This is the text of a talk I gave in Kuraby Community Hall, Svoboda Park, Brisbane on Saturday 5th June 2004. The event was called ‘Picnic For Peace: The Israeli Palestinian Conflict Unplugged’ and it was attended by 200 people. The other speaker was Dr Muhammad Abdulla, a Palestinian scholar and a leader in the Muslim community in Brisbane.

I gave a similar version of this talk at an Australian Democrats Forum on the Israeli/Palestinian conflict held in Brisbane at the University of Queensland on 22 March and at the Queensland University of Technology on 23 March 2004. The other speakers were Ali Kazak, the Palestinian Ambassador, and Ted Lapkin from the Australia-Israel Jewish Affairs Council. (June 2004)

Introduction

About me

My name is Avigail Abarbanel. I was born in Tel-Aviv, Israel in 1964. I served in the Israeli military from 1982 to 1984. I first trained as a Platoon Commander and later served as a professional draftsperson at the army’s central Headquarters in Tel-Aviv. I completed my service with the rank of Staff Sergeant.

Just over twelve years ago at the age of 27 I migrated to Australia with my former husband who was himself a Captain in the Israeli army. In 1995 I completed my BA with Honours in Politics at Macquarie University in Sydney. I did my honours thesis in the area of Holocaust studies under the supervision of Professor Colin Tatz at the Centre for Comparative Genocide Studies. In 1997 I started a Graduate Diploma in Psychotherapy. After finishing my studies I moved to Canberra with my second husband, Ian. I am now in my fifth year in private practice as a psychotherapist and counsellor.

I decided to leave Israel because I felt a growing sense of discomfort with the direction the country was taking. The increasingly popular Likud party was clearly offering nothing other than living forever by the sword. It took a few more years before I began a serious process of soul-searching about my relationship with Israel and with my past there.

I grew up in a Zionist home. My mother is a daughter of Holocaust survivors. They lost two young children and almost all of their relatives in Nazi concentration camps. I was educated like everyone else in a Zionist education system, and all I knew was the Zionist version of Israel’s history. Of course we did not think of it as a Zionist version but simply as history. It has been a very difficult journey for me so far to let go of everything that I believed to be true, especially when the new truths I was learning about Israel’s history seemed so disturbing.

Three years ago I decided to renounce my Israeli citizenship in protest against Israel’s occupation and treatment of the Palestinian people. From that time on I started a long journey of reviewing and relearning the history of my people. I learned that Israeli governments throughout the last 56 years have lied to us consistently about pretty much everything. I felt personally betrayed but was also in turmoil, worrying that I was betraying my people and was doing something wrong. As a Jew, ‘airing the dirty laundry’ is the worst thing one can do. Debate within the group is allowed and even encouraged provided that dissenting views are kept internal and are not exposed to the ‘Goyim’, which is seen as dangerous to the group. My own mother cut off all contact with me when she heard that I renounced my Israeli citizenship.

I decided to speak up for Palestinian rights and against Israeli behaviour because as a child learning about the Holocaust in Israel I learned about how my people were abandoned by everyone around them. I promised myself that I will not be a bystander.

A Little Bit of History

Imagine that one day someone enters your house and declares that he has been homeless and abused and that he desperately needs a place to live. He is now therefore going to live in your house together with you. Apparently one of his ancestors lived there several generations back and this is why he chose your house. You are never asked whether it is OK with you and the person never asks for an invitation. He simply moves in. Then imagine that this person brings in a few more family members. When you try to appeal to the authorities they not only turn a blind eye, but in fact actively support the invaders by offering them money and resources. They feel sorry for the invaders because they had such a hard time, and they refuse to listen to your story and to your complaints.

At first you live in the hope that you will one day be allowed to use the rest of your house again, but as time goes by you and your family begin to realise that there is nothing that you can do. Hardly anyone is prepared to support you and those who try are attacked and silenced by the invaders.

When you realise that you have no choice and try to resist the invaders by force, you are painted as the bad guy, labelled a criminal and you and your family members are hunted down like animals. You are also accused of having a pathological and unreasonable hatred towards the invaders.

The invaders no longer allow you to enter or leave freely. You cannot enter other rooms in your house. You have to ask permission to use the kitchen or the bathroom and have to live by the invaders’ rules. Your possessions have been confiscated for the use of the invaders and their families, and they start to make changes to the house without asking your permission. More and more rooms are taken and you and your family are living in an ever diminishing area. Occasionally they come into your area, killing and beating up members of your family to try and intimidate you into leaving the house altogether and into stopping your resistance. When you resist peacefully they also beat you up. The invaders also demand that you recognise their right to be there. Because you have no choice and you just want to live in peace in your house even if you are forced to live in one small room, you agree. But now the invaders are escalating their efforts to drive you out of the house completely by any means possible. Essentially they are trying to make your life so unbearable, that you will have no choice but give up on your house completely and go find another home.

This is in a nutshell the story of the Zionist movement, the state of Israel and the Palestinian people.

(The only thing that is missing in this analogy is the pre-meditated and systematic ethnic-cleansing committed by the Israeli forces under the cover of the 1948-1949 war. This involved a deliberate policy to drive as many Palestinians out of Palestine through the destruction of around 500 Palestinian villages, and through massacres, rapes and other forms of intimidation. This policy caused 700,000 Palestinians to be driven out of Palestine and generated the Palestinian refugee problem.)

If a home invasion like this happened here in Australia, there is no doubt whose side the authorities would take. No individual, no matter how persecuted or traumatised would be able to get away with taking someone else’s home. But when it comes to international relations we live in a jungle with no laws, no morality and no justice.

My talk is too short tonight to provide you with a comprehensive historical review but there are a few facts about the history of the conflict that bother me in particular, and that I would like to share with you. And before I start, I would like to emphasise that I rely entirely on Israeli historians. This is because I want to remove any suspicion of anti-Israeli bias.

  • Fact # 1 — The fathers of the Zionist movement were well aware that the land they chose for a Jewish national home was fully populated. As far back as the 1880’s the Zionists discussed the possibility of relocating the Arab inhabitants of Palestine. The idea was that because they were “just peasants” they wouldn’t mind where they lived.

  • Fact # 2 — The Israeli forces in 1948 substantially outnumbered all the Arab forces put together and were much better equipped. This is why they won that war.

  • Fact # 3 — The war of 1948 involved a deliberate and systematic plan of ethnic cleansing. The intention was to ‘cleanse’ the future Jewish state from as many Palestinians as possible. We have documented evidence of this in Israeli archives.

  • Fact # 4 — During the 1948 war the Israeli forces committed a dozen cases of rape that we know about. Usually there were one or two Palestinian girls involved and more than one soldier. In a large proportion of the cases the event ended with murder. It is likely that there were more cases but these are the only ones reported because neither the soldiers nor the victims liked to report these events.

  • Fact # 5 — The Israeli forces committed twenty four massacres. The number of murdered ranged between four or five to a hundred. Operation ‘Hiram’ in the North of Palestine involved a high concentration of executions of people against a wall or next to a well in an orderly manner. Some of the massacres took place even after the end of hostilities.

  • Fact # 6 — In the 1948 war around 500 Palestinian villages were razed to the ground. By the end of the war 700,000 Palestinians were made into refugees as a direct result of the Israeli actions.

Israelis do not learn any of these facts in history classes at school. The official version of history taught in Israeli schools and to Jewish children in Jewish schools around the world including here in Australia glosses over the fact that the land was populated when the Zionists started to colonise it. The official version of history always claims that the Palestinians only have themselves and the bad advice from their leaders to blame for fleeing Palestine. It certainly mentions nothing about rapes, massacres and a systematic plan of ethnic cleansing. Another lie in the official version is that we were the weaker side in the war of 1948, the ‘few against the many’ and that we won the war by miracle. This has more to do with Jewish mythology than it does with real history but that’s what the vast majority of Israelis believe. This is what many non-Jewish Australians believe as well, which shows how successful Zionist propaganda has been in this country.

Thanks to Israeli historians like Avi Shlaim, Benny Morris and Ilan Pappe we are now learning the truth about the birth of the state of Israel and of the conflict with the Palestinian people. I encourage you to read their books if you are interested. As Tanya Reinhardt, an Israeli scholar and journalist says, “A haunted, persecuted people sought to find a shelter and a state for itself, and did so at a horrible price to another people.” Israel’s birth was in sin.

If there is a problem now between Israelis and Palestinians it is a direct outcome of this history and nothing else. Personally I feel disappointed, sad and betrayed for having been told lies upon lies all my life, and for having believed them.

The Psychology of Trauma

I believe that the force that has always driven the Zionist movement and the conflict has more to do with psychology than it does with politics. More specifically it has to do with the psychology of trauma.

The Jewish people are a persecuted people. Many people ask me how it is possible for a people who themselves suffered persecution to persecute another people. Unfortunately, as any trauma psychotherapist will tell you it is much more common in human experience for abused people to pass on their abuse than not to.

