Monday’s schedule was kind to the few of us in Gail Murphy’s group. We left behind the visible destruction, pain and suffering and found ourselves among people determined to restore hope to the children of Gaza. These adults were not without their own stories and opinions, but it seems they have found a way to funnel their frustration into more positive energy rather than merely looking for blame.
I was mostly fascinated by Hassan Zyada, a psychologist who directs the Gaza Community Mental Health Program in Gaza. We met with him and Husam al Nono in one of the several centers they operate in Gaza City. Dr. Zyada suggested the siege of Gaza is a psychologically immature attempt to solve problems, and it is not in Israel’s best interest because all it does is create new enemies.
He gave us an introduction by explaining how a void forms in the lives of children whose parents cannot provide for and protect them. The resulting loss of trust and/or respect ultimately leads many to identify with religious fanatics and/or the fighters who possess weapons. But the key point here as I understood it is not that more young Palestinians will become jihadists. Rather, the next generation of politicians will be driven into the immature fantasy that he believes the Israeli politicians are trapped in. In psychological terms he said they are displacing and projecting their tragic past onto innocent victims.
Like everyone we spoke to, Dr. Zyada told us that the Palestinian people have no problem with the Jewish people. It is the actions by Israeli government and military that they oppose. His also applied this psycho-political diagnosis of Israel’s politicians to George W. Bush. Hamas wasn’t mentioned in this context, but it seemed he believes their rise to power originated in the hopelessness and powerlessness of the children who threw rocks at the Israeli soldiers during the first and second intifadas.
Rationalization was another element of Dr. Zyada’s analysis. It is his opinion that the Israeli leadership prefers to stereotype all Palestinians as terrorists, or at least potential terrorists, to avoid emotionally engaging in guilt. It’s a form of denial which helps them justify their decisions which resulted in the death of hundreds or thousands of innocent people.
This is where President Obama seems to be at least partly stuck despite the words in his speech in Cairo this past Friday. His refusal to go to Gaza and see the suffering of the Palestinians people originates from political necessity. He has chosen to view Hamas through the convenience of stereotypes even as he declared we must end such thinking. It allows him to hide from America’s collective guilt for this and other conflicts around the world.
These seem to be relatively simple ideas, but we never really bring any substantive psychology into discussions about our political leaders. It is perhaps because we too are psychologically immature at times. We want immediate solutions and are often appeased by temporary measures such as cease fires and treaties that never advance beyond their initial stage. Peace and reconciliation are long processes that will be compromised when we project the true urgency of these conflicts into relatively simple solutions. While the need is real, we must also anticipate the work will not end in our lifetime.
In his final conclusion, Dr. Zyada proposed the only psychological long term solution between Israel and Palestine is one state where Jews and Muslims live side by side. The two state solution may be the necessary first step to getting there, but he believes it's not likely to bring an end the animosity between Israel and Palestine. Only integration can accomplish that, and it should be the vision of the future.
I think Dr. Zyada offers us a courageous analysis if for no other reason that it won’t be popular among either politicians or the public at large. There is too much work involved and no immediate measurable results.
But absent such a deeply probing approach we will be left with a future in which we recycle the mistakes of the past. We’ll elect politicians who cannot admit the harm they have caused to whole populations of people. Just as Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has done for the "the stolen generations" of Australia's aboriginal people, we as a collective whole will leave it to future generations to apologize for the actions of our generation.
As a society we’ve come a long way by recognizing the role of psychology in understanding our personal struggles. We’ve come even farther in accepting the essential nature of mental health counseling for victims and for understanding how past trauma contributes to criminal behavior. Shouldn’t it be the means to search for the collective insights we need sustain healthy international relationships? Maybe it’s time we insist that our leaders engage in psychological therapy since the decisions they make affect the entire planet.
writer's note: It is Sunday morning as I reflect on my trip to Gaza. I had hoped to post a day by day account of while I was there, but our schedule was too full. Over the next several days I hope to collect my thoughts and share more of about my experience in Gaza.