On Israel and Palestine…

November 16, 2023By Evangelos Tsempelis1 Comment

          photography by Artemis Tsakiri                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          


Zurich, 16/11/23 


In the wake of the cataclysmic events occurring in Gaza during the past weeks it is impossible to remain unperturbed. The barbaric heinous crimes of Hamas against innocent civilians in Israel were followed by a disproportionate (see principles of just war) armed response by Israel causing unfathomable suffering and death to thousands of Palestinian civilians. As a European citizen observing these horrendous events from afar, I feel helpless horror, confusion and guilt. 


I feel helpless in my inability to affect events of such horror and scale;  seeing civilians suffer such violence fills me with sadness. I feel dismay not solely for these acts of infinite violence exerted on fragile human lives but also for all the political calculus in which they are embedded.  Behind such acts stand actual men who have made decisions based on a type of thinking that is even more destructive than the actual bombs and riffles deployed to spread death.


Thankfully, I am not a politician; I do not have to engage in the military logic of defending a nation, a state, a religion or a collective idea by bombing hospitals, ambulances and an entire population of diminished aliens, amongst whom hide my enemies. 


Neither am I a terrorist or freedom fighter – the late professor Rubin, at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, has taught me  that one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter- who in a mad pursuit of resistance against an unforgivable wrong committed against my people I feel justified to murder, rape, maim and kidnap civilians. 


As a citizen of an affluent European country, nevertheless, I feel shame and guilt for my daily forgetfulness, which allows me to carry on with my daily tasks, undistracted, while people of another geography suffer and perish so brutally. But, my guilt, I recognise, goes much deeper than the recognition of my aloof de-sensitisation.  Beyond my individual complacency, my forgetfulness in daily comforts, tasks and duties, it extends to the realisation that this latest disaster is one more episode of a problem whose structure is related to prior acts of violence perpetrated by Europeans.   Notwithstading the fact that Europeans also ascribe through their institutions to the norms that stand for a universal order of democracy and human rights. Such is our paradox. One that needs to be fully appreciated without resorting to a facile form of guilt-ridden-anti-westernism or of nihilistic anti-humanism, respectively. 

I will not talk about the Holocaust nor about the long legacy of antisemitism in western societies; I will not expand on the colonial past of European nations, which comes with a reprehensible history of hegemony, repression and violence on “lesser” indigenous people. 

All of the above is well known; it is analysed and documented by people who are much more learned in such matters than I am. Rather, I want to talk about another dimension of this ,which is more personal and perhaps more elusive. It occurs to me that the latest round of violence in Israel and Gaza has brought home to me a very uncomfortable truth by which I cannot stand unaffected. 

It has renewed my awareness as to the existence of a certain hierarchy that seems to be operative deep within. I  do not (consciously) subscribe to a hierarchy of nations, races or genders. Yet, I cannot avoid the realisation that there is a certain inner lens, which renders certain kinds of suffering more visible. What is castigated as the bias of Western media may be the result rather than the cause of this.  It takes less effort to empathise with people, whose religion, culture, mores  and appearance are experienced as more familiar and akin to one’s own.  This is a very ugly truth to confront in one’s self.

Empathy, it seems, has an egoistic dimension. Its intensity is a function of one’s ability to recognise in the suffering of the other some aspect of one’s own self.  Therein lies a deeper issue.  Namely, how the colonial legacy and the history of domination of the West has permeated our entire lifeworld so that the very notions that we deploy to analyse, organise and comprehend reality carry traces of oppressive legacies. I listen to my dear friend and colleague, Antonio Lafranchi, protesting that our psychological language is fraught with a systematic repression of the other; the non-occident alien (my words). He is right!

I hear my client K. struggling to open my eyes at my inability to see her in my (complacent, culturally-specific) passion to be an agent for her emancipation. She is right too…

In my own work, I have been writing about the importance of moving towards a psychology of destitution. Theoretically, I take this to mean that there is a certain obligation to work through the heavy, dense notional infrastructure of depth psychology in order to seek a place of informed ignorance vis a vis our clients. 

I worry about the covert hierarchies that have creeped into our notions. I am concerned about the ways our secular or scientific tools systematically carry a violence in the form of forgetfulness- what Martin Heidegger has called Ontotheology [I am aware of the irony of evoking this name in this context].  

I dread the thought of exerting this violence onto the people who arrive at our practices feeling most vulnerable and wounded, seeking some sanctuary, a topos, to build meaning for themselves.  I oppose the idea of confronting them with well-formed notions about what psyche is or how meaning is to be encountered, either as a positive content, a prescribed developmental trajectory about self and history, or as a more sophisticated dialectic of negativity. 

Practically, psychology of destitution pertains to a commitment to de-robing oneself from self-reaffirming certainties. Committing to the copious labor of thoughtfully and carefully working through, layer-after-layer, past the artifices that obscure the humanity of both analyst and analysand in the intimacy of their encounter. 

Ultimately, psychology, as I have come to understand it, is not about “soul (-making)” or “psyche”; it is not about archetypes and the collective unconscious; nor is it about big dreams, images, notions or transcendental experiences; not even about “wholeness “or “integration”. I see it as an open-ended hermeneutical practice of dialogue aiming to bring us back to our humanity against all the forces and processes that systematically work to obscure it; a practice aimed at bringing us to our knees; wrestle us from forgetfulness/existential oblivion and unrelatedness.

In the name of the dominant abstractions that characterise our epoque (progress, productivity, development, objectivity, impact, scale, to name a few) and by servitude to higher truths acquiring the status of the absolute, in its many guises, dehumanisation seems to advance on its deleterious course.


Grateful for the photography of Artemis Tsakiri.


1 Comment

    J.A20th November 2023 | 12:43 pm

    History didn’t start on October 7. The initial portrayal of Hamas as the exclusive perpetrator of “barbaric heinous crimes” lacks consideration of the conflict’s historical depth. By narrowing the focus to recent events and October 7, the article overlooks the enduring and systemic injustices faced by Palestinians, such as prolonged occupation, settlement expansion, and the humanitarian crisis in Gaza since 2008. This has been acknowledged by Antonio Guterres the UN Secretary General who stated the attack “did not happen in a vacuum”.
    The characterization of Israel’s actions as merely “disproportionate” is overly reductionist. Given the deliberate infliction of death and destruction on Gaza’s civilian population, a more accurate description might be ethnic cleansing or even genocide.
    Western biases have not only led to a lack of empathy toward the people in Gaza but have also contributed to the dissemination of false information and lies that legitimize the genocide against Gaza’s population. These biases go beyond mere perspectives and have been actively used to build consensus for this genocide.
    For instance, a false claim that Hamas killed Israeli citizens during a music festival circulated widely. In reality, Israel, using Apache helicopters, mistakenly fired on its own civilians, confusing them with Hamas fighters. Additionally, the reported death toll of 1400 was later reduced to 1200, with 200 of the casualties falsely categorized as Hamas fighters.
    To know more read this:
    “October 7 testimonies reveal Israel’s military ‘shelling’ Israeli citizens with tanks, missiles – The Grayzone
    VIDEO: What really happened on October 7? – The Grayzone”
    The previous critiques raised important questions about the ability of Western intellectual discourse, including psychotherapy, to authentically reflect the truth without being influenced by biases and power dynamics.

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