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Fratricide in the Holy Land

A Psychoanalytic View of the Arab-Israeli Conflict

Avner Falk

Publication Year: 2004

    This is the first English-language book ever to apply psychoanalytic knowledge to the understanding of the most intractable international struggle in our world today—the Arab-Israeli conflict. Two ethnic groups fight over a single territory that both consider to be theirs by historical right—essentially a rational matter. But close historical examination shows that the two parties to this tragic conflict have missed innumerable opportunities for a rational partition of the territory between them and for a permanent state of peace and prosperity rather than perennial bloodshed and misery.
    Falk suggests that a way to understand and explain such irrational matters is to examine the unconscious aspects of the conflict. He examines large-group psychology, nationalism, group narcissism, psychogeography, the Arab and Israeli minds, and suicidal terrorism, and he offers psychobiographical studies of Ariel Sharon and Yasser Arafat, two key players in this tragic conflict today.

Published by: University of Wisconsin Press


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pp. v

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pp. vii

I wish to thank Steve Salemson, my editor at the University of Wisconsin Press, for his unfailing support and assistance throughout the writing of this book, and his colleagues at the Press for their tireless efforts in making this book a reality....

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Introduction: A Duel in Quicksand

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pp. 3-7

In most books and articles about the intractable Arab-Israeli conflict, it is conceived of as an essentially rational matter: two ethnic groups fighting over a single territory which both of them consider to be theirs by historical right. However, a close...

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1 A Review of the Literature

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pp. 8-17

In this chapter I summarize and discuss a large body of scholarly literature on the Arab-Israeli conflict, which is listed in the bibliography. Various theoretical models of the conflict as proposed by these scholars are reviewed. The reader can see that most...

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2 Reality Is in the Eye of the Beholder

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pp. 18-35

The idea may discomfit some readers, but, like any human truth, historical truth is relative rather than absolute, and psychological reality is more powerful than objective reality. One man’s terrorist is another’s freedom fighter. Israel’s “glorious” 1948 war is regarded...

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3 Destructive Charismatic Leadership I: The Case of Ariel Sharon

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pp. 36-72

This chapter offers a brief psychoanalytic biography of the Israeli leader Ariel Sharon (born 1928), who for most of his life has been personally involved in the Arab-Israeli conflict both as a military commander and as a political leader. The thrust of this analysis is to uncover the hidden links, which feed the intergroup...

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4 Destructive Charismatic Leadership II: The Case of Yassir Arafat

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pp. 73-86

In this chapter I attempt a psychological sketch of the Palestinian leader Yassir Arafat (born 1929), the Arab leader with the greatest influence on the Arab-Israeli conflict and on the fate of millions of people in Israel and Palestine....

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5 Nationalism, Group Narcissism, and the Problem of the Self

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pp. 87-102

Nationalism has been a major aspect of—and a major contributor to— interethnic conflict. There is a vicious circle between nationalism and organized warfare, each feeding on and augmenting the other. Each nation has it flag, its anthem, its military..

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6 Psychogeography: The Unconscious Meaning of Geographical Entities

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pp. 103-111

It has long been observed that one’s country has an unconscious maternal meaning for most people. The French call their country la patrie (a feminine noun meaning the fatherland) and personalize their republic as a woman named Marianne. French...

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7 Denial Is Not a River in Egypt

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pp. 112-117

The Americans, who have made psychoanalytic terms part of their language, often say, “I am in denial.” Back in 1935 the American comedian Jimmy Durante (1893–1980) stopped the show in Billy Rose’s popular stage musical....

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8 Splitting, Projection, and the Need for Enemies

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pp. 118-129

Having discussed the pervasive and pernicious role of denial in the Arab-Israeli conflict, I now turn, in this chapter, to the other unconscious defensive processes operating in interethnic conflict: splitting, projection, projective identification, and externalization. Tragically, Zionist ideology, which led to...

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9 War and the Inability to Mourn

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pp. 130-137

This chapter deals with the crucial issues of loss and mourning in our individual and collective lives. None of us can escape important emotional losses throughout his or her life, and every one of us must learn how to mourn his or her losses...

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10 The Arab Mind

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pp. 138-158

Over the centuries, there have been many studies of the particular psychology and character of the Arabs, which seem so very different from those of Europeans and other Westerners. When Westerners watch a crowd of young Palestinian...

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11 The Psychology of Suicide Bombers

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pp. 159-173

While some extreme right-wing Israeli Jews deny that their country is occupying another people’s land, and see their country’s presence in the Palestinian Arab lands as a legitimate Jewish settlement in ancestral Jewish lands, many other Israelis, the...

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12 The Israeli Mind

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pp. 174-179

In the same way as one can debate the existence of a particular national character, psychology or psychopathology of the Arabs, one could ask, is there such a thing as a specific psychology or psychopathology of the Jews? Is there an Israeli mind? Three years after...

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Conclusion: Can the Conflict Be Resolved?

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pp. 180-192

Most experts on the Arab-Israeli conflict have concluded their studies with bleak prognoses of its future. One Israeli Jewish scholar, Meron Benvenisti, believed that the two-state solution of separate Israeli and Palestinian states would never...


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pp. 195-256


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pp. 257-271

E-ISBN-13: 9780299202538
Print-ISBN-13: 9780299202545

Publication Year: 2004