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Media Analyses





Goldstone Commissioner Suggests Israelis Conditioned to Kill Children


Months before the Goldstone Commission report was finished and publicized, one commissioner — having clearly accepted as incontrovertible fact the most inflammatory and dubious accusations by Palestinian witnesses  — had made up his mind that Israelis are conditioned to kill children.

On June 29, Desmond Travers, one of four commissioners who participated in the Human Rights Council's "Fact Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict," turned to Gaza psychiatrist and veteran anti-Israel activist Eyad El-Sarraj (also spelled Iyyad El-Sarraji) and his colleague Ahmed Abu-Tawahina for their "professional insights" into the mental state of Israelis. The exchange is telling, not least because it revealed the credulity with which Palestinian accusations of Israeli brutality were accepted.
 
During his questioning, Travers stated as fact that "there have been instances of the shooting of children in front of their parents." And apparently having ruled out that such events (if, in fact, they did occur) could have been the result of the chaos and fog of war, he told his "witness" Sarraj, "I find that kind of action to be very, very strange and very unique." With this introduction complete, he moved on to his question:

I would like to ask you if you have any professional insights as to what mindset or what conditioning or what training could bring around a state of behavior that would cause a soldier, a fellow human being to shoot children in front of their parents. Do you have any professional insights into that kind of behavior?

The response to this loaded question was predictable. The "psychological profile of the Israeli soldier" is one of ever increasing hatred. In the first intifada, children threw stones at Israeli soldiers to "protect their streets, which is the only place for children to play." Israel decided to respond by "killing and violent killing" — proof of the "psychological instability" of Israeli troops. "The Palestinian in the eyes of the Israeli soldier is not an equal human being," and is often seen as a "demon." Israelis think that "I am superior to this world and I can oppress it." They are paranoid. Because the psychological problems were not treated, it became the "perpetual state" of Israelis' minds. Yes, Palestinians "can" demonize and hate Israelis, but this is a "reaction" to Israeli oppression. Compared to Israelis, "the Palestinians have a greater capacity ... to deal with the Israelis as equal human beings, as a whole human being." Israelis identify with, and behave like, the Nazis.

To this, the commissioners responded with profuse thanks.
 
While the question reveals the mindset of the commissioner, the answer demonstrates the type of disingenusous and propagandistic testimony on which the commission report is largely based. In reality, Palestinian hatred toward Jews and Israel is driven by the government-sponsored incitement prevalent in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and beyond. There is no equivalent in mainstream Israeli society to this type of state-sanctioned hate indoctrination. (To the contrary, Israeli popular culture has been known to humanize the Palestinians.)

The unedited excerpt of this question and answer follows:

Colonel Desmond Travers

I would like to put a question to, it may not be entirely within your field, but nevertheless it's a question that continuously comes around in my mind. We have heard testimony of great, uh, violence, seemingly un-militarily, unnecessary violence inflicted particularly on children. There have been instances of the shooting of children in front of their parents. As an ex-soldier I find that kind of action to be very, very strange and very unique. I would like to ask you if you have any professional insights as to what mindset or what conditioning or what training could bring around a state of behavior that would cause a soldier, a fellow human being to shoot children in front of their parents. Do you have any professional insights into that kind of behavior?

Dr. Ahmed Abu-Tawahina

There is no doubt that any conflict, and especially the Arab-Israeli conflict, is a conflict that's built on hate. This hate increases with time. I believe that this impacts peace. However If we look at the psychological profile of the Israeli soldier, this went through 60 years of time. The Zionist institution translated its philosophy into the fact that the Jew is a victim and at the same him he is the pioneer. Uh, it is unprecedented. He is the pioneer, the first one. This mentality in the Zionist institution was translated into tactical strategies in the training of Israeli soldiers in their various wars. With time the Israeli soldier has the image of absolute superiority and he was capable of, uh, winning all, uh, wars against the Arabs and therefore the Israeli soldiers have this halo effect. He's the best. As children I remember that only if a military Israeli car would come into our street we would be afraid and we'd run away.

