Al-Ahram Weekly Online   15 - 21 May 2008
Issue No. 897
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875

The road to Jerusalem 2033

Ezzedine Choukri-Fishere* argues that the traumas of the Arab-Israeli struggle should inspire the path towards peace

A few weeks ago, I was sitting with friends in the garden of the American Colony Hotel in East Jerusalem, a few hundred metres away from the Old City and one of the few remaining places where Arabs and Jews mix. I had had a long day of meetings with Palestinian and Israeli officials, and nothing of what I heard that day gave me cause for optimism: Abbas-Olmert talks are unlikely to produce an agreement let alone implement it, the gap being too wide on borders, Jerusalem and on refugees; inter-Palestinian reconciliation is not going to happen anytime soon; "Fatah" is disintegrating and nobody seems to have any idea on how to piece it back together; a ceasefire between Palestinian factions in Gaza and Israel is unlikely to take place or hold; and an invasion of Gaza, with its expected massive destruction and death toll, is only a matter of time.

My friends -- three Western diplomats, an Israeli lawyer and a Palestinian academic -- were not in a better mood: "This conflict will never be resolved; in 25 years, Jerusalem will be just as divided as it is today, and the conflict will be just as terrible"; "These negotiations will fail, and violence will lead nowhere either; we are simply trapped"; "The claims and the narratives are simply irreconcilable, and the political constraints in both camps make it impossible for leaders to reach a compromise"; "The hatred is too strong, and the parties lack understanding of and empathy for each other. How can they share land and life in such a context?"; and "This conflict is so entrenched in people's psyche that it is unlikely to be resolved without a long process of psychoanalysis," concurred my friends, one after another.

My Palestinian friend, a psychology professor at Birzeit University who so far had been listening to us in silence, interrupted our wave of pessimism: "Actually, the question is what kind of psychoanalysis will prevail; a Freudian or a Jungian strain." Tired and rather irritated, we gave her an impatient look. She went on undaunted: "This conflict has so far been governed by a Freudian approach. We Palestinians, as well as the Israelis, are consumed by our trauma. We dwell on our suffering; lament it, live it, and when we try to resolve the complexes of the past, we end up reproducing the same pattern over and over again.

"We cannot forget or forgive what had been done to us. Millions of our people had their lives shattered. Scattered in an endless Diaspora, they never had a place they could call home, and they have only Israel to blame for it. Those of us who lost our lives in shabby camps, struggling for a bucket of clean water, food rations or a temporary job, have nobody else to blame but a Zionist movement that decided to build a state where we lived. Those who lived under Israeli occupation had either to resist it and risk their lives or accept it and risk their dignity as human beings. The death, the destruction, the unspeakable violence and humiliation in front of an overwhelming power with full international backing, all this is very difficult to deal with.

"The Israelis have no difficulty explaining their trauma either. An average Israeli will tell you that he was born here; his father came from Aleppo and mother from France after she lost all of her family to Nazism; they had abandoned their past to start a new life. None of this was a choice; it was a matter of life and death. And nobody was there for them when they faced extermination. The average Israeli will tell you how he spent his life fearing some Arab attack or another: an army offensive, a guerrilla rocket, a suicide bomber in a café, etc. Israel was built through violence, he might grant you this, but now there are six million Jews here; this is their home, their only home.

"We, Palestinians, are not prepared to empathise with our occupier's pain; we see it as either self-inflicted or irrelevant. And the Israelis are not showing any sign that they regret what they have done to us or are ready to correct it. No amount of Freudian therapy, no amount of people-to-people programmes or common skating vacations for our kids in Oslo will enable us to overcome that. Freudian analysis will simply lead us all to continue lamenting over what one's parents had done to his -- or to him. No matter how hard or long we try to resolve the intricacies of our intertwined past, we will simply reproduce the pattern that the collective suffering and narrative have created."

