Across the Lines: The Phenomenology of Cooperation between
Psychologist and Palestinian Mental Health Professionals
Kaye Teachers College, Beer-Sheva, Israel
Editor's Note: This paper was written at the
height of optimism in the Oslo peace process between Israel and Palestine,
all but destroyed by the second intifada. It describes the author's work in
the 1990's with Palestinians, and was never published. After some consideration,
I decided to keep the paper as is, for historical purposes, and for possible
comment in the future.
This article presents my work as an Israeli psychologist with Palestinian mental health professionals during most of 1994, which entailed consultation during the process of establishing community mental health projects in Gaza and Nablus.
The article begins with an overview, giving a relatively short chronology of the events concerned. Then, the experiences are analyzed using two phenomenological methods:
1. Intentional analysis is a phase of the phenomenological reduction. This method was originally developed by Husserl (1965) in an attempt to understand personal and social meanings of a phenomenon while bracketing out these aspects of experience and peeling them off one by one, like anonion. The method here is used as applied by Keen (1975), who relates to the peels - called "horizons" - as an important part of human experience in themselves: the building blocks for structuring human experience.
2. A hermaneutic method was developed by Medard Boss (Condrau,
1988) according to the early philosophy of Heidegger
(1927/1962). This method is cited by Spiegelberg (1960)
as one of the more exotic types of phenomenological analysis, bordering on
the existential. This procedure helps us understand human activities in terms
of basic human dimensions which Heidegger called "existentials",
meaning that he believed they were the most basic modes of intuiting human
In February 1994 the Third Working Congress on Conflict Resolution was held in Cairo. Despite the agreeable name, this was the first time Israelis were welcome at an installment of the congress, and two delegations were sent. I was a member of the delegation sent by IMUT, the Israel Association of Mental Health Workers for Advancement of Peace. Israel's Foreign Office sent the other delegation.
The important aspect of the conference, of course, was the between - session mingling, and Israelis eagerly made new friends among Palestinians from the occupied territories and other Arab countries. I managed to converse in broken Arabic with a Cairo psychologist and it turned out that we had served in the same theater of action in the Yom Kippur War.
During a break at a session held at the Palestine Red Crescent Hospital, Ahmad, Wajdan and Shadia, and I sat talking about our work (I to Ahmad: "What do you do?" Ahmad: "I try to relieve the suffering of my people." I, after a short pause: "Well, uh, how do you do it?"). The three of them work at the Gaza Community Mental Health Program (GCMHP), established and directed by Dr. Eyad El-Saraj, an energetic and far - sighted Gazan Psychiatrist. I had met Eyad several times and had visited him at his clinic in Gaza. As we entered the next session, Shadia asked if I would be interested in coming to Gaza to discuss setting up a project to work with women who had been political prisoners or whose husbands had been in prison. Shadia works in public relations for the Clinic, and had pressed Eyad to set up the project. She had interviewed many women herself and convincingly presented the data to him. He had promised her that if she could put together a professional project proposal, he would try to find funding. About two weeks later we set up a meeting together with Eyad.
During the first meeting we discussed the process of conceptualizing the project. A steering committee was set up representing practician, research, administration and volunteer aspects of the GCMHP. The committee met over a period of two months and came up with a viable proposal, based on Freire's (1970/1993) model, that called for creating groups of several women, combining economic, social and educational empowerment. The first group would be trainers for other groups. The document was finalized a few days before the Palestinian Authority was effected in May 1994. The implementation of the project has taken much longer than hoped because of the changes that occurred during the process of turning Gaza over to the Palestinian Authority. Several months later, Shadia invited me to see what had been implemented so far and to meet with Ms. Suhah Arafat, the first lady of thePalestine Authority.
A few weeks after the project proposal was finalized, Ms. Majd El-Amad, a mental health worker from Nablus, contacted me. Majd had also been at the Cairo conference, but we had not talked then. She was interested in setting up a women and families mental health center in Nablus and Eyad had given her my name. We set up a meeting in Nablus to discuss the matter, and met for about three months every week or two. The project proposal was completed to Eyad's satisfaction at around October 1994 and he has been trying to get it funded. Majd works for a women's organization in Nablus and mostly acts alone. She set up a non-profit agency, with Eyad as a member of the board, along with several prominent West-Bank academicians and mental health practitioners.
During this time we also conferred concerning a paper she gave at a conference in Malta, and continuing her studies in psychology (she later entered a graduate program in the USA).
In all, there were between fifteen and twenty trips "past
customs" to Gaza or Nablus, to meetings with Palestinian mental health
professionals and discussing matters of vital concern to them, both personally
and professionally. They are truly, as Ahmad said, trying to relieve the suffering
of their people. It was a privilege to be a minuscule part of that relief.
Horizons of Working Across the Lines
Human experience always occurs against the background of memories or expectations, or with "anonymous" preconceptions (Brand, 1967). Part of phenomenological work is to discover these horizons, implicit ways of structuring experience, in order to express its deeper meaning . In fact, this work can never be completed, because for every experience there are myriad horizons. In this section several horizons will be discussed, bringing specific experiences as examples.
The Horizon of Conflict: Many Palestinians and Israelis apperceive each other against the background of conflict between the two peoples.This horizon pervades both space and time, the most fundamental dimensions of human experience. A spacial horizon may be a meeting place near a battleground or an ugly incident for one or both parties. A temporal horizon may be bitter personal memories or history constructed subtlely by one of the sides.
Often, this horizon was most evident in what was not said. I have no idea of Shadia's nor Majd's political views, nor of their former (and present) participation in the conflict. One time I had to talk with Majd while I was on reserve duty. I told her I was calling from an army base. Later, The next time we met I asked her if my military background bothered her; she said no, and that was the end of it - or was it? When I first met Majd, we told each other a little about ourselves. I emphasized my background in the peace movement; she emphasized her professional training.
The silence about the ambience of conflict could have been a method of coping with overwhelming emotions, of keeping on track for the purpose at hand, of showing me that a true professional takes a neutral attitude toward the social aspects of the work - or perhaps I should take the silence at its face value - that she was not interested in my political views. At any rate, I decided not to break the silence. The use of the professional attitude as a neutralizer of political aspects of her work seemed to be typical of Majd. I once called her attitude "middle class", which made her laugh. On the other hand, this attitude seemed to work and helped her cope with many difficult situations, which may have become well nigh impossible had she been flooded with the wider meaning of the work while doing it.
The Gaza people, on the other hand, talked about the conflict all the time, perhaps because of the community mental health orientation. Husam, Shadia's crony in public relations, discussed the political situation incessantly, leaving me sometimes with the irrational feeling that I was being reported on to some secret tribunal. Perhaps he fantasized I was doing the same. It is probably closer to the truth that Husam is an incredibly curious person who has accumulated mounds of trivia on Israeli society and politics.
During one of my earlier visits to Gaza, the GCMHP van was subjected to a routine humiliation by a young Israeli soldier. At a roadblock, the driver, probably older than the soldier's father, was told several times to back up and go forward, before being waved through. The driver responded in Hebrew with what the '60's black comedian Dick Gregory once called a "Mississippi survival kit" - ten "yessa bosses" and a shuffle. As the van shuffled through the road block, I felt an eerie feeling of both shame for my countryman's affront and satisfaction at sharing the fate of the others in the van. Shadia and Husam chose to relate to me at that time as a partner, and the incident may have contributed to the joining I needed as an outsideconsultant over the horizon of conflict between their people and mine.
This joining is difficult to get over, even after crossing the lines back into "friendly" territory. Suddenly Israeli territory did not seem so friendly any more. One time, walking to my car after returning from a visit in Gaza, a soldier accosted me. I froze instantly, until he thawed me out by asking for a ride to Netivot, a nearby town. I was left with the feeling of being in exile from the whole intolerable situation. I shall return to this sensation later.
The Horizon of Danger: Going over this paper, I find that danger and fear of death pervade many of my reactions. Often this feeling of danger is accompanied by a deep sense of embarrassment, a sense that this feeling of danger is a betrayal of friendships formed across the lines of hate. Usually, the feeling of danger would dissipate the minute Shadia or Majd appeared, and I was able to conduct the day's business in a straightforward manner. One time, I even accompanied Husam to the center of Gaza and got out of the car with him while he bought me a felafel. Yet, just as the feeling of danger seemed absent in personal contacts, it paradoxically returned upon arriving back on the Israeli side, and was unshakable. This may also be a result of reactions of Israeli friends, even those who had spent time in Gaza. When I brought up the matter of visits to Gaza during a professional discussion at an IMUT board meeting, I was chastised for cavalier behavior, analyzed for feelings of omnipotence, and exhortized never to go twice on the same day or at the same hour. The terror of what could happen to a Jew in Gaza or Nablus was omnipresent.
