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Tel Aviv University
Report of PsychoActive conference, TAU, June 28, 2009

PsychoActive conference, TAU, June 28, 2009 reviewed by Judith Nusbaum


I attended the PsychoActive conference, “Psychological Effects of Military Service in the Occupied Territories on Soldiers and on Israeli Society”, presented at TAU on June 28, 2009.  Following are my notes and observations.  Please take into consideration that I heard the speakers via the provided translation.


The conference was logistically well organized and presented.  An overflow crowd of more than 250 people filled the hall in the Trubowicz Law Faculty Building.


Riva Bachrach of Machson Watch opened the conference by praising the women who took photos of the violent, aggressive IDF soldiers manning the checkpoints to expose their acts of humiliating the Palestinians.  She continued that her work was to make Israeli society aware of the negative psychological effects on Arabs and on Israeli soldiers because of their service in the occupied territories. She said that Israelis do not want contact with the territories.  She also praised “Atrocities of Occupation” a collection of photos Israeli soldiers took in June 2004 of IDF violence in Hebron and claimed that their service caused them to become hostile.  She claimed that occupation is jeopardizing the rights of the occupied and affecting the values of he occupier and that Israel ignores the Arab’s suffering. Her stated goal was to create a dialogue to discuss differences of opinions.


My comments: Bachrach set the tone for the conference.  It was to be an emotional exercise, based primarily on old and previous publicized information, to demonize the Israeli soldier serving in Yosh and express sympathy for and indentification with the poor, oppressed Arab who is so mistreated and misunderstood by many Israel soldiers and the terrible, violent settlers. The amount of information regarding the treatment for IDF soldiers experience PTS or other mental problems relating from his service was almost nil. In addition ‘push button’ labels, i.e. occupation, settler was used.


Yoel Elizur, a clinical psychologist from H.U. addressed the topic: “Salt of the Earth? Israeli Soldiers, Army, and Society in the Intifada”. Elizur spoke of war crimes in the US-Vietnam war and questioned how to reduce them.  He spoke of IDF war crimes during the first Intifada and quoted soldiers’ reactions.  He showed parts of a film “Z32”, a series of interviews with soldiers bragging about the killing they did during their service. He spoke of post traumatic stress, PTS, and how no one wants to check into soldiers’ problems, emotional numbness in those who were brutal, the evidence of the ‘macho’ syndrome and how it continues in civilian life after service. He said that the greatest factor on soldiers was the cultural development in their group that was shaped by the leadership’s values. He stated that it was the responsibility of senior advisors in the Ministry of Defense to instill values in the soldiers.  He quoted from the Journal of Peace Resource’s book “Salt of the Earth” edited by Melach Haretz.  He believes that the lack of social discourse creates polarity. He accused our society of not checking what caused this lack of values, and that it doesn’t have the mechanisms to rehabilitate soldiers who murdered and committed war crimes.


My comments:  There was no mention of the reason the IDF had to fight, no blame on the Arabs, all the blame was on Israel.


Tal Ben-Sira Morag, a lecturer at the Kibbutz Seminar, actress, served in the Shimshon Unit in Jenin and Khan Unis in a conditions service capacity in1990-93, wrote “Breaking the Silence” a series of testimonies of soldiers who served in Khan Unis. Although she spoke with great emotion about the atrocities committed by the IDF, she admitted that she had never seen them with her own eyes, only heard them through the testimonies of the soldiers. Her topic: ‘To See if I’m Smiling” was about a film by Tamar Yarom.  She bragged that she helped all soldiers who wanted to leave Yesha using her professional position, and that during her service as an occupier she tried not to hurt any Arabs. She participated in the evacuation of Jewish settlers. She believes that her experience in the IDF killed something inside her and although she is not blaming herself, she feels that it brought violence to her life, and was treated for 2.5 years for PTS.  She will not allow her children to serve in the territories and would prefer they go to jail. He army experience was a black hole for her and the fact that she was an occupier is a fact in itself. 


My comments:  Since Morag is an excellent and effective communicator she is able to influence others not to serve and should be monitored closely.  She has a sister living in Yosh and is deeply conflicted by this fact.


Zvi Bekerman, anthropologist from HU, whose topic was “Givati’s Cruelty and Liberal Morality”, addressed the question of who created the conditions to enable the IDF (Givati) to commit atrocities.  He claimed that the individual is released of personal responsibility and his actions are blamed on the group. War crimes, in his opinion, are a product of the Western approach, modernity and democracy and that the political nation-state enables unification of individuals to disqualify themselves from responsibility.  Parents send their children to death without any payment.  The nation-state, a murderous state, is a dream of both the Left and the Right. War crimes by the Jews are part of being a modern Western state. He ended by stating that people who believe that Givati does good are wrong, because there is no morality in Givati.


My comments:  His convoluted presentation was a horror.


Nissim Avissar, IDC, human rights psychologist, spoke of mental health in the army.  His topic was: “A Closer Look at Blurring, Denying and Silencing Military Psychologist in the First Intifada (1987)”. He spoke of the inability of the Israeli system to cope with the Intifada. System denied there was damage to the soldiers, because they thought it was incomprehensible that after believing that the IDF was the most moral army in the world it could commit such atrocities as shown by the media. People didn’t want to serve in the IDF. Leftist psychologists suffered most; he quoted Charlie Greenbaum who said that we shouldn’t do what goes against our beliefs.  It created a dilemma of identification re. mental health in the army.  The impact of political powers on a situation prevented violent IDF behavior not to be addressed.


