Psychodynamics of the Middle East 101: Why America Needs Hell, and Israel Doesn’t Want Peace

With the recent flaring up of hostilities between Israel and the Palestinian territory in Gaza the question has again been raised ‘will there ever be peace?’

My view, having visited the region a number of times, is that the leadership of Israel simply do not (yet) want peace. How can this be? How could a country not want to make peace with another, but carry on prodding and inciting more retaliation?

The reason is simple, and was explained to me by an Israeli activist in Jerusalem: if there was peace between Israel and Palestine, Israel would have to face up to its own internal divisions – which are rife. By projecting a huge external enemy, Israel can unite behind a struggle against it, and never have to face its own demons.

Huge divisions remain within Israeli society. This is not surprising, or a matter for finger-pointing or blame. Rather it is the inevitable place a nation will find itself in when it is formed from numerous, hugely different, returning diasporas. Russian Jews. American Jews. German Jews. British Jews. Sephardic Jews. Orthodox Jews. Atheist Jews… With all of these people coming together to form a nation less than 3 generations ago, there are bound to be tensions. And with a stormy birth narrative, it is almost inevitable that these divisions are projected onto the ‘monster’ of Palestinians… who are quite the opposite: people who have lived in that place for centuries, dug deep into that earth.

This is the same reason that America needs to have its axes of evil, its nasty monster to go do battle against – and why American Christianity needs to believe in hell. Because without these abyss-mal places, these communities would have to face up to the divisions and horrors within themselves:  Christian sects fighting over tiny doctrinal issues, the clear presence of homosexual activity with these groups anyway – with the construct of hell, of the grand evil of Islam in some ‘other’ place, these things can be ignored.

It is no surprise that we are seeing Gaza attacked now. There is an election looming in Israel, so internal tensions are at their highest. Thus, in order to suppress this, Israel must ratchet up the violence in Gaza, knowing that Hamas will respond in kind – because, quite naturally given the cramped, caged conditions in Gaza, terrible tensions are within that community too, and projection back onto Israel comes easily.

In Mutiny, I examine the story of the Odyssey, and posit the question: why did Odysseus not simply go back home when he could? He had this belief that the gods were stopping him from returning to peace on Ithaca, to his family. He kept being tempted by beautiful women, and getting into more battles… and was this not simply because these ‘external’ conflicts kept him from having to go home and face the real monster within: that he was a violent and conflicted man. He projected this. He blamed ‘the gods,’ when actually this was nonsense: he simply had to have the courage to face his own demons, rather than create other ones that allowed him to remain unchallenged, and unchanged.

There is a similar story in the Acts of the Apostles, which my friend Barry Taylor has brilliantly re-framed. Paul is persecuting Christians: rounding them up, having them killed. He is travelling to Damascus when he is hit by a blinding light, and challenged about his behaviour. The orthodox interpretation of this has always been that Paul ‘saw the light,’ but Barry’s great insight is that it is the opposite: he was struck blind for 3 days, and thus forced to face the monster within, the horror of his own conflicts and actions.

American Christianity, and politics, has been a vehement and unquestioning supporter of Israel, regardless of Israel has done, good or bad. Why is this? In light of the above, perhaps it is because America cannot yet face being challenged about its own deep divisions – which were exposed so glaringly in their own recent elections.

And this is why, in fact, this is a religious conflict. Not because three faiths are somehow at war over doctrine, but because each faith posits a ‘big Other’ – and this introduction of a god, just as with Odysseus, allows America, Israel and Palestine to avoid taking the radical Pauline step of facing the darkness within the Self, and not blaming it on a divine other.

It reminds me of the electrifying scene in The Silence of the Lambs, where Starling interviews Lecter for the first time:

Hannibal Lecter

You know what you look like to me with your good bag and your cheap shoes? You look like a rube. A well scrubbed hustling rube with a little taste. Good nutrition has given you some length of bone but you’re not more than one generation from poor white trash are you Agent Starling? And that accent you’ve tried so desperately to shed – Pure West Virginia. What’s your father dear? Is he a coal miner? Does he stink of the lamb? You know how quickly the boys found you… all those tedious sticky fumblings in the back seats of cars while you could only dream of getting out, getting anywhere, getting all the way to the FBI…

Clarice Starling

You see a lot don’t you doctor. Why don’t you turn that high-powered perception at yourself and tell us what you see, or maybe you’re afraid to?

And, for sure, the Israeli-American response to all of this displays all of the insight and empathy of a psychopath… As Lecter – a brilliant psychiatrist knew, our birth stories can continue to trouble us… but we must have the courage to look inside ourselves, rather than project our conflicts onto others to avoid doing so.


4 responses to “Psychodynamics of the Middle East 101: Why America Needs Hell, and Israel Doesn’t Want Peace”

  1. You disgust me. Israel wants peace , all Muslim nations want all Jews dead. If Israel lays down its weapons they will all be killed. They have already given “back” oil rich lands to make peace. Muslim nations do not want peace they want blood. The Jews have also ALWAYS been there. God gave them that land and much much more. They are living in an area the size of New Jersey .
    Statements like your make me sick. You are siding with the bullies . Lets see who shall we annihilate next ? All Christians, after all they stole the land from the natives in all the Americas. Oh lets kills the Hispanic too because lets face it they were also not the first peoples in most of their countries.

  2. Thank you for making my point for me so beautifully. Borderline delusional, unable to see any of the facts, demonising ‘the other.’ I hope you can begin to see beyond into something that can bring peace; your disgust, your nausea at these views shows a violent reaction that reflects the horror within yourself that you can’t yet face – that you know that your position is frighteningly polar and wrong, but you’ve no idea how to let go of it.

  3. Was that directed at me ? Seriously ? When did I say nauseate ? I am against the annihilation of ANY people group. I will stand up against the bullies any day whomever they may be. If it were Muslim peoples in the tiny land mass that is called Israel and they were surrounded by Israelis who ranted every day on TV about how God wants all Muslims dead , the only good Muslim was a dead Muslim, then I would be siding with the Muslim people. Jerusalem is being bombed by Muslims as we speak, Should the Israelis just sit back and be killed ? I have non Jewish friends who live in Israel who tell me the truth is far different from what we are told. They see it. The Israelis don’t send bombs wrapped up as gifts on the Muslim holy days to blow up a child in front of its mother. The Israelis don’t creep into a Muslim home to slaughter a family of 9 while they sleep in their beds. This kind of stuff is going on daily .
    I am not a Jew . I do not believe everything I hear. But I will always stand up against bullies no matter what color their skin is or what God they pray to.

  4. ‘Statements like your make me sick.’


    So Israel is not a bully? Defying all UN resolutions by continuing to steal land and build settlements? Have you been through the humiliating border controls on the West Bank? Have you seen the ‘settler roads’ for use by Israelis only? It’s a racist state – no equal rights for Arab Israelis – and that’s just within Israel. The way it has treated Palestinians, and the land that is rightfully theirs – even under 1967 terms – is shocking.

    As for the ‘daily’ stuff you talk about, I’m afraid that ridiculous. Don’t exaggerate. It doesn’t help.