On the other hand, my wife totally supported the visits to Gaza and Nablus, to the point of coming twice with me to Gaza. This support, which must seem to some a folie a deux, was what allowed the meetings to happen.
The feeling of impending danger was somewhat legitimized by the Gazans and Nablans, as they both provided detailed security instructions. In Gaza I was disguised as a tourist; in Nablus as a visiting professor from Bir Zeit University. Since, as an observant Jew I wear a head covering easily identified as Jewish, similar to the hated Israeli settlers in occupied territories, I changed the head covering to a floppy hat. Once, already on the way to Gaza, I realized that I' forgotten the hat, and had to make do with whatever I could find in one of the towns on the way. I wonder what Shadia and Husam thought when I entered their van wearing a ten-gallon stetson-compatible hat. As well-mannered as ever, they just ignored it. At Nablus, Majd investigated the matter thoroughly before giving her instructions: the situation there was more complex because I was to go through Nablus myself, unprotected by an organizational van like the one in Gaza. Her solution was to put signs in Arabic on the front and back of the car, which read "Bir Zeit University". The front dashboard and back shelf had to be covered by a traditional Arab headdress, called a Hata. This disguise resembled the veneer of Israeli Palestinians who visit the area and gave superficial immunity from stoning and worse.
While psychoanalytic colleagues may make (and have made) the most of the inability to consolidate the attitudes toward danger which my behavior shows in and out of the specific environs of work with the Palestinians, I claim sanctuary in the terrain of this paper, the purpose of which is phenomenological analysis, and leave unconscious conflicts for another time. This issue will be further discussed under the horizon of separate histories and the existential analysis of being-towards death.
The Horizon of Culture: As culture gives the human race its most basic myths of the meaning of life, the most trivial gestures or voice intonations are often perceived and ascribed deep meaning through theeyes of culture. An astounding example of this structure of meaning in our professional lives is Cushman's (1991) re-reading of Stern's book The interpersonal World of the Human Infant (1985) through the filter of oriental culture. Culture establishes itself through the most fundamental channels, such as food and shelter.
As an observant Jew, keeping traditional Jewish dietary laws was an important problem in my relationship with the Palestinians. Many traditional Jewish commentators have remarked that one of the reasons for such formidable laws is expressly to separate the Jew from the non-Jew in daily life. These laws are detailed and complex; the venture to illustrate problems in this realm to the uninitiated reader may be beyond the realm of sanity. Nevertheless, at least an attempt should be made: An observant Jew does not eat milk together with meat. This injunction is brought to the point of, for instance, not eating foods containing milk products on dishes from which meat has previously been eaten. This separation of "milk dishes" from "meat dishes" is one of the basic manifestations of the Kosher home and is taken very seriously. I remember that as a child in Sunday school in the USA we were told of a Jewish continental soldier in the American War of Independence who was captured by the British and died in captivity because he refused to eatnon-kosher food. The cultural - as opposed to religious - aspect of this story may be illustrated by the fact that it was told in a positive manner in the framework of a non-observant Jewish Sunday school!
Returning to the present situation, it takes a great deal of Talmudic disputation to apply these laws to important meetings with Palestinians where common partaking of food is a form of bonding. The manifold ways I used to come to grips with the problem of Jewish dietary observance while dialogueing with friendly Palestinians would bore - or appall - the uninitiated reader. Shadia was given a hint of the problem, but Majd got a more detailed course in Kosher cooking, since our meetings were in her house and her mother often fixed refreshments.
One of the meetings in Gaza was scheduled during Passover, a holiday especially stringent in its dietary laws. I came with Dita Fischl, a guidance counsellor who works with me in Israel, and who is a completely non-observant Jewish Israeli. She brought some rice cakes along with her, labeled "kosher for Passover", as she thought I would have nothing to eat during the meeting. I explained to her that Ashkenazic Jews (i.e. Jews of European origin) do not eat rice during Passover. At any rate, as I understood the Palestinian culture, it would be better if I ate nothing at all than if I brought along my own food, which would send the message of condescension. I thought to myself, if another Jew of similar background has trouble understanding me, what can I expect of the Palestinians? The Gazans, true to form, gave out cakes as refreshments, and did not press me when I did not eat them. If they were insulted, perhaps their culture prohibited them from showing it? Perhaps they had gotten used to my personal idiosyncrasies?
