“You Don’t Know the Power of the Dark Side,” Darth Vadar, Return of the Jedi

The Wedding

I feel a disturbance in the force.

I watched the video of a wedding, in which the participants dance ecstatically to a song about revenge. (The song is called זכרני נא, and is based on the words of Samson in Judges 16:28.)

During this dance, army rifles are passed around (even to children) and the participants wave guns, knives, and Molotov cocktails in the air. None of this is what struck me the hardest, however. What struck me was the image of one participant holding a picture of the murdered infant, Ali Dawabsheh, who was burned to death in his home in Dumah.

Symbolizing the Enemy with a Picture of a Baby

When I first saw the video, I found myself watching it repeatedly. Maybe it was horrified fascination but I think part of me was looking for something, trying to understand what I was seeing. There is something both eerily familiar and entirely alien in the experience of watching a Jewish wedding with traditional dance moves celebrating murder instead of marriage.

And why the baby? Why not a picture of a Hamas leader or some terrorist killed by the IDF? Why a murdered infant? Even the discourse I have heard from the extreme right about “collateral damage” or “omelets-and-eggs” doesn’t explain why they would choose, out of all possible symbols of the enemy, that of the most innocent.

I could simply condemn the behavior here and be done with it; yet that feels too banal. At the risk of being a labelled an armchair psychologist – there are worse things – let me share my thoughts.

Becoming the Demon You Fear

I believe we are looking at what kabbalah calls the sitra achrah or what is better known in its Star Wars terminology as “the dark side of the force.”

These young people — most of them seem quite young — are no longer interested or even able to handle balanced or complex thinking about the difficult situation they (and other Israelis) are in, and feel that the only safe route for them, psychologically speaking, is to become the demons that they fear.

The Underlying Beliefs

A number of factors seem to have pushed this group off the edge of sanity, or at least persuaded them to jump off this edge themselves.

  1. They are afraid of Palestinian terrorists and Muslim extremist groups like ISIS, Hamas, and Hezbollah. They believe — correctly — that these groups wish to murder them, their parents, their friends, and their (future?) children.
  2. They further believe — incorrectly — that all Muslims really (in their heart of hearts) support these groups and that, consequently, all Muslims should be treated as a threat to their lives.
  3. They believe that Israel should occupy the entire West Bank and Gaza, and realize that what is stopping this from happening is the indigenous Arab population.
  4. They believe in the inherent superiority of Jews and Judaism over any other group or religion.
  5. They believe that God will help them if only they can ignite the fires of the final battle of Armageddon.
  6. They believe that the world — including most of the Jewish world — sees their views as backward and extreme.

A Recipe for Extremism

What does one do with this noxious cocktail of beliefs and fears? The reasonable course of action would be to examine one’s beliefs, think through what is true and what is false, what is fair and what is unfair, what comes from fear and what comes from evidence. See if nuance can be added, if other people’s perspectives can be incorporated, if dialogue can be opened. But this is hard and it is not the way of this group. They are looking for a shorter path, a simpler solution, an approach that solves all their problems and puts to rest all their fears.

This is the power of the dark side of the force; it is “easier, more seductive” as Yoda wisely said. The dark side holds no place for nuance, for shades, for compromise, or for doubt. Most of all, it holds no place for other people and their narratives.

So where has the sitra achra, the dark side, led these youths?

The Thoughts of the Radical Movement

At the intellectual level, this group has convinced itself that they need to terrorize the local Muslim population and bring about an escalation of the Arab-Israeli conflict. Perhaps they believe that if matters get bad enough, Israeli Jews will come to the conclusion that they need to deport the local Muslim population. I would not be surprised if these youths have already revived the extremist right-wing fantasy of destroying the El Aksa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock to make way for the third temple.

This group believes that “God helps those who help themselves” and if only they can get Israel inextricably stuck in an all-out war against the Muslim/Arab world, God will have no choice but to come down from heaven and assist them.

But that is only how they are thinking about the situation. How are they feeling about it?

Fear Turned to Aggression: A Reaction Formation in Progress

In the wild nature of their actions, I believe we are seeing a classic example of what Sigmund Freud called a reaction formation. When a person feels particularly bad about a sentiment he or she experiences, and the pain seems unbearable, one way of coping is to flip this feeling on its head, maintaining the intensity but reversing the particulars.

The classic example is the rejected lover coming to hate his former love-object. The passion and intensity is still there, but now instead of love there is hate, which makes the rejection less painful. Another example is the preacher of ethics or values, who makes extreme statements about proper sexual behavior, but ends up being caught in an affair, or with a prostitute, etc. The obsession with illicit sex remains intense, but it is flipped from pro to con (and back again).

Returning to the “red wedding,” here is what I imagine is going through the heads of these apparently blood thirsty youths, at least subconsciously:

They are scared, but they don’t want to be scared so they exhibit their strength by flaunting their weapons.

Their fellow Israelis reject them as radicals, and that hurts (no one likes being rejected). They don’t want it to hurt, so they embrace their radicalism by putting on a mad display that is more offensive than even what their critics have said about them.

Most of all, they know—or believe they know—that among them are baby killers, the people who set fire to the home of a Palestinian family while they slept. It is hard to live with being a baby-killer, but remorse would undo what this group is striving for.

You can’t bring on Armageddon and all-out war against the Muslim/Arab population if you are not willing to kill innocents. All-out war is not something that “the other side” is supposed to survive. So this group embraces the most savage of images, the baby killer, thus making Ali Dawabshe the image of their enemy.

Their Own Worst Enemies

But, except in their own heads, Ali Dawabshe was not their enemy; the peaceful among the Muslim-Palestinian population are not their enemies; their critics in Israel and abroad aren’t even their enemies.

They do have enemies, of course, the most obvious of which are the Muslim and Arab extremists who want to destroy Israel and kill its Jewish citizens.

But they are threatened by another more subtle force: their Jewish consciences, their humanity. And, with their loathsome war dance, they are fighting to suppress these pangs of conscience, the call to return to the good side of the force, by embracing their lowest impulses.

In short, the radical and self-destructive members of this group of right-wing Jewish extremists are their own enemies, and subconsciously, they know it. The mad display at the wedding is their desperate attempt to convince themselves otherwise.

Zev Farber, Zikhron Yaakov