Human inflicted trauma can create two different identities or personalities: the ‘Over Responsible’ and the ‘Victim’ personality. Both the victim and the over responsible personalities have a similar emotional experience as a result of trauma:

They both:

  • Tend to see the world and other people as dangerous and frightening

  • Feel out of control and their internal life feels chaotic

  • Have trouble trusting in people

  • Live in constant fear and anxiety

  • Are hypervigilant

  • Tend to personalise everything.

  • Expect the worst

  • Focus on the ‘half empty glass’

  • Are emotionally reactive

  • Tend to overreact

However, there is an important difference in how these two personalities or mentalities handle what they feel.

The over responsible tend to:

Develop a strong inward focus

  • They internalise everything

  • Get depressed as anger and pain are turned inward

  • Respond to fear with self-harming behaviours (e.g., eating disorders)

  • Have an exaggerated, neurotic tendency for reflection and a sense that everything that happens is their fault.

They also suffer from very poor self-esteem

  • They have a ‘doormat’ disposition and will have trouble standing up for themselves out of a feeling of ‘not having a right’.

  • Often feel and behave as unworthy and ‘less than’.

  • Are more likely to get caught up in abusive relationships and to compromise themselves. (‘Battered Wife Syndrome’)

  • Have a passive stance in the world and will often avoid taking action.

  • Avoid conflict and confrontation usually out of fear of upsetting others, and will not feel that they have a right to express anger or frustration to others.

People with a victim mentality tend to:

Have an outward focus

  • Blame outside forces for everything.

  • Can display aggressive and often violent behaviour.

  • Deal with their anger and pain by taking them out on others.

  • Have low tolerance to being challenged or criticised, and will react either with aggression or with playing the ‘poor me’ card.

Have a strong aversion to reflection

  • They do not often go to therapy because good therapy always requires the individual to assume responsibility for themselves. Victims resent this very much.

Display something called ‘destructive entitlement’

  • This is a term from family therapy that means acting as if one’s own suffering gives one permission or right to hurt others.

Have an intense focus on and obsession with survival

  • Have an overdeveloped ‘soldier’ mentality - life is a never ending battle and one cannot afford to rest or be complacent. Regardless of reality, the victim mentality lives as if danger lurks around any corner.

  • Because so much is invested in a fighting mentality, victims can become addicted to adrenaline. This means that aggression has an element of pleasure in it and that it is hard to abandon.

  • Problem-solving is aggressive rather than collaborative or compromising, which often results in the creation of adversarial and explosive situations and relationships.

  • Respond to feeling out of control by becoming quite rigid in their views and behaviours. They have to be right at all cost and they can often be self-righteous and argumentative.

When the Zionists came up with the idea that the Jewish people needed a national home, this was in response to persecution. The single minded and aggressive manner in which they went about achieving this goal is typical of the victim mentality. Their complete lack of humanity towards the indigenous people of Palestine is a perfect example of destructive entitlement.

The Zionists believed and still do that because we have suffered so much, we have a right to do anything to save ourselves regardless of how much suffering we might be causing others. Benny Morris, the Israeli historian I mentioned earlier, said recently in an interview in Ha’aretz, “Preserving my people is more important than universal moral concepts.” He also said: “Even though we are oppressing the Palestinians, we are the weaker side here.” Such views are typical of the attitude of destructive entitlement. Although Israelis do not face any danger to their survival they strongly believe that they do.

The Zionists who were themselves from European background viewed with contempt the European Jewish way of life. They saw themselves as descendants of a weak and pathetic group that was lacking in dignity and self-esteem. They even blamed the victims of the Holocaust for going like “lambs to the slaughter”. They believed that creating a national home and a national identity would earn the Jews a place of respect in the world and would correct the defects in their character.

The Zionists were determined to create a ‘new Jew’. Unfortunately all they managed to do is to shift Jewish people from one end of the spectrum to the other, from the over-responsible end to the victim mentality end. Instead of being meek and passive they became self-righteous, arrogant and militant. The two ends of the spectrum represent two sides of the same coin. The Jewish people of Israel today are no less fearful than the persecuted Jews of Europe were; they just react to it with aggression instead of passivity.

In his book The Iron Wall Avi Shlaim argues that just before the 1967 war,

…the entire nation succumbed to a collective psychosis. The memory of the Holocaust was a powerful psychological force that deepened the feeling of isolation and accentuated the perception of threat. Although, objectively speaking, Israel was much stronger than its enemies, many Israelis felt that their country faced a threat of imminent destruction. For them the question was not about the Straits of Tiran but about survival.

This statement was true for Israel in 1967 and it is still true of Israel today.

