This is the edited text of a talk I gave at a public meeting on the Palestinian/Israeli conflict held at the Trades and Labour Council Building, South Brisbane, Queensland on Tuesday, 10 June 2003. The meeting was organised by Just Peace, Palestinian & Jewish Unity and The Greens. (June 2003)

Before I started to talk I sang the song “Yerushalaim Shel Zahav” (“Jerusalem of Gold”) by Naomi Shemer and asked the audience to focus their awareness on the feelings that the sound of my voice and the music brought up for them. With the exception of one person, no one in the audience understood the words or recognised the song, which is what I was hoping for. This exercise was designed to demonstrate the point that I make later in this talk about how deeply political messages can reach into us when they are communicated through beautiful music.

The song “Jerusalem of Gold” was written in 1967 after Israel conquered East Jerusalem. This event is still seen in Israel as heroic and glorious. The story of the “unification” of Jerusalem is always told with mystical and religious passion and with the sense that a prophecy has been fulfilled. The song itself perpetuates the myth that Jerusalem was empty and as though asleep, no one lived there, no one attended to the water holes, no one went to pray at the Temple Mount. Then we (the Israelis) came back, we have awakened the sleeping city and suddenly life returned to it and all that surrounds. There is a strong sense in the song that now everything is well again. The song uses powerful imagery from the story of the sleeping beauty. Jerusalem is the sleeping beauty who is waiting for the right prince (the Israeli army as a representative of the Israeli people) to come and wake her with a kiss. This is typical of the mythology that is promoted as history in Israel where the existence of the Palestinians and their connection to the land are denied.

This in my opinion helps Israel continue to live in its delusion that it has done nothing wrong.

Introduction

Writing this talk has been very difficult for me. I usually do not leave things to the last minute but this time I have been so stuck that I began to worry that I might not be able to finish this talk in time for this evening. As often happens when I try to write about the topic of the Palestinian/Israeli conflict I found myself plagued with paralysis, doubt and inner turmoil and I plunge into painful grief. This time the turmoil and the grief have been so bad that I felt I couldn’t think straight and had difficulty concentrating. I kept feeling like escaping to my knitting.

Perhaps because of all of this I struggled to find the focus of this talk. It was hard for me to think clearly about what I wanted to say. Then it occurred to me that maybe this very turmoil holds the key to my topic. After all I share the origins of it with every Zionist Jew and almost every Israeli, and it is what they will all have to experience if there is to be a real solution to the conflict between the Israelis and the Palestinians. It is the same turmoil that almost every Jew and Israeli feels whenever Israel is criticised for its actions, and most importantly it is a part of the emotional block that stands in the way of Israelis seeing themselves and their behaviour more clearly.

I know first hand the pain and the discomfort of learning the truth about my people’s history. It is so difficult to face that I can understand why some people would choose to push it away and close their minds to it. I am still struggling and a part of me sometimes wishes it would all go away. A lot of what is written and published including some of my own writings and talks is written with the aim of arguing, convincing, educating, maybe even pleading with Israelis and pro-Israelis to take responsibility for what Israel is doing to the Palestinians. But while people experience such enormous emotional blocks, it is not very likely that they would listen. For example, I have had personal experience with Jewish people who are committed activists for human rights. But when the Palestinians are mentioned, the “shutters” seem to go down. Before Zionist Jews and Israelis can acknowledge the truth about Zionism and the history of Israel and its conflict with the Palestinians, they will need to overcome this barrier in the same way that I have been trying to do.

I am starting to consider that my true calling as an activist in this area is not to write history or document the realities of Palestine. This I leave to the experts in these areas. My role might well be to help Jewish and Israeli people to overcome their emotional barriers to the truth. After all I am a professional psychotherapist and helping people overcome emotional blocks is what I do best.

