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Israel's Trauma Psychology and Gaza

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    Israel s Trauma Psychology and the Attack on Gaza Avigail Abarbanel 5 January 2009 http://www.avigailabarbanel.me.uk/gaza-2009-01-04.html One of the things
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      Israel's Trauma Psychology and the Attack on Gaza
      Avigail Abarbanel
      5 January 2009
      http://www.avigailabarbanel.me.uk/gaza-2009-01-04.html


      One of the things that is not being discussed much in the media is how
      much talk there is in Israel about attacking Iran. Word on the
      (Israeli) street is that an air attack on Iran's nuclear reactors is
      imminent.

      Israel has been itching for a `good war' for a while now. The botched
      attack on Lebanon in 2006 was a psychological disappointment that did
      not fulfil its purpose, and only led to a deepening chasm between the
      political and military arms in Israel. An Israeli friend told me in
      disgust the other day, that there is an atmosphere of `national
      orgasm' in Israel about the prospect of attacking Iran. While people
      are being bombed in Gaza, all Israelis can talk about is the coming
      attack on Iran. But there is a link between the two.

      Israel's social problems have grown exponentially over the past 15
      years. It's a very different Israel now than the one I grew up in.
      There is more violent and organised crime than ever before, and more
      domestic violence and abuse of children than ever. There are more
      drugs and drug use, and they have drink-driving, something I have
      never encountered while I was still living there. This is reflected in
      official reports as well as in the daily newspapers. My brother who
      lives in Israel described to me how soldiers who spend their military
      service in the Occupied Palestinian territories implementing Israel's
      brutal occupation, come home on weekends only to get involved in
      drunken armed brawls and murders. This was unheard of in my time.

      Israelis have never been particularly kind to each other. It's one of
      the reasons I left actually. In my late twenties I started to grow
      weary of the unkind, harsh and unforgiving atmosphere around me. It
      was a tough place to live in not because of our `enemies' but because
      of how people treated one another. You would believe that we were all
      enemies rather than people who have some kind of a shared heritage.
      The only thing that could unite people and temporarily brought out
      more kindness and a sense of cooperation was a feeling of being under
      collective threat, and in particular a `good wholesome war'. I lived
      through the war of 1967 and the national euphoria it generated, and
      the 1973 `Yom Kippur' war and the attrition war that followed. During
      the time of the invasion of Lebanon in 1982 I was a soldier myself. My
      last war in Israel was the 1991 Gulf war, when an Iraqi Scud missile
      landed only a few metres from my apartment building in Ramat-Gan near
      Tel-Aviv.

      I remember well the atmosphere before, during and after wars. These
      were the best times. You could feel a change in the air. People seemed
      to have a renewed sense of purpose. Even long-standing family or
      neighbourly feuds were put aside, and everyone helped everyone. There
      was more patience and we children were picked on a lot less. Although
      I was scared of wars I remember also feeling excited. It helped that
      we all believed the myth that all of our wars were of the `milchemet
      ein breira' type — `no choice wars'. The kind that was imposed on us
      and that we `reluctantly' had to get involved in, and only in self
      defence. We also believed in `tohar ha'neshek' — `purity of arms',
      that is the myth that our soldiers always act honourably and only kill
      when they have no choice and never unarmed civilians. We were always
      the `good guys' in all our collective stories, which of course added
      to the general fuzzy patriotic feeling.

      Israel and perhaps the rest of the world too, refuse to see that
      Israel's problems are a direct result of deep-seated Jewish trauma and
      its consequences. Israel's response to trauma was to arm itself to the
      teeth, and to become an incredibly aggressive country while
      perpetuating inside and out the myth of victimhood and goodness. As a
      psychotherapist I recognise this reaction to trauma. Some people who
      have been traumatised respond to it by becoming very powerful and very
      frightening. This is a reaction to having been hurt, and a response to
      the desire to never be hurt again.

      Unfortunately this isn't a good or wholesome way to live. This is a
      way of life that perpetuates inner conflicts, leads to isolation and
      invites animosity from others. It's hard to spread good will and
      kindness in the world when one's inner world is based on an
      adversarial foundation. What is true for individuals can also be true
      for whole societies. Israel had a chance to heal its traumatised
      Jewish past but instead chose to perpetuate the trauma and pass it on
      to subsequent generations. The very creation of the state of Israel is
      a reaction to trauma. If you understand the dynamic of trauma and the
      solutions people try to find to it you can understand why Israel's
      existence has always been fraught with trouble. The fact that Israel
      has never used its education system and national institutions to
      facilitate healing from trauma is sad but not unusual. Trauma becomes
      so much a part of the sufferer's identity, that to heal means to
      change the very foundation of who you are, something most people, let
      alone entire cultures are rarely prepared to do.

      Many Israelis who have left, have done so for the same reason I did.
      We were all searching for a calmer, kinder way of life, where people
      could be friendly and helpful to one another rather than nasty and
      suspicious. It's hard to leave one's home but if home is so harmful
      you just have to do it because the personal cost of staying is higher
      than the cost of the grief over losing your home.

