency, severity, target choice, and level of popular participation over time?

Addressing the first question, I argue that existing explanations of dominant group violence lack a unifying theoretical framework that explains why dominant group violence occurs. In order to address this lacuna, I propose an explanation of dominant group violence founded on the social-psychological concept of uncertainty that can account for a range of existing explanations.

I build on the theoretical distinction between physical and social threat in order to explain the dynamic nature of dominant group violence. I posit that physically threatening events tend to trigger relatively frequent and severe attacks against minorities by a relatively large proportion of the dominant group. In contrast, socially threatening events tend to trigger attacks against symbolic sites representing the culture and identity of ethnic minorities by a relatively small and intolerant subsection of the dominant group.

In order to test my theoretical arguments, I employ a mixed methods research design relying on the West Bank as the primary case of analysis. The quantitative portion of my analysis uses both time-series regression and district-level descriptive analyses of an original dataset of contentious activities in the West Bank and East Jerusalem (2010-2015). The data is available on the Data tab of my website. In order to examine the mechanisms underlying the quantitative results further, I conduct a historical case study of anti-Arab violence by Jewish civilians in Israel-Palestine from 1929 through 2015. The qualitative analysis builds on secondary literature and approximately 50 original interviews with Israeli settlers conducted in the West Bank in 2016 and 2017.

This research helps to bridge existing explanations of dominant group violence by developing a unifying theoretical framework and adds nuance to theoretical arguments linking threat and political violence. The results of the study suggest that as long as ethnonationalist sentiments remain entrenched, attempts to resolve ethnic conflict that do not fundamentally alter horizontal political inequalities are likely to exacerbate rather than moderate intercommunal conflict.