My emotional struggle began when I started to become active in this area. I felt outraged when Ariel Sharon blatantly provoked the second intifada in 2000, and this led me to the decision to give up my Israeli citizenship as an act of protest. I felt that I had had enough and that I could not justify to myself any longer having such an important link to Israel. I also did not want to feel like an accomplice to what I see as a most serious human rights violation. But the moment I rang the Israeli consulate to obtain the right paperwork, I began to feel horrible. I will never forget the knot that I felt in my guts as my anxiety levels shot through the roof. I realised that I was feeling terrified of standing up and expressing an opinion “against” my own people. I was afraid to rock the boat and cause trouble and I started to fear that I might get myself into trouble. Most of all I felt like a traitor to my own people and I hated that feeling.

But the thought of not doing anything also didn’t give me any rest. I felt like I had to choose between two “evils” each with its own particular set of uncomfortable feelings. Eventually I chose what I felt was the honest option, the one that resonated the most with my conscience, my sense of humanity and of the truth. I chose myself over my loyalty to my former country and society and what used to be my very identity.

I have avoided this topic in previous talks and presentations because I was afraid that by talking about my own struggle, I would appear to be portraying myself as the victim and taking the centre of attention. I didn’t want to do my own personal therapy publicly and even more important, I didn’t want to obscure the true victims in this conflict, the Palestinian people, whose fate was pretty much sealed from the start of the Zionist movement in the late 19th century.

Why these feelings?

The fear I felt was deep and cold, hard to describe. Such intense fear of being a traitor comes out of having been raised in a very oppressive society. I am not sure what people outside of Israel know about Israeli society. There are many in Australia, Jews and non-Jews alike, who still seem to idealise it. But I know Israeli society intimately. I have always experienced it as defensive and anxious. Throughout my upbringing in Israel I experienced the culture as aggressive and impatient and as society with a chip on its shoulders. Israel felt to me like a pressure cooker. I left in late 1991 not because I was threatened or persecuted in any obvious way. I left because I felt suffocated.

But although the girl left Israel it hasn’t been that easy to get Israel out of the girl. From family therapy I now understand a great deal about the impact that oppressive, enmeshed groups can have on individuals. Paradoxically, it is much easier to leave a healthy and free, non-oppressive environment than it is to leave an oppressive one. People growing up in enmeshed, abusive or oppressive environments develop excessive feelings of loyalty to the group and it is hard for them to develop a personality that is independent of the group. The journey to achieve an independent identity is called in family therapy, differentiation and it is a very painful and difficult process. This is why my journey is so difficult and it is why it will be difficult for almost every Jew depending on their particular upbringing.

The oppression of Israeli society is not achieved by policing but by the clever use of art, literature, music and education as tools to create a unified identity and a sense of a shared history and destiny. These are the kind of things that go straight to the heart and work on one’s emotions and sense of identity. Israeli song writers have been very skilled at manipulating the sentiments of the people to send Zionist messages. They did not do this as part of some deliberate government program but because they themselves felt these sentiments. My head is filled with beautiful songs that I have known and loved all my life but now I find myself questioning their meanings. Many of these songs I will never sing in public simply because they are Zionist propaganda.

The education system in Israel was controlled by the government when I was growing up in the 60’s and 70’s and it had a very strong Zionist agenda. My primary school principal used to be a prominent member of the Etzel, one of the extremist underground groups that fought against the British mandate before 1948. He was a kind man but only now I am starting to see how his history and his philosophy of life might have affected the way he ran the school, and the kind of messages we received. Indoctrination is also an important function of the military, and since every Israeli is required to do military service the control is comprehensive.

To most Israelis this would not feel like manipulation or control because teaching about Zionism is seen as nothing more than the teaching our history. But as the Israeli historian, Tom Segev says, what passes in Israel as history is nothing more than a mythology. It was this mythology that I grew up on and what I knew and believed to be the truth. Whenever Arab leaders would criticise Zionism I felt personally offended. I also remember feeling very confused. I didn’t understand how something that to me was so noble could make other people so angry. I didn’t understand how there could be something wrong with Zionism. This is the view that many Israelis would still be holding now.

Letting go of everything that I believed to be true and seeing reality from an entirely different perspective has been a very difficult process. It was particularly difficult because it wasn’t just a matter of acquiring new knowledge. Because of the nature of the nature of the Israeli state it feels more like I am questioning my whole identity, which was built so strongly on songs, stories, images, rituals and a sense of shared history and destiny.

