When PTSD is a two way street

I tend to think that the rhetoric of the pro-Palestinian left risks falling into the trap embraced by the "Islamo-fascist" hating, GWOT loving fringe on the right. That is, just as the wingnuts refuse to understand that violence aimed at the U.S. is perpetrated by pyschologically robust human beings motivated by felt grievances rather than a dark and simple evil, it seems to me that pro-Palestinian lefties often check their empathy at the door.

Israeli politics, I think, are fundamentally and inescapably neurotic. A people cannot endure the Holocaust without developing a tendency to overreact to perceived existential threats, so it really is no surprise that Israeli policies toward their Arab neigbors are marred by a debilitating paranoia. In the face of that, the Palestinian strategy of suicide bombing strikes me as absurdly unhelpful. It's like poking a cornered rat, and it's not an accident that the closest the Palestinians came to reaching an acceptable accomodation with Israel came during the relatively less violent rock throwing intifada.

More and more, though, I think that all of that is just piss in the wind. The brutality of Israeli oppression is such that it has succeeded in creating its own complement. Via Bionic Octopus comes this passage from a 2002 article in Time Magazine.

Early in the fighting, Palestinian children watched countless reruns of news footage that captured the death of Mohammed al-Durra, 12, even as his father used his own body to try to shield the boy from a barrage of bullets. "In their games, children identify with the martyr," says Dr. Eyyad Sarraj, a psychiatrist who heads the Gaza Community Mental Health Program. Psychologically, he says, "they have left their fathers for the martyrs." A cult of death has appropriated a Palestinian generation, but a deep fear underlies it. Today, according to Sarraj, 35% of Palestinian children under the age of 15 wet their beds, up from 7% before the intifadeh. Sarraj estimates that 30% of children suffer from post-traumatic stress. |link|

Just to be clear, my worry is that Israeli oppression has so traumatized its Palestinian victims that any hope for peaceful coexistence is now lost. The future politics of the region threatens to be tragedy in the literary sense, an ongoing drama of horror with each act the inescapable consequece of a mismatch between character and the world. Any violent Palestinian strategy will generate brutal reprisals, but the brutality of previous reprisals guarantees that any future Palestinian strategy will be violent. There is, as far as I can see, no hope.

A few years ago I attended a session of a post-colonialism conference at which a scholar gave a paper in which she tried to interpret suicide bombing as a pathology. I don't remember much about the details of the paper, but I do remember the Q and A that followed. It was beyond contentious and included an old Jewish man, speaking in favor of suicide bombing, rising to his feet and shouting, "Some people, they need to be traumitized!"

Insofar as a substantive critique arose out of that discussion, it was that the author had dehumanized the Palestinians by medicalizing their legitimate political grievances. I don't know that I accept that critique, but it obviously applies to what I wrote in this post. All I have to say in response is that treating people as fully human includes taking seriously the fact that their motivations aren't entirely rational.

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