Israelis cite extremism and hatred as proof of the threat of annihilation that they believe they are facing. It is true that the fondest desire of one out of every four Palestinian children and youths is to die a martyr at age 18, as the psychiatrist Dr. Iyaad al-Saraj in the Gaza Mental Health Centre, revealed. But this is a new phenomenon, brought about by the occupation. Historically, the Palestinians (and Arabs in general) have had no hatred of the Jews. Antisemitism has always been a European, Christian sickness. Jews, Christians and Muslims have lived together in peace in the Middle East for centuries. Now, Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians is changing that. Dorothy Naor from the Israeli peace group ‘New Profile’ says,

“Israeli policy and conduct is bringing the Palestinians to the time when every Palestinian man, woman, and child will become a freedom fighter, and, further, that present Israeli extremism will encourage Arab extremism.”

Israel’s behaviour is self-defeating and leads to anything but security for its people. Now that you have some understanding of the psychology of trauma you can perhaps see that this is not so mind boggling and that this behaviour is consistent with the victim mentality’s need to live in an adversarial environment. Israel’s leaders may say that they want peace but in reality they are incapable of it. Since they are driven by their trauma, all of their actions will be directed at perpetuating the adversarial environment in which they live.

I am very concerned about the fact that whenever anyone criticises Israel’s actions, Israelis and Jews outside Israel resort to the ‘poor me’ act by bringing up the suicide bombings. Speaking at a memorial for the victims of a Palestinian attack that took place 26 years ago, Israeli Deputy Defense Minister Ze’ev Boim said,

“What is it about Islam as a whole and the Palestinians in particular? Is it some form of cultural deprivation? Is it some genetic defect? There is something that defies explanation in this continued murderousness.

Who is really the more murderous? Since 2002 the Israeli military has killed 10 Palestinians for every 1 Israeli killed by suicide bombings.

Likud Knesset Member Yehiel Hazan agreed with Boim and said

“It’s been a known fact for many years that the Arabs slaughter and murder Jews, without any connection to land. It’s imprinted in their blood. It’s something genetic. I haven’t done research, but there’s no possibility of explaining it differently. You can’t believe an Arab, even one who’s 40 years in his grave.”

Unfortunately, this extremely racist view is shared by many if not most Israelis. Because of a few extremists, Israel portrays the entire Palestinian population as inferior in their morality and as lacking in basic human feelings.

Talking about extremism and suicide bombings, it was not the Palestinians who invented suicide bombings, we, the Jews, did. The Biblical story of Samson tells us so. Israeli children learn the Old Testament as a compulsory part of their primary and secondary education and they all study the story of Samson. Samson, who is referred to in Hebrew as ‘Shimshon Ha’gibor’, meaning ‘Samson the Hero’ pulled down a Philistine temple killing thousands of people. Here is what the Bible says:

Then Samson reached towards the two central pillars on which the temple stood. Bracing himself against them, his right hand on the one and his left hand on the other, Samson said, “Let me die with the Philistines!” Then he pushed with all his might, and down came the temple on the rulers and all the people in it. Thus he killed many more when he died than while he lived. (Judges 16:29-30)

It is not the Biblical story in itself, which you may or may not choose to believe, that is so bad. What is troubling me is that Israeli children learn to admire and revere Samson. They do not learn Samson’s story critically, but are taught to admire him because he inflicted heavy damage on the Philistines, who according to the Bible were oppressing the Jews. What is the difference between this and a suicide bombing?

Israeli children learn that in order to survive it is OK to do anything, because they must never again go ‘like lambs to the slaughter’. When they become soldiers at 18 and learn to oppress and kill Palestinians in the occupied territories, they really believe that what they are doing is OK.

To then accuse the Palestinians of having an inferior moral character because the extremists among them are following the exact same principle, is the height of hypocrisy. Remember that every Israeli is a soldier.

Most people are also not aware that Israeli children are still taught to admire and revere the ‘heroes’ of the ‘Stern Gang’ and the ‘Irgun’, two underground terrorist organisations who fought a dirty war against the British mandate before 1948, killing many civilians. I can still sing the entire anthem of the ‘Stern Gang’ because I learned at school. If methods like suicide bombings are really so abhorrent to Israelis then why are they teaching their children that the Stern Gang terrorists were heroes?

The identity of every Israeli is based on armed struggle and on the use of terrorism, but the Palestinians are not allowed to behave the same way. Once again this ties in with Israel’s victim mentality and their refusal to take responsibility and own up to their own actions, attitudes and shortcomings.

