To resist is to exist: authors’ response to criticism
In writing ‘To resist is to exist’,1 we were motivated by the conviction that what is happening in Palestine can only be sustained in the dark. Reactions to the article seem to bear this out. Much hostility was directed at the editors for having allowed the material to appear, and there was pressure to withdraw it from the website.
- In writing ‘To resist is to exist’,1 we were motivated by the conviction that what is happening in Palestine can only be sustained in the dark. Reactions to the article seem to bear this out. Much hostility was directed at the editors for having allowed the material to appear, and there was pressure to withdraw it from the website. Fine, Goitein et al2 argued that the article contravened BACP ethical guidelines, though the extracts they quoted referred to professional relationships with clients, and were not intended to police debate amongst colleagues. However, the argument about neutrality has been repeatedly misused to stifle debate, and requires a fuller response.Our profession is not blandly ‘neutral’ in the face of abuse, or the misuse of power. We cannot think of any report on the treatment of those who have suffered terror, torture, racism, or sexual abuse, where the clinician has been neutral about the circumstances in which the damage took place. There is now an extensive literature on the treatment of first, second and third generation Holocaust survivors: it is inconceivable that the work reported there could have been therapeutic if the clinicians had been in denial about the facts of the Nazi genocide or neutral in relation to those facts.Some readers were dismayed that our article had nothing to say about the suffering of Israelis as victims of Palestinian violence. There was a sense that this was needed to provide a ‘balanced’ coverage of the conflict. This, we believe, reflects an ‘us’ and ‘them’ approach that is very much part of the problem, and which we think is reflected in the article that has now been published describing the psychological consequences of the rocket attacks launched from Gaza on people living in the Israeli town of Sderot.3
We ourselves argued that the conflict had a damaging effect on Israelis as well as Palestinians, and were criticised for doing so. The article about Sderot does surprise us – indeed it is shocking – not in revealing that Israelis suffer, but in the context in which this suffering is implied to take place and the conclusions which readers are invited to draw from it. David Bedein provides no history, no background, nothing that could invest the situation with any meaning, leaving us to see simply an evil enemy intent on instilling fear and terror into innocent civilians. His article makes more, not less urgent, a thorough debate into the nature of this conflict. This might open up, to the residents of Sderot itself perhaps, some questioning as to who and what it is that had denied them peace and security after all these years.
The details of what is perpetrated on a daily basis against the Palestinians, and of what has been perpetrated against them for decades, ought to be cause for a national outcry. (Jeff Halper, mentioned in our original piece, was recently arrested for trying to stop the wanton destruction of wells and irrigation pipes on Palestinian land). Instead, talking about the injustice and cruelty causes an outcry. How can this be? And how is it that there are such powerful groups in Britain, and a significant number of members of our profession, who want the truth about this to be suppressed? Bedein’s article provides one approach to answering these questions.
Our profession depends on the human capacity to imagine others’ interior lives. To be able to do so is a human characteristic, and individual health and, collectively, peace and civilisation are sustained by it. All that is written of the suffering of the people of Sderot must be true of the people of Gaza – magnified in scale, deprived of the infrastructure of care and the freedom to move elsewhere enjoyed by the people of Sderot. But we are not concerned here with some competitive victimisation – ‘they’re suffering more than you are’ – but in pointing out the absence in the article of any sign of an empathic interest in why people are sending these rockets. The author uncritically reports Dr Katz’s finding that her clients were less anxious and traumatised during the ‘Gaza war’, as this had finally given them the sense that they were being cared for and protected. (The concept ‘optimistic anxiety’ surely deserves unravelling further into its component parts here.) He repeats without comment the views of Sderot residents who ‘do not believe that the operation brought about complete nor lasting change as it was finished halfway’. What would it have meant to ‘complete the job’? To find, perhaps one could say, a final solution?
