The root cause of delusion, prejudice, suffering and conflict is the attachment to a presumed, mortal and limited identity and to the beliefs and images that emanate from and reinforce this presumption. For example, growing up Jewish, I possessed a Jewish lens, conditioned over thousands of years of history, that colored the way I viewed and interpreted the world. This lens led me to assume that a significant part of the world’s population held anti-Semitic views. With such a dominating internal logic, I was bound to interpret the ideas and behavior of the other as predisposed to incite or ignore the suffering of my people. The primary consequence of this error in perception is a world of suffering for self and other.
All of us are receptive to ideas and behaviors that fit within the framework of our identity. Ideas and behavior that fall outside this framework – that originate from the other – are interpreted as possible threats. Fear arises. We look at the world through this filter of fear and unconsciously superimpose enemy images onto the other. We automatically reduce to objects all that we perceive as the enemy. Then, we hide from, disable or destroy these objects so as to restore apparent security into our lives.
Many Jewish people, influenced by collective memory, equate Arabs with Nazis and other persecutors. A core belief among Jews is that Israel, the Jewish home, is a shelter from violence. This belief is an underlying aspect of Jewish identity. To maintain this identity we are, therefore, compelled to justify Israeli policy as a necessary response to an unremittingly violent people.
Dualistic thinking such as this conceives of a world of us against them, good against evil. Our emotions, our attitudes toward others, how we interpret events, what we notice and what we don’t notice will mirror our world view, thereby strengthening and authenticating it. In short, we create the world we live in. This is how the unexamined mind projects its content onto the world. An unexamined mind necessarily accompanies the attachment to a presumed, mortal and limited identity.
One example of dualistic thinking is victim identity. If we are indoctrinated into the belief that we are victims of an oppressive world, in other words if victim becomes a part of our self-image or identity, our unconscious minds will inevitably create conditions that confirm we are indeed victims. Then, we can justify oppressive policies against our so-called victimizers.
Accusations of anti-Semitism, often meant to silence criticism and to hide historical fact, are common tactics in the Israel-Palestine arena. Accusers, seeing themselves as the real victims in this struggle, allege that virtually anyone who criticizes Israel is an anti-Semitic bigot or a self-hating Jew. Many years ago, David Ben-Gurion admitted that Israel had “stolen” the land from the Palestinians. Was he an anti-Semite or self-hating Jew? Was Yitzhak Rabin guilty of self-hatred when he lamented that “ruling over another people has corrupted us?”
So where is the hatred? The hatred is in the minds of those who are afraid to ask why someone is critical of Israel. Indifferent to the suffering of an entire people and refusing to do honest research to refute or confirm the criticism, the accuser panders to his feelings of fear, confusion and anger, all of which are animated by unexamined beliefs and images within his own mind. This mind colors his perception so that he sees the world in terms of personal victimhood versus the world’s hostility.
Most accusations of anti-Semitism are projections. The actual bigotry resides in the minds of those who are afraid to ask why someone is critical of Israel. Accusers simultaneously abdicate and then project onto the other responsibility for their feelings of fear, confusion and anger.
Because the accuser is unconscious of the effect his feelings have on his perception, he can only project his perception onto the world and then assume that the world he sees proves the reality of his perception. Creating his own suffering, he narcissistically scapegoats and blames the world (in this case Palestinians and their sympathizers) for his suffering. Triggered through denial, this inner thought process attributes to Palestinians and their sympathizers the accuser’s own hatred. In other words, the accuser makes the “other” responsible for, and the repository of, his unresolved pain. He objectifies the other and rejects his humanity. Then he supports inhumane policies, which he justifies under the guise of an existential danger to Israel. In so doing, he brings the world’s anger down upon Israel which reinforces and perpetuates the cycle of perceived victimhood. This entire process is a defense mechanism that stems from the fear of inquiring into one’s presumed identity through the questioning of one’s beliefs and images.
It is true that a small but growing percentage of critics is anti-Semitic and would like to do to Israel what Israel does to the Palestinian people. But most critics simply want Israel to comply with international law. They do not want to harm Israelis. They want to prevent Israelis from harming Palestinians. They advocate equal rights for all because they know that equal rights lead to peace.
If criticism of deliberate violations of international law is anti-Semitic bigotry, what is turning one’s back on the suffering of millions? If caring for Palestinians is anti-Semitism then all Palestinians must be anti-Semites. After all, what Palestinian would not cry out against the destruction of his culture, the theft of her lands and the torture and killings of family members and friends? If caring about the other is tantamount to hating Jews we are forced to conclude that not caring about the other is a foundation of Judaism. Doesn’t logic like this characterize the Jewish people as an immoral and inhumane people and justify anti-Semitic attitudes?
Those who justify the oppression of Palestinians often assume that concern for Palestinian rights equals contempt for Jewish rights. The dualistic mind thinks this way: If you are pro-Palestinian, you must be anti-Israeli. What this mind is really saying is that if you are pro-Israeli you have to be anti-Palestinian.
Real anti-Semites incite anti-Semitism. I don’t know anyone who does that more effectively than the Israeli government and its defenders. And after inciting anti-Semitism, they complain that the world is anti-Semitic. Then they justify inhumane policies on the basis of a need for security against anti-Semites.
