Shlomo Schreibman

The Psychology of using context to explain the war

Facts vs Context. Photo credit: STOPTERRORNOW

In the last 71 days, I’ve delved into countless discussions with people holding wildly diverse views on the Israel-Hamas war. The most mind-boggling part? How two individuals from similar backgrounds can view the same scene and see it through utterly different lenses.

What sets the tone for these perspectives? Surprisingly, it’s often as simple as an individual’s identity. Feel connected to Israel, and you’re likely to have one stance; feel distant, and another view emerges. It’s the classic “Us vs. Them” saga, with a modern geopolitical twist.

In my first year studying psychology at the Open University, I learned about the Fundamental Attribution Error, a phenomenon we’re all guilty of. Picture this: when explaining our own mishaps, it’s all about the context and circumstances. Yet, when it’s someone else’s blunder, it’s conveniently chalked up to their flawed personality traits. When I come five minutes late to the meeting, it’s due to unavoidable traffic, when the other person runs late, it’s because he’s selfish.

Now, fast forward to the Israel vs. Hamas war. Those on the outside, estranged from Israel’s values, may spin Hamas’s actions as context-driven, as Harvard, MIT, and Penn presidents have done,  casting Israel as the villain. On the flip side, Israelis may justify their position considering the complicated situation, painting Hamas as inherently evil.

So whose assumptions are right? Are we all falling into the Fundamental Attribution Error?

The best way to avoid this social psychological bias is simply to look at the facts. In the example of the person coming late to a meeting, does he do this every time or maybe he was actually in bad traffic today?

In our case, before taking sides, tune in to the facts of what both sides say and do.

Hamas actually says in article 13 of the Hamas Charter: ” Initiatives, and so-called peaceful solutions and international conferences, are in contradiction to the principles of the Islamic Resistance Movement. Abusing any part of Palestine is abuse directed against part of religion“. In other words, Hamas says they have a religious obligation to fight and peace is never an option. Israel on the other side has said numerous times (Madrid, Oslo, Camp David, 2010, 2013 and more) that they would be open to peace if the other side would lay down their weapons and recognize Israel. Israel has made peace with Egypt, Jordan, and others.

Action time. Hamas intentionally targets civilians, firing from their own neighborhoods into Israeli neighborhoods. A personal anecdote – this Friday, one of these missiles that Hamas fired almost hit my neighborhood. Missiles were fired at Beit Shemesh at 5 pm and My 8-year-old boy was at a friend’s house while the sirens went off. I ran to him and found him hugging his friend, afraid Hamas had invaded our neighborhood to kidnap him.  Hamas has intentionally targeted civilians. This is what they specialize in.

And what about Israel? They meticulously aim to minimize civilian casualties, keeping the ratio under one person dead for every air force strike, dropping brochures telling citizens where to go to avoid casualties, all while dealing with an enemy that hides behind human shields.

In a nutshell, the term “context” that people in Harvard love using has become a buzzword for Hamas but often plays second fiddle when dissecting the actions of the only democracy in the Middle East. This imbalance stems from the initial identity and assumptions we make about the other side without looking at the facts.

So what can be done to avoid this bias? On an advocacy level, there are two key takeaways I would like to suggest:

1. It is critical to have those outside of Israel feel a deep connection to the people of Israel. That will enable the ability to see the truth while using context where appropriate only. I have seen amazing support from the Christian leadership coming due to this sense of connection to the people of Israel. Show our human side and shared values and people from the outside will feel more comfortable connecting with.

2. Share the facts. The initial understanding of context can go so far but eventually, the facts paint a picture that is clear to anyone with open eyes. Israel wants to live in peace. Hamas will do anything to eliminate Israel. No context on that.


About the Author
Shlomo Schreibman is a licensed industrial and organizational psychologist who serves as the Director of Sales and Marketing for Israel365 Media. He writes and lectures on topics of psychology, digital marketing and Jewish-Christian relations. Shlomo consults to some of Israel’s largest companies and NGO’s on their marketing strategy focused on building relationships with pro-Israel Evangelical Christians.
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