To put it like this will again offend: but then what response will not? Some will think we are wrong to make any links to the horrors of the 1940s. Actually we think the reference is there, hidden, in Bedein’s article. In Israeli discourse, parallels between the Holocaust and the conflict with the Palestinians are made with dispiriting frequency. What we want is to provoke thought about a situation that is happening this very minute and is ongoing, in which some Israeli lives will be lost and many, many more Palestinians will die. In the course of reviewing the psychoanalytic literature on the conflict, we came across an inspiring article by Elaine Schwager based on her work with groups of second generation Holocaust survivors and the children of German Nazis. She found that both are prone to be locked into a ‘dualistic’ or ‘genocidal mentality’ that, unresolved, leads to cross-generational re-enactment:
‘Survivors often experienced their victimization as a central part of their identity. They felt understandably justified in this innocence and so felt as well justified and outraged at the other’s evil and inhumanity. While these feelings are understandable and justified in light of the victim’s experience, the entrenchment in this stance cements the dualistic state of mind, the splitting of evil and good between self and other, and aborts and derails the development of the symbolic reflective process that might help integrate the self by seeing the consequent negative in clinging to this stance. Those who have suffered and lost so much are often reluctant to reflect on the darker side of themselves, the side that may in the present also be responsible for hurting others or themselves… If one can designate what is evil and eliminate it one has a better chance of ensuring one’s safety. There is little awareness that it is this clear drawing of lines that in part contributed to the horror.’4
Are Bedein’s article, and the outlook of the residents of Sderot that he describes, an example of this dualistic mentality? We suggest that it is not necessarily the result of direct cross-generational transmission, but possibly a consequence of being socialised into an ideological framework which has internalised and entombed these defensive reactions to trauma, and made them a condition of group membership and a foundation of personal identity.
We do not know in what sense Bedein is a ‘community organisation mental health practitioner’: elsewhere he describes himself professionally as a ‘journalist with community organisation training’.5 As a journalist (and director of a news agency since 1987) he has been prolific though not, as far as we could tell, writing anything previously with a community focus, nothing to do with mental health. He has consistently promoted a right wing Zionist political agenda, opposing in principle the establishment of a Palestinian state,6 while describing the 20 per cent of Israel’s citizens who are Palestinian as ‘traitors’ and a ‘fifth column’ for not endorsing the Zionist vision of a Jewish state7 (as if they could).
Irwin Mansdorf, whose analysis of our article Bedein commends, is at least a psychologist. He too is a prolific writer whose published views might also be analysed as an expression of a ‘dualistic mentality’.8 While putting great emphasis on citing only scientifically researched findings in the mental health field, he approvingly repeats the view that ‘anti-Israel sentiment “consistently predicts” the probability that an individual is also anti-Semitic’.9 Matt McAllister, reporter for Global Post, sought his views on the political situation after the war on Gaza: ‘Mansdorf holds some views that many Palestinians would see as evidence that even the psychologist finds it hard put himself in the seat of the person opposite. He refers to “the Arab self-destructive mentality” and believes that there is “some logic” to some of the ideas of the assassinated Rabbi Meir Kahane, a former member of the Israeli Parliament who advocated driving Palestinians out of Israel and the Palestinian Territories.’10
Sophie Waterhouse argues that the conflict in Palestine was an appropriate one for Therapy Today, ‘because there are deep psychological forces at play in maintaining the conflict, as well as deep psychological damage being inflicted through the occupation’.11 We would want to add a third element: that the silence surrounding the issue, its absence from public spaces, the anxiety and fear that attend attempts to talk about it, the intensity of the hostile reaction to those who do, all suggest the presence of psychological forces here in Britain which, to date, have served to diminish our capacity to face the truth of our collective collusion in the dispossession of the Palestinians.
We believe that security and peace are dependent not on the destruction of ‘the enemy’ but on the respect of human rights, international law, and social justice, on ethical values that form the basis of our profession, on moving on from racism and dreams of ethnic exclusivity. A group of counsellors and therapists is being formed, with members from BACP as well as other organisations, to maintain an ongoing discussion about the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, to raise awareness about it within the profession and to consider whether there are further initiatives that could be undertaken.
If anyone is interested in finding out more, they can contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org
- References:1. Kemp M, Pinto E. To resist is to exist. Therapy Today. 2009; 20(2):11-15.
2. Fine J, Gotein S. Not the place for politics. Therapy Today. 2009; 20(4):45-6.
3. Bedein D. Trauma: the unreported casualty of war. Therapy Today. 2009; 20(5):16-19.
4. Schwager E. Transforming dualism and the metaphor of terror, Part II: From genocidal to dialogic mentality: an intergenerational struggle. Psychoanalytic Review. 2004; 91:543-589.
7. Bedein D. Israel’s fifth column. FrontPageMagazine.com. March 16 2007.
8. Details of Mansdorf’s other writings can be found at www.spme.net/cgi-bin/speakers.cgi?ID=42&Mode=showall
9. Mansdorf I. Anti-semitism lives among academics. The Jewish Week (New York). April 13 2007.
10. McAllister M. Putting Israel on the couch. GlobalPost. February 4 2009.
11. Waterhouse S. Failure of empathy. Therapy Today. 2009; 20(4):46.