Here are some of the myths that I grew up on and that most Israelis and non-Israeli Jews believe to be true:

  • The Zionist movement was a proud and brave pioneering movement that achieved the impossible and is therefore to be admired.

  • The Palestinians living in Palestine have always hated the Jews and that this is why they fought against Jewish migration to Palestine. (This is an incorrect analysis. Palestinians, Muslim and Christian lived peacefully with the Jewish inhabitants of Palestine for generations. It is only when the real intentions of the Zionist movement became obvious that the Palestinians became hostile to it. This is entirely understandable given that the Zionist movement intended from the beginning to take over the whole of Palestine and relocate the Palestinian population.)

  • No lands were ever taken from Palestinians illegally and that generally the Zionist movement has never done anything wrong. It has always acted legally and honourably.

  • The war of 1948 was a war of “the few against the many” that the newly formed state of Israel won by miracle. (Learning the truth about this myth was particularly shocking to me. To learn that Israel won the war because its army seriously outnumbered the Arab forces and had far superior equipment and not because of some miracle, is the exact opposite of what I was taught at school and what is still being taught to Israeli children now.)

  • The Palestinians ran away because the Arab countries misled them and that Israel has done absolutely nothing to cause them to leave. Therefore the suffering of the Palestinians today is their own fault and the fault of the Arab countries. (This of course denies and ignores the massacres committed before an after the 1948 war by Israeli forces. These massacres were designed to frighten the population into leaving. A particularly chilling story is the massacre committed in the village of Deir Yassin.)

  • All Israeli governments throughout history have always done their best to try to achieve peace but Arabs have never been a proper partner for negotiations. (The recent book by Tanya Reinhart, Israel/Palestine is an excellent work that refutes this myth in relation to recent history. The Iron Wall by Avi Shlaim, does the same in relation to earlier history. Both books were written by Israeli scholars, and both are based on official documents and newspaper reports, available for anyone to examine.)

  • Israelis are generally better quality people than Arabs. All Arabs, Palestinians included, are unreliable, treacherous and even evil, emotional and irrational and they are motivated by a strong hatred of the Jews. (Israeli racism runs very deep and I grew up with it. Many Israelis will deny being racist but that is because they are not aware of how deeply and insidiously racism runs in that society. Racist images of Arabs appeared in popular children’s literature suc as Hasamba by Yig’al Mosenzon. When I was growing up these books were our equivalent of Harry Potter in their popularity. The phrase “a good Arab is a dead Arab” was commonplace and as children we used to sing songs that called for the destruction of all the Arab countries and their leaders.)

  • Israeli soldiers have always followed the principle of purity of arms, and that no action against Palestinians is excessive, illegal or immoral. All actions are kept to the minimum and are only defensive and necessary for the security of Israel. (This helps keep Israeli soldiers loyal and convinced that they are doing nothing wrong. If too many soldiers question or refuse orders the occupation force will collapse. Evidence from the last three years show that the Israeli army is far from being an honourable army. The many cases of shooting of journalists and foreign nationals in recent times will no doubt be a subject of trials at some point in the future.)

  • Everyone will always hate the Jews and therefore Israel is, and always has been, under threat of total annihilation. The suicide bombings are proof of that not to mention that they also show the poor character of the Palestinians. (Israelis actually believe that they are facing a threat of annihilation. They seem to be blind to the fact that they are the most powerful military power in the Middle East with nuclear weapons and an army that is far superior to any other country in the region.)

  • Israelis are victims and therefore could not possibly be perpetrators. (A common enough human myth, not necessarily just Jewish. Often victims of terrible trauma or abuse can be seen as saintly or all perfect. The “bad guys” are those who abused us. Because we are the victims therefore we are the “good guys”. This is an extremely dangerous position, because all of us are capable of acts of evil and it is important that we all look into ourselves. This position of many Israelis or Jews prevents any chance of honest self-examination.)

