Umm Al-Hiran, Freud, and the Zionists’ Original Sin

Palestinian Arab MK Ayman Odeh lies wounded from an Israeli bullets in the Bedouin village of Umm Al-Hiran, Jan 18. (Photo: Keren Manor,

By Mahmoud Zidan

Very few had seen the massacring of Palestinians, the destruction of Palestine, and the expulsion of Palestinians en masse in 1948. One may have seen a documentary on or read about the tragedy, but it is never the same as seeing and bearing witness to it firsthand.

Yet, in the morning of the eighteenth of January, one could watch a reenactment of what Palestinians mourn every year: the Nakbah, the catastrophe. The reenactment was in the Israeli-controlled Palestinian village, Atir-Umm Al-Hiran, which is located in the Naqab (Negev) desert.

The details of the reenactment—orchestrated by Netanyahu—are as follows: Having killed two Palestinians, the Israeli colonial machine mostly razed the city to the ground and made its citizens homeless, or rather refugees yet again.

All the elemental claims that catalyzed the implementation of Israel’s vision—a blinding one at that—and Palestine’s nightmare were there.

But two are conspicuous: Umm Al-Hiran was claimed to be uninhabited; and when its inhabitants—unlike Zionist settlers, who, we are told, are pioneers who make use of the land—could not be blocked from view they were considered nomads: They roamed the land without cultivating it, and thus they did not improve or make any contribution to it.

The history of the village renders impossible to dispute the implications of that ideological erasure of the inhabitants of the village in particular and Palestinians in general.

The village was established in 1956 by the Israeli colonial army. The inhabitants belonged to the Qi’an family who during the pre-1948 period lived in “‘Khirbet Zubaleh,’ which they had cultivated for centuries,” according the 2011 Adalah Report titled “Nomads against Their Will: The attempted expulsion of the Arab Bedouin in the Naqab: The example of Atir–Umm al-Hiran.”

The establishment of Israel in 1948 meant—thanks to Plan Dalet—the expulsion of Palestinians from around 500 villages, one of which was the village inhabited by the Qi’ans.

The inhabitants had no choice but to move to other places. When they decided to go back to their village, they were prevented from doing that and were relocated under military orders to Atir-Umm Al-Hiran in 1956.

The Israeli colonial state later decided to make their alleged nomadism permanent, slowly but surely—as the cliché goes, a cliché that is constantly being reinvigorated by Israel’s draconian measures that target Palestinians every now and then.

The Israeli colonial state sued the local inhabitants, putting forward two arguments. Mohammd Bassam, an attorney working for Adalah, succinctly explains the first: “because the state granted the Bedouin permission to use the land, it was also entitled to revoke it.”

The second argument, which is a little more preposterous, had to do with the inability of the Zionist authorities to contact the inhabitants. They concluded that the state “was unable to identify or reach the inhabitants,” and the locals were considered “trespassers who were squatting illegally,” transforming through sleight of hand a land specified by Israeli military generals for Palestinian refugees into an “unrecognized village.”

As a result, the 1000-plus inhabitants were thought of as “a special obstacle,” according to the Israel Land Administration, to “developing” the land. Relocation without compensation was inevitable.

The decision was to move the inhabitants—produced as nomads in spite of their long years of settlement, let alone the derogatory use of the word “nomad” to suggest criminality—to “a small number of specially-designated reservation-like towns,” namely Hura (See “Nomads against Their Will”).

This move would set a precedent for further relocations. The thread running through such relocations—as Adalah puts it—is crystal clear: to “contain” and “concentrate” the so-called Bedouins. The end game of that insidious strategy is to push out the inhabitants of the Naqab desert into another place: perhaps the sea!

One of the underlying reasons for such constant relocation is pragmatic: Israel’s interest in the oil reserves in the Naqab desert. The expulsion of Palestinians will empty the land for exploration, a word that is synonymous with colonial theft.

Another reason suggests that the relocations are reminiscent of Israel’s sadistic strategy of persecuting Palestinians wherever they are; that is, to make life unlivable for them so that they can become living dead while making sure that that is accompanied by constant movement. Indeed, Israel is very well invested in nomadizing, as it were, Palestinians.

After all, nomadizing—again this is not to suggest that there is anything inherently negative about nomads—the inhabitants of Umm Al-Hiran in particular is meant to pave the way for the settlers or the allegedly civilized population.

The Israeli Colonial State now wants to establish in its stead another Jewish village, read settler colony, under the name Hiran. University of London Professor Neve Gordon, who visited the Jewish community that is going to replace the Palestinian one, reports that the community consists of “about 30 religious families,” already living in great conditions, making real before our very eyes the reenactment, the substitution of one community for another.

Greed and power aside, how can one understand Israel’s obdurate behavior?

I think that it is time to turn to psychoanalysis, as Freud, whose stance on Zionism was ambivalent, may ironically provide one with a deeper understanding of Israel’s designs.

In his lengthy essay “Beyond the Pleasure Principle,” Freud writes: “The patient cannot remember the whole of what is repressed in him, and what he cannot remember may be precisely the essential part of it. Thus he acquires no sense of conviction of the correctness of the construction that has been communicated to him. He is obliged to repeat the repressed material as a contemporary experience instead of, as the physician would prefer to see, remembering it as something belonging to the past.”

It is clear that Freud’s analysis could be used to analyze Israel’s acts vis-a-vis the inhabitants of Umm Al-Hiran. Israel simply has that disorder: the compulsion to repeat. Indeed, it “is obliged to repeat” its originary moment as many times as possible, and it cannot avoid it—it is Israel’s primal scene, to stick to Freudian terminology.

It is worth recalling that Freud’s dystopian vision is not only meant to account for the behavior of mental patients but also the human condition in its entirety.

In his last book, Civilization and Its Discontents, Freud claims: “Men [read human beings] are not gentle creatures who want to be loved, and who at the most can defend themselves if they are attacked; they are, on the contrary, creatures among whose instinctual endowments is to be reckoned a powerful share of aggressiveness. As a result, their neighbor is for them not only a potential helper or sexual object, but also someone who tempts them to satisfy their aggressiveness on him, to exploit his capacity for work without compensation, to use him sexually without his consent, to seize his possessions, to humiliate him, to cause him pain, to torture and kill him. Homo homini lupus.”

The translation of the last sentence is ‘man is a wolf to man.’ (History flouts Freud’s vision, as it suggests that human beings can and do support one another. A case in point is the support that the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa received from all over the world.)

I disagree with Freud’s tendency to overgeneralize. Nevertheless, I argue that Freud’s analysis perfectly diagnoses Zionists’ behaviors and mentality. And what a sick mentality!

– Professor Mahmoud Zidan lives in Jordan. He contributed this article to

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