In his diary, Khalil El-Sakakini, a prominent Palestinian writer and educator of the first half of the twentieth century, describes how he hid a Jewish friend from the Ottomans during World War I (El-Sakakini, 1955/1990). The friend refused to eat any of his food, and was nourished instead by another Jew. Under torture, this Jew informed on them, causing both El-Sakakini and the Jew he had hidden to be exiled to Damascus, almost losing their lives. Needless to say, El-Sakakini could find little sympathy for the inconvenience caused by my countryman. Today, the Palestinians who sympathize with the Fattah movement are mostly secular. Most of them, though of Moslim origin, do not keep the less dietary laws of Islam. Religious fundamentalism is considered a stumbling block for the peace process both on the Palestinian and the Israeli side.
I have elaborated the dietary problem in some detail because it was a problem I was aware of and attempted to deal with. Many problems in the horizon of culture are so hidden from our perception that it often takes a third party to identify and deal with them. The problem is compounded by culture-based strategies of dealing with the outsider; so both sides of us had to deal with the other and deal with our method of dealing with the other as well, creating the popular impression of two mirrors facing each other endlessly reflecting one another. I havediscussed this problem in another article on my work in Bedouin Schools (Landsman, 1990).
The Horizon of Separate Histories: Our cultures have separate collective histories, where some of the events occurred only to one group, while others affected both groups, but were experienced from different perspectives, like fraternal twins who both have a sibling the same age, and give birthday parties the same day, inviting somewhat different friends, receiving different gifts, and perhaps even receiving ice cream and cake in slightly different proportions. The 1948 war, called by Israelis "the War of Independence", was, of course, seen by Palestinians in a completely different perspective. These perspectives shed a different light on today's events and give them fundamentally different meanings. An example of crucial differences in collective history are the Israeli experience during the last fifty years of agency, and later, of collective freedom. The Palestinian experience during the same period has been dependence and/or subjugation. One of the important consequences of this difference in perspectives has been the conclusion, slow to come, that the Israelis must take part in solving the Palestinian problem, that Israel cannot be a truly modern democracy while acting as perpetual conqueror. This decision to enter the peace process from the Israeli point of view can only come from the experience of freedom, where one has responsibility for the consequences of one's actions and can therefore willfully change actions in accordance with the consequences. The Palestinians, on the other hand, coming to the peace process from a history of subjugation, see it in a radically different perspective... but I shall not try to analyze the situation from their perspective. Nevertheless, the Palestinian history of subjugation will not be erased upon the new experience of freedom; it will only be reinterpreted.
As important as the differences in social history are as horizons in working across the lines, differences in personal history are no less important. My personal history, which is relevant to the work discussed in this article, includes growing up in southern USA and adolescence in the upheavals of the '60s. My frame of reference is juxtaposed on a liberal-traditional Jewish background living with fundamentalist Christians. Thus, when I became more observant, I was drawn to more fundamentalist aspects of Judaism and often referred to myself as a "Baptist Jew". The civil rights upheavals in the South during this period instilled in me an urgency to choose sides, to define my position in terms of loyalties, and to believe that the Almighty was on the side of right and therefore we would win in the end. I often found myself standing up to my gentile - and Jewish - friends on civil rights issues, using a discourse of fundamentalist Christian imagery.
Occasional discussions with Eyad during my visits to Gaza brought out the "Baptist Jew" in me. His positive view of Israeli democracy ("I can publish in an Israeli newspaper what I can't publish in Palestine") reminded my of my relationship with American gentile surroundings. He was aghast, or perhaps a bit comforted, when Dita told him that the Beatles had been refused entry to Israel in the 1960's because the establishment feared they would corrupt the youth. Eyad burns with a fervent commitment to full democracy in Palestine and is outspoken in his fears that human rights will be repressed there.
Another important difference I had with Majd and the Gazans wasin attitudes toward religion and fundamentalism. Involvement of religious sects in the non-violent dialectic towards freedom seems largely foreign to them. One of the messages Majd insisted on transmitting through the media in our proposed project is that families should come to a mental health professional rather than to the local faith healer. There seems to be no middle ground between faith healers and mental health professionals and my suggestions to give the healers mental health training and not go against the grain of the community seemed naive and anti-progressive to her. Perhaps they are. Perhaps one of us, or both of us, are prisoners of our respective histories.