However, with the passage of time, this absolute superiority feeling with the Israeli soldiers started to shatter and this was significant during the first Intifada when children, uh, Palestinian children would go out into the street and throw stones at the Israeli soldiers, trying to protect their, uh, streets which is the only place for children to play. The psychological formula started to change gradually. This child came to represent or to, uh, mirror, uh, the image of the Israeli soldier. This led to a form of fear, of concern for the Israeli soldier.

During the first Intifada the Israeli military institution tried to build, uh, rifles that would throw stones at the children but they realized this was in vain. So they resorted to killing and violent killing. In military, uh, notions, it is sufficient for one bullet to kill a man and your question with regards to what makes an Israeli soldier hit a missile just to kill a child, this very clearly shows that the instability, the psychological instability with the, uh, Israeli soldier, uh, has accumulated fear in him, has, uh, deprived him of this halo feeling that he had over the years and now he wants to restore this lost image. If matters continue as such, I believe that the future cycle of violence, uh, the next war that people talk about, I believe that it will be worse. It will be more horrific. If the previous war led to thousands of casualties, I believe the next one will lead to tens or even hundreds of thousands of victims.

Dr. Iyyad El-Sarraji

Allow me to add something. There is a psychological process, a long-term psychological process based in the situation of dehumanization of the enemy. The Palestinian in the eyes of the Israeli soldier is not an equal human being. Sometimes this Palestinian even becomes a demon in their eyes. Therefore it is a state of demonization. This is unfortunately, uh, what can be seen in the behavior of the Israeli soldier not only killing children or fathers before the eyes of children. But even in the way of dealing with the Palestinian just coming through, uh, a crossing point or border when the Palestinian is treated in a humiliating way simply to humiliate him. He is not dealt with as an equal human being. This is the base of everything and then there is the fact that there is no restraint, no discipline within the army and, uh, uh, even there's an encouragement. This is part of the Israeli military institution and previously we have seen many stories of how the Palestinians are being killed either at the hand of soldiers or settlers and then the accused or the, uh, responsible is, uh, found innocent, sometimes even a statute is put up for him as a hero.

This culture of demonization and dehumanization in addition to what was mentioned by, uh, my colleague, paranoia. Paranoia has two sides, the side of victimization, I am a victim of this world, the whole world is against me and on the other side, I am superior to this world and I can oppress it. This leads to what is called, uh, the, uh, arrogance of power. The worst we see in Israel is that a group of victims and the Jews were tortured for centuries, last of which was the Holocaust. The most serious matter is that this state was not dealt with psychologically, this state of the victim and it became a perpetual state. It is very serious is that a victim who is not treated and then is given a dangerous weapon.

There we see the arrogance of power and he uses it without thinking of humanity at all. In my view we are seeing not only state of war but also a state that is cultural and psychological and I hope, I wish that the Israelis would start, and there are many, many Jews in the world and in Israel that look into themselves, have an insight that would make them, uh, alleviate the fear that they have because there's a state of fear in Israel, in spite of all the power, and that they would start to walk on the road of dealing with the consequences of their own victimization and to start dealing with the Palestinian as a human being, a full human being who's equal in rights with the Israeli and also the other way around, the Palestinian must deal with himself, must respect himself and respect his own differences in order to be able to stand before the Israeli also as a full human being with equal rights and obligations. This is the real road for justice and for peace.

Chairman Richard Goldstone

If I can follow up on that, um, I'm particularly interested in what you say about dehumanization and recognition of human dignity because I've seen too much in my own experience of the effects of dehumanizing the victim or the oppressed. Uh, but what I'm interested to know is, is there a mirror image? Is there a dehumanization of Israelis in the approach of people in Palestine and other parts of the Arab world?