I have not met one defender of Israeli policy who has impartially studied the actual history. If they had the decency to do so, most would discover that they have character assassinated the Palestinians and facilitated their misfortune. The real conflict for these defenders is not Israel versus a hostile world or Israel versus Palestinians. The real conflict is the inability to integrate the hard-to-believe but inescapable awareness of Israel’s treatment of non-Jews with unquestioned loyalty to the Jewish state. One consideration recognizes Israel’s dark side. The other denies the dark side exists. If these defenders want to distinguish the source of conflict and find peace they need to inquire within.
Only by committing myself to the truth was I able to apprehend the astonishing reality that criticism of Israel was never a serious concern. Incredibly, I had never defended Israel, at least the Israel that actually exists. I had always defended an idealistic image of Israel that was projected or superimposed upon the Israel that actually exists. This projection enabled me to repress or deny painful insights that I would have learned about Israel and about myself if only I had looked without the influence of an unexamined mind.
Denial and projection go hand in hand. What I denied about Israel and about myself, I projected onto the other who automatically and necessarily became my enemy. My reaction to criticism was motivated more by the fear of taking on the challenge the criticism posed to my identity than by genuine disagreement. This challenge was a threat because, for a split second, it gave me an unwelcome glimpse, a vague awareness, into the prejudice that had induced me to deny the humanity of the other. But I quickly repressed the implications hinted at by this vague awareness.
Remaining willfully blind to documented evidence, in order to avoid an encounter with my lack of humanity, I consented to the subjugation of millions. I judged Palestinian violence as a pathological expression of hatred, not the response of an oppressed people, a small minority of whom resort to violence as the only way they know to retain a measure of self-respect in the face of generations of violence inflicted upon them. Thus, the rationale I used to condone Israeli aggression was security. But stealing a people’s land and replacing one population with another fosters paranoia which, in turn, demands security. Then, in order to maintain this inhumane circumstance, repression is required. The Israeli government, through this behavior, incites anti-Semitism and then complains that the world is anti-Semitic.
Like me once, my Jewish friends and relatives who defend Israel are not conscious of their prejudices against Arabs. My friends think their ideas about Arabs are merely a reflection of what is happening in the world. The opposite is true. What is happening in the world is a reflection of their ideas, of the enemy images that inhabit their minds, in the subconscious and unconscious.
Imagine the confusion that exists within a mind that justifies oppression yet claims it wants peace. This mind is so afraid of challenging its thought patterns that it cannot comprehend that when we oppress people and deny them basic rights, they have legitimate reasons to resist. Instead, it labels the resistance terrorism and acts accordingly. The fear-based dualistic mind is not just narcissistic and self-destructive, it is fascistic.
The path to freedom from these enemy images is self-inquiry. Anyone who takes on the work of self-inquiry, of challenging the mind’s core beliefs and images, will eventually discover that our common humanity precedes exclusive identification with any group. Eventually we will be relieved of the illusion of identity. Accompanying that relief is the realization that we are all Muslims, Christians and Jews, Palestinians and Israelis.
One of the fruits of self-inquiry is the recognition that the real enemy is not someone or something outside of us. The real enemy is the unexamined mind that unconsciously projects its suffering onto the world and then scapegoats the world for its suffering. We can end this cycle of denial, projection, blame and rationalization by inquiring into our beliefs and images and, thereby, coaxing the unconscious into consciousness.
There are few limits to how far people will go to protect core identities. Look at how many people, rather than inquiring into their nationalistic or religious identities, are willing to send their children to war to kill or be killed. At an unconscious level their presumed identities are more precious than the lives of their own children. Because our attachment to core identities and fear for their demise obstructs our ability to see clearly, our intrinsic yearning for peace becomes muzzled by the ego identity’s compulsion to be right. From the false perspective of identity or ego, being right is more important than peace.
Without the self-inquiry or self-reflection necessary to recognize our immoral or self-destructive policies, we easily turn over responsibility for the fate of our children to the prevailing consciousness that shapes policy and influences behavior within our society. Our thoughts are, to a large extent, determined by the self-serving cliches of the powers that be. We become convinced that we are morally superior to the so-called other. The result is that we lose our morality and our humanity.
A principal reason it has been so difficult to solve the Israel-Palestine dilemma, is that fundamentally we are not dealing with a political problem; nor at the deepest level are we dealing with a territorial, religious, cultural or humanitarian problem. What we are dealing with is a psycho-spiritual problem. From a psychological perspective, denial, projection, blame and rationalization reinforce the dilemma. From the bedrock or spiritual perspective, the illusion of identity, of self and other, creates the dilemma in the first place.
I could never have understood the dilemma until I understood my own mind and my presumed limited and mortal identity. In my research into the dilemma, I quickly ran up against my identity, my indoctrination into a lifetime of propaganda about myself and my so-called people. The confrontation was shocking. The painful feelings I discovered in myself were a wound. But the wound was necessary because it was the doorway to the end of existential fear and confusion. One’s presumed identity is the root of fear and confusion. Whether I am a Jew, a Christian, a Muslim, an Israeli, a Palestinian or American, whatever I may be, my identity and its associated beliefs and images are the lens through which I perceive the world.