There is a psychological message of misperception affecting responses to the Israeli attack on Gaza. It mistakes the actions pushed by leaders for the needs of the people who inhabit the areas involved. Leaders need to proclaim they are striking out against feared enemies. People need to go about their daily lives with resources necessary to survive with dignity and with a minimum of catastrophic disturbance.
In common parlance about international affairs, we often tend to refer to countries as allies or enemies, as aggressors or defenders. The tacit support of the Israeli attack upon Gaza has been met by governmental statements from the region hoping for an end to violence on all sides. But public protest in every Middle Eastern country is delivering a different message — of disproportionate response, collective punishment, seeking to starve the people into submission, Israeli refusal to prevent violence from the settlements, and an unconscionable willingness to treat Palestinian lives as less valuable than those of Israelis.
Demonstrators in many countries, including the U.S., are taking heed of the Palestinian message to Israel. It says, “You ask for a ceasefire but you break it. You expect a ceasefire without any cessation of cruel deprivations that kill our children and humiliate us. You honor the resisters in the Warsaw ghetto uprising, but will not even talk to the resistance leaders in Palestine. You do not negotiate with the government we elected. You ask us not to hurl small rockets at civilians but we do not have sophisticated guidance systems, and the much larger weapons you aim at Hamas leaders are killing many more civilians.”
Governmental leaders prefer to deal with other governmental leaders. They lead us into the questions of what side is to blame and what group needs to punished or taught a lesson, rather than the questions of what people are to suffer, to lose family members, or to die. But in the case of Palestine, and throughout the Middle East and beyond, it is the populace from whom future perpetrators of violence will be recruited. Retaliation has been the policy at least since 1968 and it has not succeeded in quelling violence. The policy has isolated the Israeli government and to a degree the U.S. government, not so much from other government leaders as from the people in those countries.
For those in Israel and in the U.S who would like to reduce the likelihood of violent attacks by and upon our children, the continuation of this wholly asymmetric war is not only tragic but entirely counter-productive. Leaders always find support by justifying actions on grounds that something must be done for security. When what is done is to wage war resulting in large civilian casualties, and devastating trauma, the choice is antithetical to human well-being.
PsySR member Marc Pilisuk is Professor Emeritus, the University of California, and Professor, Saybrook Graduate School and Research Center. Marc is the author (with Jennifer Achord Rountree) of Who Benefits from Global Violence and War: Uncovering a Destructive System (Greenwood/Praeger, 2008). He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.