  • Jews cannot be safe living with non-Jews and Israel is the only place in the world for Jews to escape the next Holocaust. (I cannot say that another Holocaust will never happen. In fact there are still many followers of Nazism out there, who would like to finish Hitler’s job and there is plenty of other kinds of antisemitism out there. However, my personal position is that I am not going to wait until all the antisemites in the world are gone before I allow myself to live. To continue to live in a segregated ghetto of our own making is not my idea of a good life. If I spend my whole life hiding and living in fear I think it means that Hitler won and I cannot have that. Hiding and living in fear is a natural response to trauma but this is why trauma needs to be healed.)

None of this is true of course but this is what most Israelis and non-Israeli Jews believe.

A society where people are arrested for expressing the wrong opinion is a weak society and Israel is not like that. Until recently, Israel relied on its culture alone to do the job and it has worked successfully for the last 55 years. Judging by how the soldiers who refuse to serve in the army are treated I think that this is now changing.

Recently when I gave a talk on a similar topic to a group of Jewish activists I was criticised that I only focused on the negative aspects of Israeli society and that I did not mention any of the positive ones. My response to that is that there is no doubt in my mind that there are positive aspects in Israeli society. After all I grew up there. However, it is not the positive aspects of Israel that concern me it is the negative ones. It is not the positive aspects that are committing ethnic cleansing and that have been torturing a whole population for the last 55 years. Would anyone deny that German society in WWII had positive aspects to it as well, or that a violent man is not all bad? It will be useful to focus on the positive side of Israel when it is time to talk about the process of healing. Then the positives will form the building blocks of health.

Why is Israeli society so oppressive? (Because of trauma)

I strongly believe that the roots of what is wrong with Israeli society lie in Jewish religion and culture. Because of the long history of European antisemitism and the Holocaust, people tend to avoid analysing Jewish religion critically. It is certain that if anyone wrote a book or an essay that shows Jewish religion or culture in an unfavourable way, there would immediately be cries of antisemitism. So for the time being this topic is a taboo for most serious writers and thinkers. However, given that I myself am from Jewish background, I assume that it would be harder to silence me or accuse me of antisemitism.

I am a critic of my own people and I believe that my actions are not only appropriate but also desirable. Self-reflection and honesty about one’s own character, culture, history and belief system are absolutely necessary for emotional growth and wellbeing. Those in the Jewish community who are trying to silence people like myself are basically trying to prevent any possibility of self-reflection because of fear. I can fully understand this fear. It is always scary and very humbling to look at oneself honestly or in this case at one’s own cultural heritage. Indeed it may well be the most difficult thing we ever have to do in life.

For a long time I looked at Jewish and Israeli identities as separate. I knew that the mainstream Zionist movement was staunchly secular and so I kept them separate in my mind. The Zionist Jewish identity is as a people or a nation rather than a religion. But because Jewish identity cannot in fact be separate from its religious context, I now consider the Zionist movement and the state it has created, a subset of Jewish religion and culture.

The actions of the Zionist movement seem to me to follow a biblical model. I cannot help but see a strong parallel between the the story of Joshua and the Zionist movement. The story of Joshua is the story of the Hebrews who after being supposedly liberated from slavery in Egypt and spending 40 years in the desert, entered the land of Cna’an, murdered its inhabitants and took it for themselves. Joshua was their military leader. According to the biblical myth he was selected by God to succeed Moses because of his military abilities. The Bible justifies the invasion of Cna’an and the killing of its inhabitants by saying that God has promised the land to the Hebrews and commanded them to conquer it. I personally cannot believe in a god that would order such behaviour but most Jewish people who believe in God, do. Those who do not believe in God, simply accept this story as a part of the history of the Jewish people. I may be wrong but to the best of my knowledge no one has ever questioned the morality of what Joshua did. Although the story of Joshua is ancient I argue that it has shaped Jewish identity just like many other Biblical stories that inform the Jewish people about their history and define their identity.

What aspects of Jewish identity have affected the Israeli state?

I’m going to concentrate on three main points:

  1. Jewish identity is based almost entirely on the experience of trauma.

  2. It is at the heart of Jewish identity to view ourselves as victims.

  3. With the idea of victimhood comes also the idea of destructive entitlement, that is, behaving as if because we were hurt therefore we have a right to hurt others. I believe destructive entitlement to be the root cause of the Palestinian/Israeli conflict.