"To resolve this conflict, you actually need a Jungian analysis," she finally declared. "While Jungian analysis recognises the pain of the past and its impact on the future, it doesn't resign itself to dwelling on the trauma as a Freudian would, hoping to undo its intricacies through years of therapy which supposedly would elevate us to a higher state of being. No, the Jungian is much more assertive. A Jungian analyst would invite us to focus on defining the meaning we give to our life, both in material and spiritual terms, and then to fix the objectives we want to reach. Once this is done, we can start to re-condition ourselves in order to break with the powerful pattern created by past traumas and move towards our objectives. In sum, a Jungian analyst refuses to stay a victim of one's surroundings and past," explained my Palestinian friend.

Based on who might win this battle, my friends and I started to do what diplomats and lawyers are good at: draw scenarios. If we all continue to be Freudian, look deeply in our past and turn our backs to the future, we can meet again in 2033, here at the American Colony Hotel. The Arab- Israeli conflict will be governed, in the next quarter of a century, by the same dynamics that have governed it so far. While some Israeli and Palestinian teenagers will continue to fly to Oslo to "learn about each other", the traumas of the past will continue to haunt the majority of the two peoples, plunging them into new rounds of conflict.

One can expect in this scenario that Israeli-Palestinian negotiations aiming at establishing a Palestinian state will ultimately fail. Israel will complete the construction of the Wall, annexing most of its settlements in the West Bank and abandoning -- with varying degrees of intervention -- the remaining chunks of the West Bank in a similar way to how it did in Gaza. The Palestinian national movement will continue to disintegrate, while Hamas and other radical groups will strengthen their hand in the West Bank. Both Gaza and the remains of the West Bank will oscillate, through the 25 years, between Somalia-like chaos, pockets of calm, and some form or another of dependence on Jordan, Egypt and international humanitarian assistance.

Arab frustration and resentment will translate itself into a further growth of radicalism inside Palestine and in the wider region. Religious Zionism and other radical groups will also grow stronger inside Israel, with the possible outflow of more liberal and secular elements. Attempts by Arab and Islamic radical forces to give Israel a decisive defeat will be met by a dramatic use of force by Israel and the United States. And attempts by a more aggressive Israel to expand its territory or to expel Arab populations will be met forcefully by radicalised Arab states. Through blood and mayhem, a balance of terror will emerge in the conflicted region.

Israel will continue to change realities on the ground in Jerusalem, building on as much land as possible and pushing away as many Arabs as it can. The dividing lines will be more accentuated, with violence erupting occasionally around holy sites inside and around the Old City, but the American Colony Hotel will continue to serve as a meeting point.

A Jungian victory would lead to a very different scenario, where the parties decide that whatever has happened cannot be undone. While we all recognise past and present suffering and misery, we define by ourselves the meaning of our lives and our objectives. We turn around and look to the future and decide where we want to end up. In doing so, we carefully avoid reproducing the powerful patterns of the past; we strive to cease being the victims of our sad surroundings.

If Jung wins over his old friend and master, then Arabs and Israelis can indeed share land and life. Israel will then realise that it cannot create a future in a land whose past is being obliterated; that the two are interconnected. If Israel realises that its own redemption is through the redemption of the Palestinians and the restitution of their dignity and equal rights, it can then accept responsibility for most of their suffering; express its regret and embrace its own victims. Palestinians would also be able to reconcile themselves to the fact that historic events cannot be undone; that nothing can return Palestine to its 1882 situation. Israel recognising their suffering and rights is certainly going to help this process. They can then redefine their life objectives away from revenge and restitution, focusing on building a life for themselves and for future generations. The Arab world, through the same process, would be able to translate its vocal support of a two-state solution into deeds. And the international community would finally find the courage to pressure those who oppose peace inside Israel, not those who it can safely afford to blame, isolate and pressure.

If Jung has it his way, in 2033 we can meet again in the Old City of Jerusalem to celebrate the end of the conflict and true reconciliation between Arabs, Israelis and the Western world. And maybe, as the Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish once said, "our sons and daughters can be friends," but this time without Norwegian funding.

* The author is an Egyptian writer and diplomat.

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