My comments:  Old material.  Anyone who quotes Greenbaum is a problem.


Edna Lomsky-Feder, HU, faculty of education, addressed the topic of “Discourses of Psychology and the Normalization of Occupation”. She said that society accepts the military state as normal and honors heroism. Israel is based on power.  The new code is based on memorials and fighting anti-Semitism. Until the Yom Kippur War there had been a denial of PTS.  The trauma is on all Israelis; during the Intifada many new mental health centers were established in Jerusalem to address this problem. After the 2nd Lebanon War Israel assumed that everyone had a mental problem and that our soldiers were venerable.  In 2005 four elite soldiers wanted to be released from the army because of anxiety, now the army goes overboard and releases all suffering from mental problems.  Today we play the victim’s card.  Traumatic Discourse creates National Militarism and the blurring of dichotomies, and shows the weakness of the IDF and the rise in anxiety regarding safety in Israeli society and victimizes the Israelis. The legitimacy of force rises. Trauma is in the context of politics.


My comments: She successfully makes the Israeli the victim, demotes heroism to an undesirable trait, and condemns the IDF.


Amona Zahavi, clinical psychologist, Beit Berl College. Topic:” Dangerous Empathy: When Therapists keep Silent about the Perpetrator Deeds of their Veteran Patients”.  Zahavi spoke of how the patients, solders who fought in the occupied territories, viewed themselves as the perpetrators, and were affected by the terrorist within themselves. She presented case histories of IDF soldiers vis a vis society and the therapist, and spoke of the human need for an image of self-value. She claimed that settler soldiers did not suffer from mental illness, PTS because they believed in the occupation.  She is against the occupation and dramatically/emotionally said that IDF road blocks caused death in Biran’s mother’s case, since she was ill and by the time she was allowed to pass she was so ill that consequently she later died.  She said to watch the film, Architects of the First Intifada, which demonstrates that the only option is to go crazy.  She claimed the reasons Israelis go abroad after army service and wind up staying with other Israelis is to heal them so that they can live a normal life.  She stressed that we must help relieve the violence within us. She feels that Israel sees itself as the victim.


My comments: Zahavi’s unsubstantiated claims, dramatically presented, served to reinforce the audiences misguided and incorrect opinions.  I do not believe that Israel sees itself as a victim; neither is Israel the cause of the Palestinian’s problems, and her conclusions, placing the Jew in Yosh as the Other, was disgusting and showed her bigotry and prejudice. I cannot believe that she is a psychologist.


Discussion group: The Presence of the Occupation in my Personal and Professional Life.


My subjective account of this group:  I joined the English speaking group because I knew it would be the smallest group and also most diversified.  I was correct.  The 14 participants and two facilitators, who opened the session with a meditation exercise, were bleeding heart liberals, the majority of whom lived abroad. I blew my cover immediate and became the “Other”. There were three Arabs in the group, one from Ramalla, other from Kalkelya and the third, an Israel-Arab, from the center of TA. An American, here to support the poor Palestinians living under occupation, represented the ISM. An older women also an ISM activist, yelled at me that she learned the Zionist myths as a child and now knows that they were all lies and that the Jews, or Israelis, I don’t recall which, stole the land from their true owners, the Arabs/Palestinians. To her facts were of no value. The young Israeli-Arab women living in TA is involved in Israel/Arab theater. The psychologist from Ramalla is helping Arab women develop a positive image for themselves and earn a living. He dramatized his situation and spoke of the humiliation he and his family experienced because of the IDF presence. One American was with a solidarity mission to the Palestinians.  A  Californian apologized to the Arabs present for the terrible behavior of the religious American Jews who come to live in Israel and attack the Palestinians.  She promised to return to the States and teach those Jews how to behave properly. An American student, here with Rabbis for Human rights who considers himself a Zionist believes that Israel must withdraw from the territories and return the land to its rightful owners, the Palestinians. Another praised those that defy the system and refuse to serve in the occupied territories. One woman works in the arts in Sderot, but doesn’t want her children to serve in the army. A Canadian said he came to visit Palestine and Israel and support the Palestinians. A Canadian woman said that she felt working as a psychologist with the IDF was legitimizing the occupation. Someone said that it was fear that caused Israel not to give up Yosh.  Another stated that beliefs, not fact, not history are relevant. 


Daniel Bar Tal, TAU, spoke about “The Psychologial coping of the Israeli Jewish Society with the Occupation and the Cost it Pays for It”.  He stated that occupation reflects the ideology of Israelis.  He went on to compare number, the numbers of Jews killed in the War of Independence to the American population and then the numbers of Palestinians killed from 87-97 in that context. 


As I was leaving, one of the facilitators from the discussion group approached and asked if I was OK.  Of course I was, I replied and asked why she asked.  “You were so courageous to express your opinion in the group”, she said.  I replied that “I was not courageous; I had felt that there was a need to tell the truth.” These people live in another universe; they fail to recognize that the Arabs are ‘playing’ the ‘liberal’ Jews. It was a touchy-feely group.  Feelings are everything, even if they are phony, Facts and reality are meaningless.


The only way to impact these groups is if we come as a group so that we can support each other and expose their lies.  I think that many of the participants do not consider themselves to be Israel bashers or that they are a threat to the State.  They feel that they are the conscience of the Jewish/Israeli people and they will make everything ‘right’.


It was a difficult day for me, but I was glad I attended.







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