Anat Narkiss

Israel’s occupation as the (mental) root of the disruption

In these troubled days, Israeli society finds itself entangled in a perilous spiral that could lead to its collapse. It is crucial to address the malignant core that has grown over years of denial and neglect, erupting now unrestrainedly— the Israeli occupation of the West Bank. While many Israeli argue that discussing it during this crisis is inappropriate, neglecting the issue could result in the continuous spread and contamination of the occupation and its practices throughout various aspects of public and social life in Israel.

Numerous voices have highlighted the settler leadership’s desire to exercise power and implement its messianic vision as the driving force behind the judicial reform. However, attempts to address the occupation are often met with deep public hostility, even from those associated with the left and “enlightened” side of the political spectrum.

A study by Prof. Daniel Bartal and other Israeli social psychologists claims that occupying societies face the challenge of maintaining a positive self-image while committing actions that contradict moral norms. To cope with this, they develop social beliefs that justify the occupation, delegitimize the occupied population, and preserve their own positive collective self-image. Furthermore, defense mechanisms such as suppression, denial, avoidance, and rationalization come into play to cope with the psychological difficulties involved. It is further argued that since the occupying society is forced to deal with political, social, and economic consequences arising from it, the continuation of the act of occupation requires deep and significant motives.

If so, what could these motives be?

The motivation of the Settler-Messianic side might be clear – they want complete and unrestrained control over the occupied territories as a necessary step for the redemption of the people of Israel, but understanding the reasons behind other groups’ participation in the occupation remains essential; The prevailing rationale often revolves around security concerns, with the belief that holding the territories and settlements protects Israel from great danger. However, even when evidence suggests otherwise, public opinion often remains steadfast, hinting at a deeper underlying motive.

The collective trauma of the Holocaust profoundly impacts Israeli society. Rather than being viewed as a deep wound that requires healing, it is experienced as a defining mental connection that justifies the fight for Israel as the state of the Jewish people. Security threats revive anxiety and fear of a recurrence of the Holocaust, a phenomenon fueled by national leaders, and that haunts both the collective and individual psyche.

Israeli society holds the Holocaust as a collective trauma which, instead of being experienced as a place of a deep wound that requires healing and repair, is experienced as the essential bond that connects all Jewish Israelis and gives them a justification to fight for Israel as the state of the Jewish people.

Freud proposed a defense mechanism wherein individuals attempt to escape feelings of horror and attain a sense of control by actively repeating past experiences that were initially endured passively. This repetition may involve role reversal, such as victims becoming aggressors, as seen in cases where children of abusive parents become abusive parents themselves. Consequently, those who have been victimized may imitate the behavioral and value traits of the aggressor, assimilating these characteristics to liberate themselves from feelings of terror, fear and helplessness, ultimately gaining a sense of power and control. However, this process necessitates not only identification with the aggressor but also with their conceptual world, leading to profound and disastrous consequences.

The occupation, in this context, can be seen as a perverse expression of dealing with the trauma of the Holocaust. It allows Israeli society to play the roles of both the aggressor and the victim simultaneously, preserving a positive self-image while denying cruel and immoral practices. Any attempt to crack this defense mechanism is met with tremendous fury, as it threatens to disrupt the delicate balance that shields the society from its unprocessed trauma and guilt.

If Israel had different leaders and alternative mechanisms seeking justice and peace, the process of change might be possible. However, decades of destructive leadership have created an addiction to the illusion of security and power, leading to a morally catastrophic violent behavior in the occupied territories.

Therefore, the fate of Israeli democracy and society’s moral fabric is at stake in the occupied territories. The occupation is like a black hole in the nation’s collective soul, sucking in and destroying everything near it. While it has been unconsciously used to fulfill certain needs, the time has come to awaken, recognize reality, and effect change before it is too late. The occupation must be confronted so that Israel must strive for a just and peaceful future.

About the Author
Anat Narkiss is a Social and Marketing Psychologist, with nearly three decades of research into Israeli society and its diverse communities.
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