1. What does it mean to base a whole identity on the experience of trauma?

It means to view the world as mostly a negative and dangerous place. It means to have an “us and them” mentality. The world is divided between our group and all the others and the others are not to be trusted. It means to not be particularly respectful of others. It means to be aggressive, defensive and emotionally reactive. It also means to personalise everything and think that everything that happens is about us.

When people suffer from trauma it is extremely difficult for them to see someone else’s point of view or to empathise with others. Being traumatised does not exclude success, intelligence or creativity. In fact there are many traumatised people who occupy important positions and who do extremely well in some areas of their life. But trauma causes people to be chronically anxious, see enemies everywhere and always anticipate negative outcomes. They live in a permanent state of urgency and emergency and it is hard for them to be patient. Traumatised people live in a private hell. The philosophy of life of the traumatised can be quite fanatic and narrow minded. The world they live in is so scary that they desperately try to hold on to their way of seeing things, to the point where they can be quite rigid and uncompromising. Views different to their own present a real threat to their world.

All of these qualities are present in Jewish religion and culture and they feature prominently in Israeli society. Growing up in that culture also left me suffering from trauma and it took me years of therapy to recover from it. I am concerned that there is nothing in Jewish culture or religion that suggests that trauma needs to be healed. Instead, trauma is the identity and it gets passed on through the generations. It is not even necessary to be religious to be affected. It is enough to celebrate a few festivals to get the idea. Almost every important festival in Jewish culture is about this theme. As is recited in the Passover dinner from the Passover Hagadah, in every generation someone comes along who wants to destroy the Jews and we always prevail through the grace of God.

I believe that Judaism is an example of a religion created by traumatised people. (Other examples are cults and any political philosophy or system that sees human nature and the world as fundamentally bad or evil.) Israel was created by people who suffered from persecution trauma long before the Holocaust. But when the Holocaust happened it confirmed everything the Jewish people knew about themselves. It was the event that provided the ultimate confirmation for Jewish identity. In the face of such a premeditated and systematic program to annihilate all Jewish people to the last one, what argument can anyone offer and how is it possible to convince Jewish people that the world is safe for them?

The legacy on which Israel is founded is an identity of persecution marked by one of the most chilling examples of genocide in the modern era committed by a “civilised” modern state. The Holocaust gave the Jewish population of Palestine and the Zionist movement the absolute permission to go ahead with their plans and it still does to this day.

A few months ago someone with the voice of an old person with European accent left a message on my mobile phone calling me a Nazi and wishing that I died like Hitler. I hear from other Jewish activists that they have people flashing their tattooed numbers before them regularly. To these people any criticism of the Jewish culture or faith or of the actions of the state of Israel is dangerous. In their minds it negates and denies their suffering and is nothing more than another manifestation of antisemitism. Even Israeli critics and Jews like myself are not spared the same venom and hatred.

2. Victimhood

Trauma can produce two extreme responses. One is the experience of self-blame and being over-responsible. In this case victims of abuse conclude that what happened to them was their fault and that it happened because they were unworthy or bad in some way. This can produce anything from poor self-worth through to depression, physical and emotional self-harm, and suicidal tendencies. In other words, all the frustration and anger produced by the abusive experience is directed inward.

The other extreme response is of victimhood. This is when the victim of abuse behaves as if everything is everyone else’s fault. Victims in this case see themselves as all good and believe that they can do no wrong. They can develop a strong attitude of self-righteousness, and they tend to be aggressive and critical towards others. Many violent people fall into this category. Those who adopt an identity of victimhood believe that all will be well if everyone else got their act together and if things go wrong it is because of others and not themselves. They are the least likely group to go to therapy because good psychotherapy requires people to take responsibility for themselves and this is diametrically opposed to the victim’s philosophy of life. It is people of this group that tend to create cults and are behind totalitarian regimes.

