Gabriel Strenger

Paths forward after tragedy

On October 7th, the Palestinian militant group Hamas launched a devastating attack on Israel, killing over 1,400 people in a single day. This shocking assault targeted men, women, children, and even babies across multiple kibbutzim in Israel’s south. In addition, Hamas abducted 240 Israelis back to Gaza. Even though more horrific details about the massacre still emerge, the Israeli public is recovering from its initial paralysis and shock. The army has mounted an offensive against Hamas strongholds in Gaza. And despite recent domestic tensions, Israeli citizens are banding together to aid those displaced from their homes.

Yet beneath this resolve, Israel’s psyche remains shaken. The left had viewed Palestinian hostility as a territorial dispute that could theoretically be resolved through compromise. However, this latest genocidal aggression forces a reckoning. When Hamas and its patron Iran call to annihilate the Jewish state, they mean exactly what they say.

Moreover, this violent rejectionism has left many advocates of interfaith dialogue dismayed. Why have more Muslim partners not unequivocally condemned the brutality? How can devout Muslims remain silent in the face of the rape of Jewish women and the burning of their babies? Does shouting “Allahu Akbar” while slaughtering an innocent person not constitute blasphemy in their eyes? A few brave voices have spoken out, but there have been no mass Muslim protests against this perversion of Islam. Instead, anti-Israel demonstrations are growing, with attendees chanting hate and waving genocidal banners. Equally painful are videos of Palestinians celebrating news of Jewish deaths by distributing candy in the streets.

All humans have an innate potential for violence. After the First World War, Sigmund Freud began to understand the lust for destruction, also known as the “death drive,” as an integral part of the human psyche, that cannot be uprooted by any therapy. In the aftermath of the Shoah, Hannah Arendt recognized the “banality of evil”: It is usually ordinary citizens who become mass murderers through convenient complicity. Social psychological studies conducted by Theodor Adorno and his colleagues from the Frankfurt School, in the aftermath of the Second World War as well, showed that children raised in an authoritarian manner were particularly susceptible as adults to fascist attitudes and behaviors. And finally, the psychologist Stanley Milgram demonstrated in a series of groundbreaking experiments that the majority of people would be willing, under the guidance of an authority figure, to administer supposed electric shocks until death.

But of course, terrorists are not born, but made. Authoritarian and hateful socialization awakens the innate propensity for violence of the individual until it culminates in the most heinous crimes. This is precisely what has been done by Hamas, which is far more than just a terrorist organization. Like Iran, Hamas uses an entire state apparatus of intelligence agencies, ministries, and an educational system to spread jihadism. Hamas is a genocidal state and must be treated as such. Since Israel’s Gaza withdrawal twenty years ago, it has deliberately
cultivated a culture of anti-Semitism and jihadism. Children are taught Jews are subhuman and extolled to seek martyrdom while killing them. This ideological machine churns out radicalized militants.

To achieve peace, the barriers posed by genocidal ideologies must be confronted. The roots of this extremism originate long before Israel’s founding, with early Palestinian leaders like Amin al-Husseini collaborating with Hitler’s Final Solution. While avoiding broad generalizations, connections to this history should be acknowledged. The challenge lies not only in confronting Hamas, but all states that consider the destruction of Israel as their raison d’etat. Waiting for the Iranian regime to acquire nuclear capabilities could risk a Second Holocaust. This should be clear to everyone after the massacre of October 7.

At the same time, Islam and anti-Semitism must not be equated. Spiritual movements within Islam that go back to great thinkers such as Al-Ghazali, Ibn Arabi, Rumi and Said Nursi emphasize reason and humanism. Millions of Muslims in our times still feel committed to these humanistic schools and conceive reason and love of humanity as an integral part of their piety. Therefore, Islam does not need reform, but a return to its spiritual roots.

Moreover, there are also peaceful Palestinians, true believers, who dialogue with Jews and abhor the terrorism of Hamas. But they are intimidated or even silenced by force by the Islamists. The demonstrators in Europe the US should take to the streets for them, and against the intra-Muslim terror that emanates from the Iranian regime and the Turkish autocrat Erdogan, spinning its threads into the entire world. Anyone who really wants to advocate for the well-being of the Palestinians, anyone interested in a true solution to the Middle East conflict, would be well advised to support those Muslims whose belief in God inspires them to love and tolerance towards other religious communities. They desperately require support against intimidation from the Islamists.

Once Hamas is removed, Gaza could be ready for a moderate government reflecting a tolerant Islam. With the toxicity diminished, a lasting federal arrangement between Palestinians and Israel may emerge. Future Palestinian generations could receive real education, not hateful indoctrination. They could then join the nascent Abrahamic community – Muslims, Jews and Christians united in shared values. This is the path forward after tragedy.

About the Author
Gabriel Strenger (*1965), born and educated in Switzerland, lives with his family in Israel. He studied at various Talmud academies, graduated in Clinical Psychology (M.A., 1993) and Jewish Philosophy (B.A., 1990) at Bar-Ilan University, Israel. He graduated in Psychoanalytic Psychotherapy at the Psychoanalytic Institute in Jerusalem (1999) and is a licensed Hypnosis (1997) and EMDR (2015) practitioner. He is a senior clinical psychologist with a private practice and teaches Psychotherapy in various institutes. Gabriel is a Jewish meditation teacher and lecturer on Hassidism and Jewish spirituality – in Israel, Switzerland, Germany and Austria. He teaches and participates regularly in interreligious encounters in Israel and Germany. Over the last 30 years he has appeared as a spiritual guide and cantor/singer in communities in Synagogues in Israel and Europe and participated in music events of various kinds. Gabriel entertains his own YouTube channel (named “Jewish spirituals”), and has published two CDs with Jewish-Spiritual music. His website contains a great number of his lectures, papers and recordings: