Trauma is at the root of the violence in Israel-Palestine

How do you even begin to unravel the political, social, humanitarian mess that is the travesty in Israel-Palestine? The roots go back to before there was an Israel or a Palestine, they go back even before Britain redrew the map of the Middle East, a region that it had conquered and colonised. The roots go back to the origins of the three Abrahamic religions and their traditional enmities, they go back to a history of vicious and inhuman antisemitism, of the persecution of the Jewish people, particularly in Europe, which led most brutally and inhumanely to the Nazi death camps and the genocide that terrorised and traumatised a people.

The roots of Israel go back to a political idea, itself rooted in left liberal thought, to create a homeland for a persecuted people, the Zionist project, which eventually and seemingly poetically found its home in the land surrounding Jerusalem, the biblical home of the Jewish religion and its followers, a home which came at a cost to those already living in that land, creating disputes over land and rights that continue to this day. Such disputes are difficult to pin down in terms of rights, ethnicity, culture and religion and there are seemingly intractable arguments on both sides. It is difficult, maybe even impossible to get absolute answers to these questions that all can agree on.

But what is undeniable is that Palestinians were displaced in great numbers after the second world war and the right of return denied to many of them. What is indisputable is that Egypt, Jordan and Syria went to war with Israel and that Israel dominated this deadly exchange with a military assault that ended the war in six days, that ever since, Israel has been flouting UN resolution 242 on the illegal acquisition of land through war. The motivations and reasons for the conflict are disputed, but what most reasonable people on all sides would agree on is that peace is preferable to war. So how has this region come to be so fixated on war as a way of life?

Many reasons are given for the intensity of the conflict in the wider Middle East. In the most pragmatic analysis, it is said that the industrial world’s hunger for oil keeps the area in a state of perpetual conflict to allow the world’s dominant countries to extract fossil fuels at a cheaper price. But how cheap is the price when it is paid in blood? Oil does not seem a strong enough motivating factor.

Others say it is, as I have mentioned, the traditional enmity of the Abrahamic religions; three cousins, who share a common God, arguing viciously and murderously for the right to claim He favours them. This is more plausible and, in the light of the advances in scientific knowledge and philosophical thought to this human process of self-awareness since the European Enlightenment (itself rooted in Middle Eastern thought and subsequently evolved and enriched by multicultural knowledge from all parts of the globe), it seems that such musings on imaginary, and distinctly different representations of divinity should have been consigned to history.

In truth, though the worship of deities and the differing dogma of religious books, particularly patriarchal religious books, with their pronouncements on women and sexual behaviour, is deeply problematic, revealing systemic faults that cannot be justified in the civil and ethical framework that most would acknowledge forms part of our evolution as a world society, their existence is not enough to convince me of a motivating factor that would produce the horrors we are seeing on all sides in this region.

For, while the American-backed military might of Israel and its determination to continue to allow flagrant breaches of United Nations resolutions in invading the fragmented remnants of Palestinian land is abominable, and is rightly condemned, what such brutality has created in Gaza and surrounding pockets is a traumatised, nihilistic group of people whose seething hatred of Israel has intensified into becoming an even greater threat to the Israeli people than it was before the first intifada.

And it is here where we have the root of the problem, fixed very much in the present. That root is psychological trauma. This is trauma rooted in childhood abuse, the abuse that is a direct result of war and psychological brutalisation. The abuse that so many Jewish children faced after the second world war. A psychological trauma that has not been acknowledged or dealt with by those who went on to found the state of Israel and who now execute its domestic and foreign policy. It is an abuse that is now affecting millions of children throughout the war-torn regions of the Middle East. This trauma is what causes violence to be perpetuated and expressed as the only manifestation of that pain that is superficially acceptable.

To look into the roots of that trauma in each individual is a much harder course of action, but one that society is beginning to acknowledge is the only route to healing. As such, there is cause for optimism, we are aware that there is a way to resolve that trauma and drastically reduce the manifestations of hatred and violence. We have scientific and medical solutions to heal that trauma. Underneath the trauma, underneath the violence, the hatred and the anger, is pain, and underneath that pain is grief, an unexpressed grief, a grief that has been submerged under layers of more socially acceptable expressions, such as hatred, anger and violence.

But, for every violent expression of that grief, there are also those who express that grief through depression and other forms of psychological self-harm. The crisis in Gaza, in Iraq, in Afghanistan, in Congo, in Sudan and so many other violently afflicted regions has produced unimaginable human suffering, not just physical suffering, or the existential suffering of losing homes and struggling to find food and shelter, but the emotional suffering of familial loss, of losing loved ones, the emotional suffering of being dehumanised, humiliated and unacknowledged.

It makes no difference to the child if the dehumanising has a political motive, as was the case with Nazism, or whether it is the result of an already dehumanised and traumatised people being placed in a hostile region that was traditionally seen as their religious home (hostile, it must be underlined, as a result of an inhuman displacement of people, the Palestinians, who themselves had lives and hopes and dreams brutally taken away from them). The resultant trauma, the effect on the emotional body is the same, the same confusion, the same grief, the same attempt to accommodate such pain.

The anger and hatred that often grows out of that pain is the same no matter how that trauma was caused. And violence affects all in the same way, we all cut, we all bleed. How can we as a human society that has developed such knowledge of our physiology and psychology, the evidence of pathology, not be capable of finding a way out of this cycle of trauma and violence?

The knowledge is there and it is time now that we deal with the here and now, that we begin to see, not Palestinian, or Israeli, or Iraqi, or Afghani, or Congolese children, not to distinguish these from American or British or French children, but to see only children, children who need the help of those who are able and willing to heal, to show compassion, to show love and understanding. As much as the active qualities of protection, action and construction are needed more than ever, we need to allow a re-emergence of the qualities of nurturing and being.

It is a strange coincidence that doctors and scientists in Israel are part of the growing wave of psychedelic therapy that is beginning to emerge after years of prohibition and negative propaganda. The scientific research with MDMA in a therapeutic setting with those suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder gives great cause for hope. But before such controversial healing modalities are even considered, the blame game of who started what and when, of who is the good guy and who is the bad guy must be transcended and the priority of healing all trauma must be prioritised.

We must arrive at a stage where we recognise that, while there are those on all sides who see violence as a method to achieve power and a sense of justice, often that is itself a sign of trauma. Of course, such violent and dominant people will be the last to acknowledge that their methods are pathological. But it does seem that the world, the human nation, that is becoming self aware as an organism, is beginning to recognise this. At some point – soon I hope – that recognition will lead to the kind of pressure that will produce a change in emphasis, from a search for rightness, to a determination to heal and live interdependent lives that manifest human potential in harmonious ways. A person who has their pathologies – no matter how slight or intense – processed and resolved, is a human being that naturally harmonises with their surroundings.

The challenge is to enter into the intensity of a conflict region that has such media attention and to find a resolution. Creating a healing paradigm to deal with the psychological trauma (particularly in children) will not instantly solve the conflict between the Israeli and Palestinian people, but it will go some way to lowering the tension and the violence and allowing true dialogue and true empathic and compassionate communication to take place and to sow seeds of health and self-esteem and laughter and love that will benefit all in the long term.

In doing so, a psychological and humanitarian template may be created that can be used, not just in the many conflict regions of the world, but which can also be brought into the many multinational corporations currently dominated by pathological executives, who are expressing their trauma in another form of violence, the ecological destruction of habitat for profit. The connections are there, we just need to find a way for society to apply its own learning to its own body, each human individual that makes up the whole organism of the human race. I believe this can be done. There has never been a more urgent need or a more likely chance to achieve this aim.

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