Jewish identity, including the idea of the “chosen people” has a lot to do with this experience of victimhood. The idea of the “chosen people” carries with it a kind of superiority. It is about being somehow more special than others and interestingly enough the others are not just non Jews. Israelis tend to behave with this superiority towards towards each other too. This behaviour is often experienced by non-Israelis as a combination of arrogance and aggression.

Jewish people cannot see themselves as anything other than victims. Victimhood is their identity and this in my opinion is one of the most serious blocks to criticism of Israel whether it is from the inside or the outside. Jewish and Israeli people simply cannot grasp the idea that they have themselves become perpetrators. My friend Sol Salbe who is Jewish himself pointed out to me how some Israeli soldiers talk about how unpleasant it is for them to have to shoot children. Even when they commit a crime crimes they still cry victim. It makes me think of the violent man who argues that he beat up his wife because she made him do it…

3. Destructive Entitlement

One of the most dangerous outcomes of trauma is what family therapists call “destructive entitlement”. This means acting as if because one was hurt, one then has a right to hurt others. This is similar and related to revenge, but whilst revenge can be a conscious choice, destructive entitlement often is not. Another difference between revenge and destructive entitlement is that revenge is often directed at the original offender whilst destructive entitlement can be directed at anyone who happens to be weaker or more vulnerable. In family therapy this is seen from a multi-generational perspective. For instance a woman who was mistreated in childhood by a parent might later act in a similar way toward her own children. The original aggressor may not be available or may be too powerful for direct revenge

There is an example in Israeli history that demonstrates well the dynamic of destructive entitlement. In July and August 1982 the Israeli army attacked the city of Beirut in Lebanon. This campaign was directed against the PLO but it inflicted immense suffering and heavy casualties on the Palestinian population of Beirut. As the siege was intensified, the methods used by the Israeli army were criticised within the army itself, in Israel and internationally. When the US President Ronald Reagan finally lost his patience and joined the criticism, Menahem Begin, Israel’s Prime Minister at the time, sent him the following message:

Now may I tell you, dear Mr President, how I feel these days when I turn to the creator of my soul in deep gratitude. I feel as a Prime Minister empowered to instruct a valiant army facing “Berlin” where amongst innocent civilians, Hitler and his henchmen hide in a bunker deep beneath the surface. My generation, dear Ron, swore on the altar of God that whoever proclaims his intent to destroy the Jewish state or the Jewish people, or both, seals his fate, so that which happened once on instructions from Berlin — with or without inverted commas — will never happen again.

In response to that the Israeli author Amos Oz sent a message to Begin saying:

This urge to revive Hitler, only to kill him again and again, is the result of pain that poets can permit themselves to use, but not statesmen … even at great emotional cost personally, you must remind yourself and the public that elected you its leader that Hitler is dead and burned to ashes.1

Amos Oz saw clearly that Begin was interpreting Israel’s relationship with the Palestinians through the mental perspective of the Holocaust. This was not unique to Begin. I believe that where we see Arafat, the majority of Israelis and their leaders see Hitler. Where we see Palestinian children throwing stones at tanks, or desperate Palestinians fighting against an oppressive occupation in which ever way they can Israelis see Nazi soldiers. Whenever an Israeli dies at from a suicide bombing this doesn’t just bring justifiable grief. It makes the Israelis see themselves as helpless Holocaust victims led like sheep to the slaughter by the Nazis.

From 1968 on the PLO called for an end to the Zionist regime and the establishment of a democratic, secular non-sectarian state for Jews, Muslims and Christians. Israelis have interpreted that as a call for the annihilation of Israel and it is easy to see how well this fitted into the collective trauma and how it served to reinforce it. To this day Israelis are not yet able to get over their fear that what they are dealing with is a threat to their very survival. Growing up in Israel I myself viewed Arafat as the devil himself and Al Fatah and the PLO as his instruments. It is hard to convey these feelings to non Israelis. I learnt to feel that way from my parents and from the way events were presented in the media.