Dr. Iyyad El-Sarraji

Yes, there is no doubt. We look in general to the Israelis as demons and that we can hate them, that what we do is a reaction, and we say that the Israelis can only understand the language of power. The same thing that we say about the Israelis they say about us, that we only understand the language of violence or force. But we, the Palestinians have a greater capacity, in my view, to deal with the Israelis as equal human beings, as a whole human being. I believe more than in Israel because Israel, due to centuries of torture and humiliation everywhere in the world now have many, uh, places of fear, fear of the world. The Arab demagogues and leaderships and the Arab media that deal with the Palestinian question for publicity and for trade, they increased this feeling amongst the Israelis to feel that there's an environment of hate that wants to take everything from Israel. At the same time the Arabs and the demagogues know that they cannot do anything in fact. Therefore they have created this atmosphere. There's a very important psychological matter which we call the identification with the aggressor. This identification with the aggressor, uh, in short, the child that is hit by his father and the father is the symbol will in the future beat his own children unless he undergoes treatment.

Many Israelis need this and also the Palestinians because inside Israel there is an identification with the aggressor, the Nazi. Once a mayor of one of the settlements, he said, "I do not want the Palestinians in my farm and if they come we must put signs on their shoulders." This is what was done by the Nazis to the Jews. Chief of Staff Eitan in Israel, he also once said, "The Palestinians are cockroaches, grasshoppers. We must put them in a bottle close the bottle and throw them away." This was his view of the Palestinians. These were some Nazi expressions used against the Jews. Some of the Israeli generals had the same uniforms as the Nazis.

From my own experience I have seen Palestinians while I was in prison during the time of Yasser Arafat who would torture Palestinians in the same means that were used against them in Israeli jails. It was very clear for me in one of the state situations. I saw a Palestinian investigator ask an accused in his cell and when he did not respond the Palestinian investigator started screaming in Hebrew. He, uh, lost his temper and we saw the Israeli torturer.

Therefore there is a mutual, uh, situation of identification with the aggressor and as I mentioned, the child that lost his father in the first Intifada by beating and killing, when he was given the chance to play the game of Arab and Jew, he preferred to be the Jew because in his eyes this is the strength. Therefore it is, uh, uh, a matter that goes beyond, uh, psychiatry. It is administration. It is politics. It is a social matter and this must be dealt with by the Palestinian society and the Israeli society when the road and the journey to peace begins.

Chairman Richard Goldstone

Thank you very much. Anything else?

Professor Christine Chinkin

Thank you again. I'd like to go back to what you were describing as the sort of structural bases of psychological and mental health problems in Gaza and you briefly mentioned I think insecurity on the one hand, poverty on the other, and I wondered whether you could give us some kind of examples of how poverty in particular then leads to such psychological mental health problems.

Dr. Ahmed Abu-Tawahina

In fact and as I have mentioned, dealing with psychological problems that result from poverty is more difficult than dealing with mental problems relating to war and violence. I recall one of the patients I treated. He's a 40 year old man. He has a, uh, very large family. He lost his job because of the siege. His, uh, children continued to ask for their daily needs. One of the small, uh, one of his small children daily asked him for some money and the father daily answered, "I cannot, I cannot give you this money." So his child answered him one day, "So why did you bring me into this world since you cannot give me one shekel per day?" So the, uh, father went into a very severe state of depression. He tried to commit suicide twice. He was lucky because his family, uh, was following his situation up close and he was, uh, referred for treatment in the Gaza Health Programme. I started the treatment and I started with my patient, uh, talking about the best way of helping him. It was clear from the very beginning. He told me, "If you want to help me, find me a job. This will be the best treatment." I realized from the very beginning that all the techniques I have will not be useful in this situation or similar situations. The basic needs must be provided by giving job opportunities to people and by the way, it is not sufficient to give people parcels of ready food. They have to work.

Work is extremely important for mental health. Without work and even if a person receives everything he needs, this in itself is a problem. Uh, a very large number, the majority of people in Gaza depend on food aid given by the various agencies. This, uh, has led to a real problem of dependency and this is a real challenge to establishing the Palestinian society in the future and that if we have a real chance for peace.

Professor Christine Chinkin

Thank you.

Chairman Richard Goldstone

On behalf of the commission I thank you both very, very much for coming here and for your in-depth analysis and for the tremendous assistance that you have given to us. Thank you very much.

Dr. Ahmed Abu-Tawahina

Thank you.

Professor Christine Chinkin

Thank you.

Colonel Desmond Travers

Thank you.


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