      This latest vicious war crime that is unfolding in Gaza and the
      increasing talk about attacking Iran are a response to yet another
      turn in the cycle of Israel's collective trauma. Trauma always follows
      a cyclical dynamic. It's hard to live with it, with the constant fear
      and mistrust. It's exhausting and demoralising and it can take up
      every bit of energy you have to just get up in the morning and get on
      with your daily tasks. People can go on for a while like this, somehow
      coping from day to day. But things inevitably come to a head and life
      becomes unmanageable. This is usually a familiar enough point in the
      cycle and the sufferer would often think `Oh, no, not again...' At
      those times people desperately search for something, some kind of
      temporary solution to relieve the suffering, a new diet perhaps, a new
      job, renovations, or a war. This is often accompanied by a desperate
      belief that this time they will find the ultimate solution to
      everything, and all will be well after that. I think Israelis really
      believe that if they can crush Hamas in Gaza, all their problems will
      be solved and they will live happily ever after free from Qassam
      rockets or any kind of Palestinian resistance. The question of the
      future of the Palestinians doesn't even come into it. When one suffers
      trauma, one's thinking is always short-term and self-centred. The
      focus is always on one's own short-term survival.

      Trauma is often accompanied by denial and people spend their lives
      looking for solutions outside themselves. In aggressive and violent
      responses to trauma people will believe that it is `that person' or
      `that group' that is causing their problem, and will try to do
      something to hurt or eliminate them. People eventually come to therapy
      when they have tried everything and realise that outside measures
      cannot solve their problem, that there may be something about
      themselves that they have to fix. Unfortunately not many of the
      aggressive types come to therapy. Many of them end up in jail instead.
      People with unhealed trauma can be destructive to others but
      ultimately they are living an unsustainable life and are
      self-destructive. Many of the measures that they will adopt throughout
      their lifetime will be counter-productive and will end up hurting them
      just as much as they hurt others.

      Israel has kept the Palestinians as an ongoing `problem' so that they
      have someone to blame each time their trauma reaches its cyclical
      unmanageable point. If Israel wanted to solve its problem with the
      Palestinians it could have done so a long time ago. It could start by
      acknowledging the ethnic cleansing of 1948, then offering a right of
      return and compensation to the refugees in compliance with UN
      resolution 194 from December 1948, and that would be it. But to do
      that Israel would have to compromise its racist and undemocratic dream
      of being an exclusively Jewish state. And being an exclusively Jewish
      state is in itself a reaction to Jewish trauma. It is based on the
      simple idea that Jews are not safe with non-Jews and therefore need a
      state of their own where they can live separately and therefore
      safely. But to give up on this dream would require a complete
      re-evaluation of Jewish and Israeli identity and belief system. People
      would have to stop believing that the world is bad for Jews and Jews
      are only safe with one another. This means questioning some of the
      most fundamental principles of Jewish faith and culture. Such a
      process of questioning will inevitably start Israel on a path of
      healing and will also mean that Israel will have to find another way
      of being that does not involve an adversarial view of the world and
      perpetual war. I don't think Israel is ready for that. Healing is
      something that sadly, few people are prepared to do and I guess the
      same goes for entire societies.

      But fighting the Palestinians has become very ugly over the years. The
      world is making a fuss about it, the Palestinians are fighting back
      and this ongoing war against civilians is demoralising and breaking
      the spirit of Israeli soldiers and having a negative effect on their
      entire society. This `solution' or way of coping with the trauma (i.e.
      keeping the Palestinians as an enemy) is backfiring. So instead of
      solving the problem, Israel is looking for another bigger and more `
      legitimate' war that is far less complicated. A war that all Israelis
      can agree on and be excited about, and that will once again unite the
      people and offer an uplifting relief from the daily effort of Israeli
      existence.

      From a military perspective Israeli leaders always follow the
      principle of trying to `kill two birds with one stone'. I believe that
      the attack on Gaza is serving two purposes. It is trying to break
      Palestinian resistance but it is also an attempt to provoke Iran into
      doing something, anything that can be used as a pretext for attacking
      the nuclear plants there, and who knows what else. Israel cannot
      afford to just go to Iran and attack with no real `excuse', and Bush's
      tired rhetoric about Iran's nuclear capabilities and potential threat
      is wearing thin as Bush is on his way out. Obama is yet an unknown
      quality to Israel so they think they have to find a way to do it
      themselves with or without the US. That's why Israel has refused the
      call for a ceasefire in Gaza. They have a clear plan that they are
      intent on following no matter what the human cost is, and this is just
      as much about psychological warfare as it is about guns and bombs. It
      is a horrible thought but the Palestinians are and always have been
      just pawns in the vicious dynamic of Israeli/Jewish trauma. They don't
      otherwise really matter to Israelis. Most Israelis have always had
      trouble seeing the Palestinians as human beings like them and I
      believe that they do not care about the suffering they are causing
      them. If they did they would behave differently.

      The longer they drag the air attacks on Gaza, the more furious the
      world and the Arab world in particular is going to be, and this is
      exactly what Israel is trying to achieve. Drag it on until everyone is
      completely exasperated and then start a ground attack that might just
      be the tipping point for Iran. Then Israel could attack Iran,
      something it has been planning to do for years, and say that it is
      exercising its `right for self-defence'. The world can't stand up to
      that argument even when we are dealing with a few rockets from Gaza
      that hardly dent Israel, let alone when it comes to a properly
      organised country with its own armed forces like Iran. Israel's claim
      for self-defence will appear completely plausible.

      The psychology of trauma is treacherous and filled with inner
      contradictions. It is precisely why the world must intervene
      decisively in the Palestinian/Israeli conflict: to save the
      Palestinians from Israel and the Israelis from themselves, and
      possibly spare us all a much bigger war. Without mature, assertive and
      clear-thinking intervention this cycle of trauma and the violence it
      breeds will continue until one day it will exhaust itself because
      enough people will have died, or a final blow will have been cast
      somewhere by someone, from which there will be no return.

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