A New Psychology of Hope in Palestine?


Street art by Banksy brightens the Separation Wall in Qalandiya, a Palestinian village in the West Bank. Credit: Creative Commons/Amerune.

Ten years ago as a consultant for a dialogue project designed to promote understanding between young Palestinians and Israelis, I witnessed the following exchange during a dialogue in Ramallah:

Shaul, one of the Israeli participants in the Peace Now/Palestinian Authority Dialogue Project, had been lecturing the Palestinians in the room on how they should conduct themselves to “earn peace.” This enraged a number of the Palestinians.

In defiance, Sabri, one of the Palestinian youths, praised the work of “The Engineer,” the premier suicide bomber of the era, who had, according to Abu, “been effective in waking the Israelis up to the plight of Palestinians.”

In response, Motti, a husky twenty-five-year-old Israeli, angrily replied, drawing on the famed sarcasm of twentieth-century Israeli diplomat-politician Abba Eban: “You Palestinians will always lose an opportunity to make final peace.”

Another young man, Taisir, angrily shouted, “You Israelis think you are so smart — you brag that you created a state out of nothing … with your hands, yet you have had the money of the rich Jews around the whole world who have helped you.”

This exchange occurred within a larger verbal battle that had erupted earlier, highlighting Israeli disrespect of Palestinian competence and Palestinian resentment toward Israeli assertions of intellectual and moral superiority. The interaction, taken as a whole, represents what I have termed as an “identity enactment,” a psychological impasse blocking dialogue and human interaction. Enactments play out negatively, often via unconscious feelings or attitudes such as cultural identity, trauma, and shame. Embedded in the outbreak was the expression of insecurity, envy, and shame felt by many Palestinians.

Ten years later, as I traveled the land, I heard no such “bitter lemons” from Palestinian young people living on the West Bank (excluding East Jerusalem). Instead, I witnessed a new generation of young people displaying cautious confidence and optimism. Take, for example, the students I met in Nablus: a group of fifteen-to-twenty-year-old Palestinians busy setting up their own Internet company to provide advanced technical tutoring for a new generation of computer users. Maha, a keen fifteen-year-old girl whose eyes conveyed a strong sense of purpose, remarked: “I do not know when there will be peace. This will be up to our leaders and Allah. But I don’t care in the long run; I am intent on educating myself and developing our minds to build a new state.”

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Dr. Warren Spielberg, a Fulbright Scholar, clinical psychologist, and psychoanalyst, is a part-time associate professor at the New School University. He is currently researching the lives of Palestinian young men in East Jerusalem with UNICEF. He is co-author of The Psychology of African American Boys and Young Men (Praeger 2012). After September 11 he served as a consultant to the New York City Fire Department. He is currently developing a film treatise on his post-9/11 work.

Source Citation

Spielberg, Warren. 2011. A New Psychology of Hope in Palestine? Tikkun 26(3).

tags: Israel/Palestine   
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