Posted on October 28, 2011 on Akashma Online News
By Ahmed Abu-Tawahina
Paper presented at GCMHP’s Fifth International Conference
“Siege and Mental Heath–Walls vs. Bridges”
27-28 October, 2008
When I began writing this paper, I asked myself where I should begin. Should I start with the general question that is being asked by most people? when will this siege end? Due to the magnitude of this crisis, I prefer to ask the question of how we can end the siege. In the first instance, the question still bears feelings of hope and anticipation. In the second instance, it is a question of action, which requires something from each of us.
Under this scenario, we must ask ourselves what we can do to end this siege once and for all. In order to answer this question, we must first investigate the causes behind the siege in order to understand the situation and begin to construct a roadmap towards a solution. If the political roadmap was ineffective and unable to produce any meaningful results, perhaps the psychological roadmap could yield the desired results. This is based on my own unshakeable conviction that we should not give up hope. Hope is always present. Either we can harness this hope and develop it into something positive and useful, or we can let it fade into the background. The core of the psychological roadmap that I am talking about is the feeling of hatred– hatred of the other and denial of their existence. Such feelings could not be developed if it were not reinforced by certain ideologies held by large segments of the population.
Then, the question that comes to mind is why do Israeli Jews hate Arabs or Palestinians and why do Arabs or Palestinians hate Israeli Jews? What are the convictions and ideologies that exist within each group that leads to such hatred? I will begin with the notion of!
Superiority and inferiority
When the Palestinians started to amass weapons and become stronger, in their efforts to be more like the Israelis, whose power and weapons made them superior, the fear and rage of Israelis towards Palestinians increased. This, in turn, has meant that hatred has increased, leading to more arrests, killings and destruction. Even children were not spared from these assaults. How else can we interpret the actions of an Israeli soldier, who while shielded in his bullet-proof tank, fires with the intention of killing, at a Palestinian child who is throwing rocks at the tank?
The Israelis have held on to an image — that they are the most powerful, undefeatable army — and have believed this for the past 6 decades. However, a series of events taking place in the region, beginning with the first Intifada and ending with the Hamas takeover of the Gaza Strip, has shaken this image. A worthy competitor has begun to present itself, encroaching on the symbol of the all powerful Israeli soldier, and has challenged this notion of absolute superiority. Even if not challenging from a position of technological power, they have been able to foster a state of fear and panic within Israeli society.
The roles have been thrown out of balance. One power is no longer in a position of absolute superiority. This realization has, in turn, led to an increase in extremism and excessive use of force, violence and counter-violence, on both sides. Perhaps this escalation offers an explanation as to why the Israeli authorities have stepped up their use of assassinations and increased the incursions into civilian neighborhoods, under the premise of security, while disregarding the number of innocent civilians who pay the price of this aggression. And perhaps it can explain to us the actions of some militant Palestinian groups, under the banner of legitimate force and the right of defense in resisting the occupation.
Despite the fact that the balance is still on the side of the Israelis, what we are concerned with in this context is the increasing hatred by the two parties. If the situation continues on in this path, then more violence, destruction and killing can be expected. In this regard, the last truce or agreement between the Israeli government and Hamas in Gaza should mean that a balance between the two parties is solidifying. However, the reality is that there is no balance of power. Israel remains the more powerful side. The desire of the Palestinians to overcome this state of inferiority, and the powerlessness and weakness that it reflects, has become unbearable due to the psychological pain that it causes.
Another reason why Israeli Jews may hate Palestinians is because of the phenomenon of suicide bombers which targeted Israeli civilians. However, The Palestinians see such actions as a natural reaction by an oppressed people. For this reason organizations like Hamas are seen as freedom fighters by many Palestinians, but are viewed as terrorists by the vast majority of Israeli Jews.
There are more reasons why the two parties may hate each other. The following list is just a few:
1. Palestinian children may grow up hating Jews as in most cases the only Jew they have seen has been an Israeli soldier.
2. Israeli Jews often have never met any Palestinian. All they know of Palestinians is what they have seen or read in news.
3. Hundred thousands of Palestinians are held in Israeli jails often without charge, subjected to torture and maltreatment. This includes many children and women.
4. Israeli Jews may see the Palestinians as a burden to the realization of a “Jewish State” as they tend to have higher birth rates.
