A future together will require not only painful concessions, but a willingness of each side to validate the other’s story. But when ordinary Palestinians and Israelis meet, that’s not what happens.This is imperative for Westerners to understand. The idea of Israel as evil and conflict as community-affirming is entwined into the very identity of Palestinian Arabs. If there is peace, they lose their very identities, which depends on demonizing the other side (even among the "peaceniks".)
The sit-in was held at a pub in the Hadar neighborhood of Haifa, a common meeting place for Arabs and Jews. The issue at the top of the agenda was how to convey to the world at large that dialogue on the Israeli-Arab conflict still exists and both sides are equally frustrated with the status quo. The vibe in the room was positive, with attendees from both sides encouraged that what the rest of the world calls enemies could sit and drink and talk.
Then, without warning, a stranger intruded. An Arab man had apparently overheard the conversation. He approached the group shouting, “But first you have to let the refugees come home!” An Israeli organizer explained that the meeting wasn’t about solving the refugee crisis—it was about opposing inaction and stasis. But the man wouldn’t have it. Becoming increasingly agitated, he demanded that the issue be addressed. One of the Arab organizers, Mudar, tried to calm him down, telling him in Arabic, “We know it’s not right. We know that the only way is for the refugees to come home, but we aren’t talking about that now.”
The implication, of course, was that one day we will talk about it. In Mudar’s mind, not only will we talk about it, we will make it happen. Like so many of his peers, Mudar—a moderate involved in many coexistence initiatives—is a subscriber to the maximal position on the Palestinian right of return; a position that, if achieved, will effectively put an end to the Jewish state. But the maximal position is a symptom of a far deeper concern, one that is the driving force behind the current impasse in Arab-Israeli relations.
On a cognitive level, Mudar is capable of accepting the fact that it is impossible for Israel to agree to his maximal position. He knows that the return of Palestinian refugees will mean the end of the Jewish state. But Mudar almost certainly does not subscribe to the maximal position out of a desire to harm Israel’s Jewish character. In fact, it probably has little to do with Israel at all. Instead, Mudar is trapped in a psychological construct essential to his identity as a Palestinian—a collectivist identity that dominates the Palestinian mainstream.
One of the more tragic aspects of a collectivist identity is that it stifles those aspects of human behavior associated with the individual. These include critical thinking, accountability for one’s actions and the actions of other members of the collective, the ability to make personal choices, and empathy toward “the other”—particularly an adversarial other. As a result, Palestinian collectivist identity may be one of the most difficult obstacles on the path to peace.
...Palestinian identity is inextricably connected to the naqba. Israeli independence and the resulting war is the seminal event of the Palestinian narrative, turning a group of local tribes, clans, and houses into a nation of refugees. “Palestinian identity is strongly influenced by a sense of victimization, which is evident by displacement and manifested as a collective nationalistic identity,” says University of Nebraska anthropologist Michaela Clemens. Whereas other cultures might see refugee concerns as a temporary issue, the Palestinians’ self-image as refugees creates and molds their identity and, by extension, the conflict itself. Consequently, the right of return has come to be seen as an inalienable right akin to the right to exist.
The extent to which this influences the conflict is pointed out by Phillip Hammack, a professor of psychology at the University of California, Santa Cruz. Hammack examines identity and politics by studying adolescent participants in Palestinian-Israeli coexistence initiatives like Seeds of Peace and Hands of Peace. According to Hammack, the young people who struggled to integrate the experience of coexistence into their life stories experienced an identity crisis. “Palestinian youth,” he observed, “identify with [an] ideology of struggle and victimhood, providing a sense of solidarity and meaning.” This identity is inextricably connected to their political extremism. “Nearly all of my Palestinian interviewees,” Hammack says, “endorsed the practice of suicide bombing as a legitimate form of resistance against the Israeli occupation, identifying bombers as ‘freedom fighters.’”
Paraphrasing Herbert Kelman, a professor of social ethics at Harvard’s department of psychology, Hammack concluded that “large-scale shifts in collective identity may be necessary prior to any serious curtailment of the conflict, as the conflict relies on the reproduction of negatively interdependent collective narratives.”
...As mentioned above, suicide bombings, while not encouraged and often condemned by participants of peace movements, are nevertheless seen as a legitimate form of resistance to the Israeli occupation. In a collectivist society built on the idea of victimhood, struggle—rather than peace—is the ultimate motivating factor. Peace, moreover, may actually threaten collective identity: If struggle is a prerequisite for peace, then any action that serves the struggle, even terror and incitement, is likely to be perceived as legitimate. Peace is sacrificed to the collective.
Individualization, then, is essential to peace. Economic development, education, and democracy will hopefully contribute to a general change in Palestinian collective identity. But ultimately it is the task of the individual Palestinian to break free from the in-group, achieve psychological autonomy, and become an independent agent and master of his own fate. This is the most important step on the way to reconciliation.
I would argue that the collectivist mindset was created by and encouraged by Arab leaders who did not want to allow Palestinian Arabs to integrate into their societies. The Palestinian Arabs were forced against their will to be separated from the rest of the Arab world, and because they were politically powerless in that world they were forced to put their energies into the Naqba myth that gave them a powerful enemy who they could comfortably criticize without fear.
I would also point out that the utter lack of empathy that Palestinian Arabs have for anyone else is not a result of this Palestinian Arab collective mindset so much as it is an Arab attribute altogether. Way before 1967, Martha Gellhorn noticed the same kind of thinking:
"If the position were reversed, if the Jews had started the war and lost it, if you had won the war, would you now accept Partition? Would you give up part of the country and allow the 650,000 Jewish residents of Palestine -who had fled from the war--to come back?"Here's the answer: Hate gives Arabs a collective identity that is far more important than peace is. The hate is their identity. So even the left-wing, co-existence spouting Arabs really don't want peace with a Jewish state - they want, at best, a state where Jews are a minority and treated as dhimmis, the way they are meant to be.
"Certainly not," he said, without an instant's hesitation. "But there would have been no Jewish refugees. They had no place to go. They would all be dead or in the sea."
....Arabs gorge on hate, they roll in it, they breathe it. Jews top the hate list, but any foreigners are hateful enough. Arabs also hate each other, separately and, en masse. Their politicians change the direction of their hate as they would change their shirts. Their press is vulgarly base with hate-filled cartoons; their reporting describes whatever hate is now uppermost and convenient. Their radio is a long scream of hate, a call to hate. They teach their children hate in school. They must love the taste of hate; it is their daily bread. And what good has it done them?
Read the whole article by Danan, and then re-read the Gellhorn articles from 1961 and 1967, as well as a different interview with Palestinian Arabs in the Aida camp in 2011.
As long as this mindset exists, peace cannot be achieved.