Fratricide in the Holy Land: A Psychoanalytic View of the Arab-Israeli Conflict

Article excerpt

Avner Falk, Fratricide in the Holy Land: A Psychoanalytic View of the Arab-Israeli Conflict. University of Wisconsin Press, 2004. 250 pp.

The Arab-Israeli conflict is the most intractable international struggle in the world today. With great mastery and scholarship, integrating vast knowledge from many disciplines, Falk delves into the most baffling and relentless conflict of our time. Falk's psychoanalytic theory flows with great ease throughout the text as he skillfully parallels it with historical evidence and documentation. His book is useful for psychotherapists and historians alike and for those attempting to go beyond ordinary historical and political explanations by applying in-depth psychoanalytic/psychodynamic theory. While most political analysts and historians base their arguments upon the rationality of the parties/ Falk explores their actions and behaviors based on the irrationality of their hidden or covert "internal events."

Falk opens his discussion with a dramatic quote from Anwar Sadat: "..... seventy percent of the problem between Arabs and Israelis is psychological." His analysis follows this theme throughout, providing much persuasion as to the importance of the role unconscious motivation plays in the conflict. He frames his discussion with the same kind of objectivity and technical neutrality an analyst would with a patient.

Falk reminds us that the Arab-Israeli conflict extends far beyond two ethnic groups fighting over a small slice of land each considers rightfully theirs. The bitter tragedy is that both parties have missed innumerable opportunities for rational agreement in the service of peace and prosperity beneficial for sides rather than perennial bloodshed and killings. He also continuously points out the absurdity of the conflict, how two traumatized groups of people on a tiny sliver of territory can be locked in a tragic endless conflict that they can never win, one that goes on interminably without ever reaching any resolution.

Even though Falk recognizes few psychoanalysts have shied away from psychoanalytic study of the Arab-Israeli Conflict, in spite of all the efforts toward peace agreements (Oslo Peace Accord, Camp David, etc). Unlike other scholars, Falk refers to these blocks as "irrational obstacles and resistances" on both sides to the extent of calling the extreme opposite side of peace a holy Jihad.

Falk sees two ways at looking at the conflict; the rationalistic/conscious and the psychoanalytic. The unconscious motivations are played out as group-fantasies or "group narcissism," having their underpinnings in nationalism and nationalist pride, in the attachment to the motherland as an early mother figure or perhaps as an object loss and the entitlement fantasies to regain or recapture her. Falk continues along a psychohistorical path covering such themes as the unconscious need for enemies as a repository for the group's projections as it dove tails, along with such primitive defense mechanisms as splitting, projection, externalization and denial. Falk alerts us to the concept of naqba (loss) in a most catastrophic event in 1948 when the Israelis defeated the Palestinian Arabs causing them to lose their homes. In order to save face from the shame and humiliation they resorted to revenge.

A major contribution to Falk's thesis is the subject of mourning as outlined by Kobrin who wrote extensively on the inability to mourn as a major force beyond the conflict. For some reason this concept has been virtually omitted in most works of this nature. Falk is one of the few who brings up the importance of mourning. He implies that if one cannot "mourn "one's losses, one is then subject to revenge and retaliation. An explanation for the theme of narcissism would be Falk's views of it as a drama played out as symbolized in the battle of two texts-the Bible and the Koran. This recurrent theme is in response to an old archaic belief that both Jews and Arabs are descended from two biblical half brothers, Isaac and Ishmael battling for holy land symbolic to a "mother as a nation who holds us in her arms and protects us. …