Tariq Shadid: Palestinian National Auto-mutilation

By Tariq Shadid

Auto-mutilation, in psychiatry, is always a shocking phenomenon to those who witness it the first time. To the spectator, it is incomprehensible why a person would inflict wounds upon himself. Wounds of a kind, that one would fear suffering even in some horrifying nightmare. If one even shudders at the mere thought of these injuries, it is, at that time, difficult to empathize with the person, who has inflicted them upon himself.

To the experienced psychiatrist who treats this patient, however, it is less of a shock, and he sees it as a symptom of deep psychological anguish. For such aggression to have been built up inside, there must be a compelling reason, and he will be curious to know this reason. For it to be directed not at the outside world, but at oneself, must usually signify a deep sense of incapacity of engaging that outside world.

The psychiatrist will first, of course, call in the surgeon to treat the wounds. However, in the ensuing sessions, the psychiatrist will want to know everything about the family history, relationships and other factors, that reveal something about this person’s interaction with the outside world.

When we see Palestinians shedding each other’s blood, on the basis not of some ethnical or sectarian divide, but on the basis of differing political aims, it would be wise to approach this issue in a similar way. This nation is obviously in some deep collective psychological anguish, since this unprecedented infighting is not happening out of the blue.

What, for instance, is the reason for this aggression? Why the use of violence, instead of dialogue, to settle the differences? This indicates a high level of frustration, both in the originally socially coherent Palestinian rural and urban communities, and in the refugee camps. Life there, in the past years, has been made truly unbearable, by any human standards, by Israel’s iron-fisted oppression of the people living in the occupied territories.

Continuous unemployment, because of the ongoing Israeli military siege of their communities, has plunged hundreds of thousands of Palestinians, who could previously make a modest living, into harsh poverty. The withholding of millions of dollars of Palestinian tax money by Israel, and the American-European-Israeli boycott of the Palestinian economy, have left thousands of Palestinian Authority employees waiting for their salaries for months in a row. The goal of these measures is obvious, if not only through their results, since the goal of any siege and boycott in history, is usually to destroy a community, especially when illogical conditions are imposed on it.

How can Hamas recognize an occupying state, if that state has no official borders?

So yes, there is, in the Palestinian case, a clear cause for the ongoing aggression, if a people ever had any.  What surprises the Israeli agents, who have been engaged in infiltrating Palestinian society with the aim of causing this infighting, the most, is probably why it took so many years to make it happen.

Just like in auto-mutilation, this use of violence against the self, always sends out the wrong message. While the patient is actually in need of outside help, by his actions, he abhors those who might be of assistance, leaving only the very patient and understanding ones in a position to sympathize with him, usually a small minority. The causes, by these violent auto-mutilating actions, become obscured and get secondary attention, whereas the awful injuries become the main focus.

The ‘international community’, in the era of the War on Terror, recognizes the fact that the Palestinians are an oppressed people, who are being subjected to inhumane and unjustifiable cruelties. However, under the umbrella of the Bush empire, European governments like the British and Dutch, lean towards practically the same stance of blind support – more like turning a blind eye – towards Israel, as Washington’s.

When we look at the international relations of the Palestinian government, and see how these have been put under tremendous pressure, under the influence of the Western boycott, why should we be surprised if this isolation results in these scenes of infighting? The results of a successful policy of Machiavellian ‘divide and conquer’, have yet again proven their worth to the enemies of peace in the Middle East.

Still, just like in the case of the auto-mutilating patient, especially one that shows no clear signs of stopping this destructive process, after treating the wounds, there is a need for a serious internal dialogue between those struggling internal forces. It is not only a matter of a struggle for power – which power are we really talking about? The struggle is still, as it always has been, a struggle against an occupying force, even if the dynamics of it are currently turning to the favor of the Israelis.

The forces of Hamas and Fateh should be wise and experienced enough, to have this internal dialogue, but it is becoming increasingly obvious, that US-Israeli neo-colonial policy with its ‘birth pains’, is on the threshold of creating an analogous situation in Palestine and Lebanon, to that which it created in Iraq. Chaos in the Middle East, caused by such a clear policy, with such clear results, raises suspicions over that one most feared goal, the US and Israel might have: a preparation for a major escalation.

Apparently, to the forces who are aiming to subdue the Arab peoples of the Middle East, one old and dark fact seems to be quite obvious: it’s easier to kill your neighbour, if you set his house on fire first. However, what the Olmert regime and its American allies seem not to have calculated, is the obvious risk of burning your ‘own’ house down in the process.

Still, both the Palestinians and the Lebanese have a tough nut to crack, their economical dependence being their weak point in taking any common stand against these foreign-instigated internal animosities. It is up to the forces that seek cooperation with America and Israel, in both countries, to realize the potentially disastrous consequences of this stance. To those who seek to oppose them, it is important to realize, that under the present circumstances, it seems inevitable that some internal national deal needs to be struck, preferably before there is more bloodshed. Because even if there is more bloodshed and anguish, some deal will have to be made afterwards, nonetheless.

-Tariq Shadid is board member of the Palestinian Community in the Netherlands (PGN), and PGN’s  delegate to the Dutch Stop the War Coalition. He writes regularly for the Palestine Chronicle.

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