Jewish history convinced the early Zionists that Jews cannot ever be safe living among and with non-Jews. Their solution was to create a Jewish-only state where Jews could live together without fear of being harassed or persecuted. This was a reasonable conclusion to draw after 2000 years of institutionalised antisemitism largely fostered and promoted by Christianity. To this day most Israelis believe that the only safe place for Jews is in Israel. To Jews living outside it, Israel is a kind of an insurance policy, a place to run to when the Nazis come back. One of my Israeli critics wrote to me recently, “Should you and others like you who hate Israel and Israelis … ever need a haven (note the growing antisemitism around the world), we who have maintained this country will welcome you with compassion.”

Viewed from Jewish perspective the rationale for a Jewish-only state is understandable but it is the fact that such a state came at the expense of the indigenous non-Jewish population of Palestine that is at the root of the Israeli Palestinian conflict. When the Zionist movement set its eyes on the land of Palestine as the future Jewish homeland it was fully aware that there was a large non-Jewish population living on that land. The intention was to find a way to transfer these people somewhere else, and clear the way to a Jewish-only state.

This to me is an example of destructive entitlement. We have suffered so therefore we have the right to do whatever we have to do to save ourselves. If this happens to hurt someone else, well, tough. (The official justification that the early Zionists gave to themselves was that since these people were only peasants they wouldn’t mind where they lived…)

Sure enough there were many debates and disagreements along the way, some even on moral grounds, but when I look at the history of Israel the path that was almost always chosen was the aggressive one.

As for the Palestinian people, they obviously were not happy when the Jewish settlements in Palestine began to grow. They began to understand that they were going to lose the land on which they lived for thousands of years. At first some Palestinians landowners sold land to Jewish settlers, which under ottoman law already then meant the eviction of the Palestinian peasants who worked and lived on that land. But when the Palestinian population stopped selling the land the Jewish settlers simply began to take it using the strategy of creating “facts on the ground”. That is by setting up settlements over night and then defending them with force from angry Palestinians. The stories of these early settlements are being told in history classes in Israel as stories of heroism. There is never any mention of the fact that they were in fact illegal and were set up in an aggressive and expansionist manner. The dynamic of destructive entitlement continues to this day and I think it is responsible for what the Palestinians are going through now.

How is all this trauma psychology relevant now, and what can we do with this knowledge?

First it makes me think of two things:

  1. There is still a great deal of pain that has not yet healed among many Jews and probably most Israelis;

  2. Jewish identity and the Israeli identity that it influenced need to be reviewed and explored. Any identity based on trauma is sick and is dangerous to the members of the group and those who come in contact with them. There are values and beliefs in Jewish religion and culture that are inconsistent with a peaceful life and with humanistic values.

What can be done?

  • I would like to see the world recognising that it is trauma that created the conflict in the first place and that it is trauma that is the energy behind it now. The usual political analysis is missing the main point about this conflict and only serves to confuse the issues.

  • Israel must be pressured to do something about healing from trauma. It is time to stop walking on eggshells around the Jewish people. It doesn’t help them and certainly does not help the Palestinians.

  • Israel must begin to establish national programs that focus on healing from the trauma of the Holocaust. Healing and forgetting are not the same thing.

  • I think Israel needs to not be taken so seriously by others as a responsible partner for negotiations or as if it has a valid point of view. Israelis are not well and they cannot see reality for what it is. They are traumatised and cannot think straight. This is why I believe that it is necessary to have proper international intervention to help the Palestinian people. I am not very hopeful about the prospects of the “Road Map” because of everything I said in this paper. I wonder why anything should be different this time around if Israel has done nothing to change its perspective, ideology, belief system or psychology.

  • It is important to initiate legal action against Israel in the international court of law where possible. There is a chance that legal action might wake them up to what they are doing.

  • I am working now on a seminar or a workshop for Jewish communities to encourage them to explore Jewish identity from the point of view of health and sickness.

  • I would like to acknowledge the peace movement in Israel and in particular the courageous soldiers who are refusing to serve in the army. These groups need to receive as much international support as possible. If there is a positive future for the region it will depend on the peace activists on both the Israeli and the Palestinian sides.

Footnotes

1. Shlaim, Avi, The Iron Wall; Israel and the Arab World. pp. 410-411.

Page content last modified: 3 Jul 2003