Reflections on Trauma and the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict
Tuesday, December 4, 2012
Reflections on Trauma and the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict
Recently one of our women’s groups went through their second training on the subject of trauma. In our previous trauma conference we focused on family trauma, losses in our communities, and factors necessary for healing. In this follow-up conference, we discussed domestic and intergenerational aspects of trauma. Domestic trauma is a subject many of us are aware of due to media and public awareness initiatives, but intergenerational trauma is something that was new to many of us. Intergenerational trauma, otherwise known as complex, historical or ancestral trauma is a relatively new focus within psychology that deals with the experience of violence suffered by a group of people that is then passed on to successive generations.
At first, it was difficult for me to understand why we needed to address both these areas of trauma, as I failed to grasp the relevance of domestic trauma to reconciliation in an intergroup forum. Yet, as the conference went on, the more I understood as the similarities between domestic and intergenerational trauma were explained.
In the context of our conflict, there are two main causes of intergenerational trauma: first, the trauma that Israelis and Palestinians have suffered due to external perpetrators, respectively; and second, the trauma Israelis and Palestinians have caused each other. The external sources of Palestinian trauma were caused by Ottoman oppression and British Colonialism, particularly in the aftermath of the Arab Revolt of 1936. The Israelis, on the other hand, have suffered intergenerational trauma as a result of anti-Semitism, carried out through a history of discrimination, pogroms, and most notably, during the Holocaust. Domestically, Israelis suffer from trauma due to the cycles of terror attacks carried out by Palestinians. Palestinians suffer domestic trauma as a result of the Israeli occupation and military attacks by Israelis. Both sides cause and continue trauma against the other.
The patterns of violence are reflective of those of domestic abuse.
Abuse is when the perpetrator commits an act of verbal or physical violence. On a collective or national level, violence ranges from intimidation to murder. The occupation, the separation wall, land confiscation, terror attacks and kidnapping soldiers are only a few examples of abuses in our context.
Guilt occurs when the perpetrator feels guilty, but not because of what they have done. They are generally more concerned with the possibility of being caught. On a collective level, the perpetrator tries to reinforce a sense of shame. Both the Israelis and the Palestinians claim that the other kills innocent children and women, and try to shame the other.
Excuses are when the perpetrator rationalizes what they have done. They may come up with a string of justifications for their behavior, or blame the other for their own abusive behavior – anything to avoid taking responsibility. On a collective level, the idea of who to blame is utilized to excuse the use of violence. Israel takes certain military measures because it has the right to defend itself from Palestinian attacks. On the other hand, the Palestinian militia groups hold the same claim to justify retaliation to Israeli military attacks. Both point fingers at the other, and thus excuse their own use of violence.
“Normal” behavior is when the perpetrator may act as if nothing has happened, or may try to be charming. In domestic trauma, this is often the phase where the spouse hopes that the abusive partner has changed. At the intergenerational, collective level, there will always be denial and minimization of acts of violence, even when discussing atrocities such as genocide. The sporadic news about peace negotiations or slogans for peace taking place in between each cycle gives Palestinians and Israelis a sense of normalcy
Fantasy and planning are when the perpetrator spends a lot of time thinking about what the other has done wrong and how to make them pay. Then they make a plan for turning fantasy of abuse into reality. On a collective level, the perpetrator plans the type and level of attack based on a range of factors. Palestinians claim that the Israeli occupation has enforced a siege on Gaza since 2006 and the only way to fight is through rockets and missiles. The Israelis, on the other hand, claim that Hamas has been launching thousands of rockets threatening the safety of its residents and Israel has the right to defend itself.
Set-up is when the perpetrator may try to make the other look like they have done something wrong and then the perpetrator puts their plan into motion, creating a situation where they can justify re-abusing. On a collective level, the idea of who and what to blame will be planned even before violent acts take place. Both the Israelis and the Palestinians are quick to blame each other for the violent acts, thus leaving no other choice but to have another cycle of violence.
The violence, murder and suffering of innocent Palestinians and Israelis taking place as a result of the recent outbreak in Gaza and Israel is another cycle of abuse compounding the past cycles of violence. Each side tries to shift the blame on the other side. And each side attempts to claim moral superiority in order to bring shame to the other side's method of fighting. Both sides will claim that the timing and the force of the attacks have been planned ahead to serve many political or personal interests. All this causes and maintains a cycle of systematic trauma to both Palestinians and Israelis.
These same elements are reiterated on social media channels where individuals feel the need to express themselves, and their support, disapproval and/or opposition of each side. Pictures and information are passed on as evidence making it easier to take sides. People seem to get sucked into pointing fingers of blame at the other side, and a sense of division becomes more vocal.
At the same time, there are also voices that are calling for an alternative viewpoint. One Palestinian wrote:
Are we [Palestinian and Israelis] both doing the same mistake, watching and listening to the media that is making us look only at our people? I hope not. I have done that and making sure only my people are doing well and praying only for them. I am sorry I did that. I am sending the message over the walls with no rockets attached to tell you I pray for you and for the people in Israel and for your leaders as well as mine. Let us all speak out for the light that we have needs to shine in these dark moments.
An Israeli wrote:
In this time of trials and tribulations, let us not lose sight of what Jesus came to the earth to teach us and that is Love… Only God's love can teach us how to love and forgive our enemies, even if they trample you under their feet. We know that we abide in this love when the moment an act of hatred is thrown at you, you turn the other cheek… I pray that the Lord shows all of us what love really means through His eyes and that He brings comfort to those with shattered hearts.
I have learned that there are many causes of trauma, and that trauma functions on its own cycle. Just as domestic violence carries with it a lot of abuse, so does the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Do we need to wait for our leaders to stop this cycle? Or can we be the voice in the wilderness – in the midst of the conflict – that calls our peoples to repentance, redemption, and reconciliation? We want to be agents of hope to our people, and we want to anchor those who are suffering and hurting. We remember the words of the Psalmist who wrote “Though you have made me see troubles many and bitter, you will restore my life again; from the depths of the earth you will again bring me up. You will increase my honor and comfort me once more” (Psalm 71:20-21). We believe that our present conflict and suffering is not the end, as it says in Proverbs, “Do not let your heart envy sinners, but always be zealous for the fear of the Lord. There is surely a future hope for you, and your hope will not be cut off” (Proverbs 23:17-18). It is this future hope we strive for, and we ask for your continued prayers for peace and restoration during this troubled time.