Critics from within Israel understand the hypocrisy of the Israeli government. Yonatan Shapira is a former pilot and operations leader in a squadron of Black Hawk helicopters, a refusenik and one of the initiators of the pilots’ dissenting letter to Ariel Sharon. In a speech he gave at Ben Gurion University in January, he said:

“The fact that buses explode here, does not justify Sharon, Mofaz and Air Force Chief Dan Halutz’s decision to ‘unintentionally’ kill nine children in their sleep, and to sow terror in a population of millions who live under a reign of closures, curfews and checkpoints. A population enclosed by walls and camps, under the guns of an enormous and frightening army, equipped to the teeth with jet-planes which shake the skies, and attack-helicopters who time and again send rockets into cars and into the windows of houses, in crowded and destitute cities.”

In conclusion

Right now Israel is engaging in a policy of ‘ethnic cleansing’ intended to finish the job it started in1948. I believe that the Palestinians are currently facing an urgent danger. This is a view that is expressed daily by the Israeli peace movement itself.

Because what we are dealing with is the psychology of trauma and a victim mentality I believe that it is pointless to try and reason with the Israeli Likud government or to expect them to come to some kind of a compromise.

Success in therapy depends on the motivation of the client and the degree to which the client is prepared to take responsibility. It is very hard to convince someone with a victim mentality that they have to seek help because they are hurting someone else. The tendency towards destructive entitlement causes them to feel no empathy towards their victims, and their actions seem to them to be justified by their own suffering.

Israel’s peace movement does invaluable work in providing news about what is really happening there and in criticising the government and protesting against it. However, the peace movement is not large or powerful enough at this point to influence government policy. Moreover, the Israeli government has recently started to target activists with harassment and intimidation. This betrayal of democratic principles will no doubt further compromise the effectiveness of the Israeli peace movement.

Therefore I believe that just like in cases of domestic violence, the only short term solution lies in outside intervention.

  1. Israel must be forced to withdraw completely from the Occupied Territories,

  2. Dismantle the wall and all the illegal settlements including the large ones, and

  3. Cease all policies and activities that violate the human rights of the Palestinian people.

The world abandoned my people to their fate and now it is abandoning the Palestinians to human rights violations and ethnic cleansing.

Just as international pressure forced South Africa to terminate its Apartheid policy so must Israel be immediately forced to stop the persecution of the Palestinian people. After Israeli state terrorism stops and a peace-keeping force is in place to protect the Palestinians, then we can begin to discuss sustainable long term solutions.

Recommended Reading

Books

  1. Carey, R. (editor). The New Intifada: Resisting Israel’s Apartheid. London: Verso. 2001.

  2. Carey, R. & Shainin, J. (editors). The Other Israel: Voices of Refusal and Dissent. The New Press. 2002.

  3. Davis, U. (2003). Apartheid Israel: Possibilities for the struggle within. London: Zed Books.

  4. Hass, A., Reporting from Ramallah: An Israeli Journalist in an Occupied Land. MIT Press. 2003.

  5. Hass, A., Drinking the Sea at Gaza: Days and Nights in a Land under Siege. Henry Holt & Company. 2000.

  6. Morris, B., The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem Revisited. Cambridge University Press. 2004.

  7. Pappe, I., A History of Modern Palestine: One Land Two Peoples. Cambridge University Press. 2004.

  8. Reinhart, T., Israel/Palestine: How To End the war of 1948. Allen & Unwin. 2002

  9. Shlaim, A., The Iron Wall: Israel and the Arab World. Norton. 2001.

Articles

  1. Lavie, A., ‘Telling left from right’. in Ha’aretz Magazine January 29 2004. http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/388532.html (If article cannot be found on the site you can receive a copy by email through Avigail)

  2. Sarid, Y., ‘My affidavit to the Hague’, in Ha’aretz online in English, 21 January 2004. http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/385165.html (If article cannot be found on the site you can receive a copy by email through Avigail)

  3. Shapira, Y., Speech given at symposium in the Department of Politics and Government at Ben Gurion University. 18 January 2004. (Copies of English translation are available through Avigail by email).

  4. Shavit, A., ‘Survival of the fittest’ (an interview with Benny Morris), in Ha’aretz Daily (online) in English 9 January 2004. (Copies available through Avigail by email)

Websites

  1. Avigail Abarbanel - http://www.avigailabarbanel.me.uk

  2. Courage to Refuse - the website of Israeli soldiers who refuse to serve in the occupied territories http://www.seruv.org.il/english/default.asp

  3. Jews Against Zionism - the website of ultra orthodox Jews who oppose Zionism and the state of Israel http://www.jewsagainstzionism.com/

  4. Arab Jewish Partnership - http://www.taayush.org/

Page content last modified: 22 Sep 2004