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From Abused to Abusers

Inside Israel’s Psyche

by GILBERT MERCIER

Groups of people, either nations or cultures, just like individuals have a consciousness. And like individuals, a civilization collective consciousness records and  reacts to historical traumas. History leaves scars on people’s collective consciousness. If some individuals tend to bury personal traumatic experiences under the false assumption that ignoring the pain will heal it, some cultures tend to do the same. Bringing up the collective crimes of Germans and Japanese during World War II is a taboo subject in both Germany and Japan, as if both cultures are suffering from a collective amnesia. If you bring up in a conversation the atrocities committed by Japanese troops in Manchuria, Korea, the Philippines or Vietnam between 1936 and 1945, the standard answer from amnesic contemporary Japanese will likely be either “We didn’t know” or “It was a long time ago”. This applies to Germany as well, even though it is a crime in this country to deny the existence of the holocaust. Regardless, both cultures, as a defense mechanism, suffer from historic amnesia.

From persecuted Jews to Zionists: Why do abused become abusers?

If Sigmund Freud was alive today, and could put Israel or more practically either PM Netanyahu or his sidekick Lieberman on his couch for a few psychoanalytical sessions, one wonders what he would find out. Most psychological studies of abusive personalities point in the same direction. It seems to be a paradox, but as individuals, most people who display abusive behaviors in relationships were abused as children.

On first thought, one would think that people who had been abused would be more sensitive, not less, to the pain inflicted on others. That they would, as individuals or a collective, show a greater sense of empathy. But more often than not, in the case of children who were abused, they grow up to be abusers. It is as if the psychological damage and trauma from early childhood turns our natural and normal sense of compassion and empathy towards each other into a vicious cycle of  borderline sociopathic behaviors, where inflicting pain become a source of pleasure. For individuals, this cycle of pain get passed on endlessly from one generation to the next. What applies to individuals is a good analysis model to a culture collective’s psyche.

For thousands of years, between the Middle East and Europe, the Jewish people have been persecuted, abused and forced to move constantly around. In Europe, Jews were not allowed to own land and could not have roots as they were fleeing bigotry — such as the Inquisition in Spain — slavery, pogroms and the despotic powers of the kingdoms of Europe and the Tzars in Russia. When tolerated, they had to live in ghettos such as the one in Warsaw. This precarious existence for Jewish communities in Europe, with the constant thread of having to leave, brought crafts, knowledge and money at an essential premium for Jewish survival. Books and money are portable, and the constant persecutions against them very likely made Jews develop special skills in both areas of knowledge and finance. Jews became “the people of the book,” and to them knowledge, not material things, was the most precious possession.

Israel: “He who struggles with God”

“He who struggles with God” is the Hebrew meaning of the word Israel. But the Jewish state, as defined by Zionist principles, is not only fighting with recognition of Palestine as a nation, but also with Judaism’s  humanist traditions. Judaism is viewed by many Jewish scholars as a civilization, not just a religion. Part of this rich Judaic cultural heritage was passed on into more recent monotheist religions such as Christianity and Islam.

This view of defining Judaism more as a civilization than just a religion is one of the main points made by Amos Oz and his daughter Fania Oz-Salzberger in their new book “Jews and Words.” For Oz, a professor of literature at Ben-Gurion University and Oz-Salzberger, a writer and historian at the University of Haifa, “Judaism is not a bloodline but a text line.”

“For thousands of years, we Jews had nothing but books. We had no land, we had no holy sites, we had no magnificent architecture, we had no heroes: we had books. We had texts, and those texts were always discussed around the family table. I would add that you can never get two Jews to agree with each other on anything. It’s difficult to find one Jew who agrees with himself or herself on something, because everyone has a divided mind and soul, everyone is ambivalent. So our civilization is a civilization of dispute, of disagreement and of argument,” said Amos Oz in an interview with NPR’s Scott Simon.

Gaza: A modern-day version of the Jewish ghetto in Warsaw

After the horrendous crimes committed against them during World War II by Nazi Germany, Jews rightly decided that it would never happen to them again. They will not be the sacrificial lamb of human history, and no longer be victimized. But 64 years after its creation in 1948, the Jewish state is now the one doing the victimizing: evolving from oppressed to oppressor. If Jews were treated like second-class citizens and were denied land ownership for centuries, they have now turned the table of history, and Palestinians are on the receiving end of the wrath of the abused turned abuser. Palestinians are denied land while Israeli settlers keep expanding in East Jerusalem and the West Bank. Just like their ancestors in Eastern Europe, Palestinians are treated by settlers and the Jewish state as second-class citizens living in an open-sky jail surrounded by thick concrete walls. Palestinians, just like Jews during World War II in the Warsaw ghetto have become the victims, the collateral damage of history.

Gilbert Mercier is the Editor in Chief of News Junkie Post, where this essay originally appeared.