5. Palestinians often feel humiliated as they are often held at Israeli checkpoints for hours, and in many cases are harassed and insulted by Israeli soldiers.
There have been reports by human rights organizations of pregnant Palestinian women giving birth at checkpoints, Palestinian patients dying in their Ambulances, and other Palestinian clients being treated by their Israeli doctors at checkpoints because they were refused access to medical treatment.
Religious beliefs and religious ignorance
These are of course not all the factors which are involved in the causes of hatred between Palestinians and Israeli Jews. Religious ignorance may also play a part. For example, many Israeli Jews believe that Islam which most Palestinians follow is intolerant toward other faiths. However, Judaism and Christians have existed in Palestine for over 1500 years under Islamic rule. This is the reason why Jewish and Christians churches still remain standing today in holy cities as Jerusalem and Bethlehem.
Palestinian Christians have existed in historic Palestine for well over 2000 years. They live in relative harmony with Muslim Palestinians and often regard each other as brothers. Some Palestinians believe that Israeli Jews wish to ethically cleanse Palestine of all non-Jews.
This is because many religious Jews in Israel view Palestine as a land for the Jews only.
They believe that the land was promised to them by God. They also believe that they have divine permission to drive the Palestinians out of their homeland.
Religious beliefs however, at best explain only part of the problem.
The quest for a satisfactory explanation or understanding of this conflict, has caused political psychologist to device schemes, theories, frameworks, and models for explaining it.
Zonis and Offer (1985) outline three different theoretical models.
The national character model, the psychopathology model and self esteem model.
The national character model includes the various studies of Arab, Muslims, Jewish and Israeli character that look for a typical or model Arab or Israeli personality.
This model has been criticized as the national character studies of Arab and Israelis did not examine specific individuals over extended periods of time, ignored other effects on behavior, lacked a systematic examination of the correspondence between personality and other behavior characteristics, did not the distribution of character traits among individuals, and ignored the unconscious dynamics of character structure.
The psychopathology model discussion focuses primarily on:
The psychological pathology of political leaders
It has been known the intimate relationship between political leadership and emotional disorders.
One of the psychological hallmarks of political activity in general and of political leaders in particular is unconscious projection. Politicians tend to have paranoid personalities. They unconsciously project and externalize all that they hate about themselves upon their rivals and enemies.
In a recent study, two American researchers outlined the seven elements of political paranoia: suspicion, centrality, grandiosity, hostility, fear of loss of autonomy, projection and delusional thinking. (Robins & Post 1997).
This does not mean that every political leader is paranoid schizophrenic, but paranoid personality and ideation do characterize many political leaders.
Zonis & Offer (1985) thought that there were severe emotional problems on the Palestinian Arab side as well as on the Israeli Jewish one. In their opinion the conflict has much to do with how each side feels about itself. Self-hate may drive one to desperate self-destructive acts.
The problem of the self-both individual and collective- is a key issue in the Arab Israeli conflict. Self love and self-hate are not immediately visible but very power-full factors in both camps.
A part from Freud discoveries was “the repetition compulsion”, that means that passively suffered trauma unconsciously tends to be repeated or relived actively by traumatized people, to their own detriment and self-destruction.
The phenomena of self-destruction and traumatic reliving of painful pasts is experienced by Israeli Jews whom are hunted by the trauma of the Holocaust, where in 1948, they wittingly inflicted a catastrophe on the Palestinians and they are continuing to inflict undermining, humiliation, killings of innocent Palestinian civilians, buldozering homes and farms, detaining civilians -even children and women- and torturing them, depriving Palestinians of their basic human rights, and turning their life into a constant hell, having the delusion that they are merely fighting terrorism.
The Palestinians, for their part, are hunted by their defeat, and humiliation in the catastrophic war of 1948 in which hundreds of thousands of Palestinians lost their home in Palestine and were displaced by Israeli Jews in what they call an-nakba or the catastrophe.
More people in both sides are going to join the cycle of hatred as a result of the current events and the chances for peace are declining.
The deeper level of the unresolved conflict has to do with the fact that the Jewish-Israelis and Palestinians are not truly ready to move forward with the political arrangement because they are incapable of accepting each others “otherness”.
The Jewish Israeli apprehension of the other is related to their deep mistrust concerning the sincerity of Palestinian’s intentions.
