Historical collective trauma of indigenous and invented nations

When the dust settles and the recently invented Palestinian nation will have their own state (or not – but we will assume for the moment that such a state will arise), how will they heal from their collective trauma? When they will be free to evaluate what really happened to them, how will they define their “nakba” (catastrophe in Arabic, something they now associate with Israel’s independence)? Will they take a lesson from other groups contending with fall-out from genocide and exploitation?

Providing testimony of historical national traumas is one step toward healing and the forging of a new future. The next step is reconciliation offered by the descendants of those who committed the atrocities, a step that should create the conditions that will allow traumatized peoples to reconnect with their histories, cultures, languages, traditions and growing pride in their identities.

We are seeing this happen in recent decades for the Canadian First Nations, Australian Aborigines and American Indians. The ways of life of these indigenous peoples were smashed by colonial settlers who committed genocide and tried to separate the native populations from their languages, their families and their cultures as they stole land and children, and implanted foreign ways in their stead.

The impact of these historical traumas can be summarized by quoting an article examining the impact of imperialism from Europe on the Lakota people:

“One challenge for healing the Lakota historical trauma response is the subjugation and distortion of historical facts about our genocide and the lack of awareness and sensitivity in the general population. As validation of the trauma and giving testimony are germane to the healing process, the lack of acknowledgment of our trauma is a barrier to our liberation from the effects of our historical legacy and the trauma response. . .Theories of oppression which can lead to our self-destruction (Brave Heart & DeBruyn, in press) call for community education about and acknowledgment of our genocide to facilitate a healing process.” (p. 16)

Interestingly, Lakota traditional spiritual leaders have been getting help from Jewish Holocaust survivor organizations regarding how to research and record historical traumas and conduct community education and healing programmes. The Jews have long been involved in documenting and preserving first-hand testimonies of the Holocaust and offering them specialized trauma therapy, in part, in order to reduce the insidious impact of trauma on their offspring.

At the same time, the Germans have offered reparations and confirm the history of the Holocaust as part of their own national healing from the ravages of having been an offending nation. Only when offences are acknowledged and responsibility for their harm embraced can perpetrators (and their descendants) heal from the psychological conditions that allowed them to commit the offences on the one hand, and the guilt and other psychological effects of an offending past, on the other hand.

The Lakota note that rewriting history serves to satisfy the needs of the dominating group and to deny those of the subjugated peoples. Correcting historical narratives, therefore, is behind the Recognition and Reconciliation processes in Australia and Canada. Denial of the truth of the Holocaust persists to this day and is actively confronted on a continuous basis. The Armenians, as well, have been struggling for decades for recognition of the horrific massacre and Turkey’s attempts to obliterate their culture, still without satisfactory results. And there are many others.

Genocides have been committed on all continents from antiquity to recent years. Do you remember the murder of 200,000 Mayans in Guatemala in 1996? A highly controversial trial was conducted, overturned and set to resume this month. The results will determine whether or not history will be accurately recorded or falsified, whether justice will be served or perverted. And a Google search will reveal similar fights for historical truth surrounding the all-too-numerous genocides of the past century.

What has this to do with the Palestinian Arabs? Arabs have been attempting to rewrite the history of Israel and the Jewish people for the past 100 years, in part by denying the Holocaust and in part by denying the fact that we Jews are the true indigenous people of the Land of Israel. They are even going so far as attempting to join the International Criminal Court where they think they can convince a court unsympathetic to the Jewish national cause to rule us guilty of genocide!

The only way for the Palestinian Arabs to overcome their trauma, their Nakba, will be for them to wake up to their true history and collectively identify their true oppressors. They were goaded into war against the Jews in 1947-8, refused full integration into Jordanian society in spite of being Jordanian citizens, and forced to waste away in refugee camps in other Arab countries, robbed of their human dignity. All this for the promise of wiping out the Jews and establishing another Arab state between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River.

They accuse the Jews of oppressing them while it is the Israelis who were and are willing to live alongside them in peace should they only decide to focus on building a healthy society rather than send death squads into Israeli cities and onto Israeli buses. Heck! In 1947, before all our Arab neighbours attacked us, we even agreed to give up almost half of what had been clearly mapped out in 1922 as the Jewish homeland, given that what is now Jordan was supposed to have been the state assigned to the Arabs who were living in Palestine at the time of the British Mandate.

As long as the Arab Palestinians buy into the myth that Israel is their enemy they remain complicit in their own continuing exploitation at the hands of their fellow Arabs. It does not look like they are going to wake up from the nightmare anytime soon; more’s the pity.

I wonder if they will be brave enough to face the truth generations from now. I guess it depends on what the future holds for Israel and the Arab states around us. If the Arabs do finally come to terms with what really happened here since the early 1900s, and decide to look forward in peace and prosperity rather than back in anger, I am sure that they will find that we Jews are equally happy to march into a better future.

About the Author
Sheri Oz, owner of, is a retired family therapist exploring mutual interactions between politics and Israeli society.
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