They are afraid that when Palestinian speaks of peace this is actually part of a long-term plan to annihilate them. The Jewish Israeli ambivalent approach toward the use of force and aggression causes them to feel both very strong and powerful and very weak and vulnerable at the same time. This ambivalence reinforces their self perception as victims and heroism.
The Jewish Israeli fear of the end of the conflict is associated with the fact that many people have constructed their identity around the conflict and its end will demand a fearful reconstruction (Bar-on, 1999).
The Israeli Jews have the belief that Palestinians are being shaped to hate.
On the other hand, when the Palestinians are made a people with limited capabilities, it then becomes easier for both Israeli and the western world to see them as inferior beings, easily led, beaten and kic.ked.
This image is considered legitimate and prescriptive, and both Israel and the west justify their oppression of the Palestinians by convincing themselves that the Palestinians are not advanced human beings like us, they have limited capabilities, they live outside the civilized world, and therefore oppressing them is legitimate. The most dangerous aspect of this humiliation tactic is a form of “self-imposed humiliation” whereby a Palestinian begins to see his fellow Palestinian as backward and underdeveloped, and thus begins criticizing his own people’s “backwardness”. This attitude could proceed forward to produce more destructive behavior inside the Palestinian society itself. The political disagreement between the two major Palestinian political factions, “Fatah and Hamas” and the internal fighting took place between the two parties could be interpretated form this perspective. The impact of siege on Palestinians is massive; the signs of psychological and physical fatigue become clearer on the Palestinian people’s faces, because most of their efforts are expended on their struggle to survive.
Universities and schools are retreating, and their closure is not longer a source of outrage. The search for work, any type of work to guarantee one’s very basic needs, like food, has now become the preoccupation of the majority of Palestinians. Turning the Palestinian people’s attention away from what is necessary for their psychological and intellectual well being, and focusing it on how to guarantee their daily bread, only makes them ignorant, restricts their economic and social development, and pushes them back at least two decades on the development scale. The Israelis thus can guarantee long term psychological control over the Palestinians, and even over all the Arab people.
Even after the Israeli disengagement from some Palestinian occupied territories, Palestinian disengagement from psychological warfare will be very weak. With its effects, most of Palestinians will see in the Israeli citizen an example of development, and will see in the Israeli soldier the image of the soldiers who is fighting for the security he has always wanted to have. Today Palestinian children dreaming of becoming soldiers or policemen. This dream doesn’t necessarily reflect a loss of identity, but rather expresses an objective need for security.
In such an atmosphere of non-security and lack of confidence in others, it wouldn’t be possible for Palestinians to identify their feelings, because their resource is not clear, and consequently they would misdirect their anger.
The anger at the Israeli soldier, the indignation at the frustrating situation, and lack of confidence in their communities, make Palestinians skeptical of others and force them to accuse innocent people of being the cause of their tragedy. The observes can notice that intra-communal and interfamilial violence is escalating.
Accordingly Palestinians are passing through:
v Situations in which anger is not only appropriate, but is demanded by the simplest consideration of human dignity. The murder of one’s loved ones, being imprisoned and tortured, losing his home. These are things which demand anger as the appropriate reaction.
v To accept slaughter passively, without becoming angry, is a sign not of mental health problem, but of a psychological handicap. What would it take to make Palestinian angry, if they can not muster anger at the slaughter of their children and loved ones?
It is not to justify the Palestinian violence, but rather to interpret reasons behind their violence.
Can the conflict be resolved?
Most experts on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict have concluded their studies with bleak prognoses of its future. One Israeli scholar, Meron Benvenisti (1995), believed that the two state solution of separate Israeli and Palestinian states would never work and thought that the only good solution is that of a binational confederation of Israel and Palestine on the whole territory of the Holy land — as he called it-
Historically, there have long been small groups of Palestinians and Jews working to promote peaceful coexistence between their two communities.
The one state solution might be the only practical solution to end hostile attitudes and hatred in our region.
1. Marvin, Zonis and Daniel, Offer (1985): Leaders and the Arab-Israeli Conflict: A psychodynamic Interpretation. In Charles B. Strozier and Daniel Offer (Eds.). The leader: Psycho historical Essays. New York. Plenum.
2. Meron Benvenisti (1995). Intimate Enemies: Jews and Arabs in a shared land. Berkeley: University of California Press.