The Horizon of Gender: The two major protagonists who worked with me on the Palestinian side were women. The projects were women's mental health community projects. We all come from an environment of changing roles for women and surely it must have affected the way we worked together. In working on these projects, I played the role of the male expert consultant, and Shadia and Majd played the role of the female consultee. Gender has always been a blind spot for me and I am sure many things occurred which a more experienced observer would spot as gender-horizon. I shall nevertheless mention some instances where I took notice of this horizon.
Both Shadia and Majd seemed to be used to an adversarial role with men, but went about it in different styles. During my first visit to Gaza, I met with Shadia and several other members of the GCMHP staff, among them the director, Eyad, who turned out to be Shadia's brother. During the discussion, I made the mistake of interrupting Shadia and criticizing a pilot survey she had done. She did not try to argue or continue the point. Although my Arabic is poor, I do not believe I heard her argue with men. Yet somehow she got her way. It seems to me that her style of argument was to convince other women and use them as allies, or to present her opinions in writing, where she could be fully heard out. Majd used a more direct and confrontational approach, backing down if she felt she went too far. I found myself bending over backwards to listen to both of them, and although this was, of course, my job, I think that part of my unusual sensitivity was an attempt to be aware of the situation (as I perceived it) and to compensate - perhaps overcompensate.
Since my wife accompanied me twice to Gaza, I had the opportunity to see how Shadia reacted to her, as well. I can definitely state that, although I met with Shadia much more than she did, everything personal I know about Shadia I heard from my wife. The male/female roles just did not allow me to speak with my hostesses on a more personal level. It is perhaps interesting to note that although my wife has never met Majd, her reaction to the Malta paper I had helped Majd write was strongly negative and had a deep personal hue, as she seemed to connect the paper to discussions she had participated in with other Palestinian women. When I passed this reaction on to Majd, she urged me to show my wife any corrections, apparently sensing that her reaction might be more typical of the women to whom she would read the paper. The message I received in both instances was that my work with both Majd and Shadia was so dominated by my masculine orientation that I could not be trusted on certain levels. Ah, well - the people who had to approve the projects were probably men.
Obviously, the number of horizons which give extra-essential
meaning to a meeting across the lines of hostility, danger, culture, personal
histories and gender is infinite, and even the choice of horizons to discuss
is influenced by the meaning given these meetings. In the interests of space
I shall limit the discussion to the above horizons and shall now turn to the
meaning itself. As mentioned above, the framework chosen for this analysis
of meaning is from a more existential branch of the phenomenological movement,
and is based upon Heidegger's analysis of the fundamental
meaning of human existence, which he calls "existentials".
Analysis of Existentials
Heidegger (1927/1962) has claimed that human existence may be analyzed in its most basic form by six dimensions: Spaciality, temporality, bodihood, attunement and mood, being-with-others (mitsein) and being-towards-death.
Spaciality: As we live our lives through physical space, we interact with space in terms of meaning, taking this meaning with us to other spaces. In addition, we give meaning to the space in which we dwell and we may dwell upon spaces without actually being there physically. Our living room is determined by the living that interacts with the physical walls (Condrau, 1988). Keen (1975) uses an auditorium as a metaphor for experienced space. When the auditorium is empty, we have a spectral feeling of a ghost town. When the auditorium is filled, we lose this feeling, but if the speaker is not present, we still sense an expectancy. After the speech, the movement of people out of the auditorium is in line with our expectations, although if this had occurred during the speech, we would certainly feel differently about it. These experiences in space are often largely independent of time, although they may occur in a sequence.
One of the pivotal pictures of experienced space in these projects was passing from the Israeli to the Palestine side. In the Gaza experience, this rite of passage is sharp. I park my car with the Israeli license plates in a lot for that purpose, walk past a checkpoint, which is an opening in a fence which forms a clear boundary, and go through a fenced-in area which exists only on the Palestinian side used for the lines of workers leaving the Gaza strip to work in Israel each day. About 200 meters from the check point Shadia would wait in the GCMHP van, accompanied by a male driver. Everything is clear, and until the turnover of Gaza to the Palestinian Authority, was always the same. A person moving from Israel to Gaza is always oriented and knows where he or she is. The womb-space of my car is exchanged for the womb-space of the GCMHP van in a matter of minutes, giving the feeling that the mother of us all is somewhere around this space taking care of us.
Not so to the nebulous ride to Nablus. Although there are up to three roadblocks between the Kesem junction which more or less marks the green line separating the Territories from Israel, there is no fence and no other sharp demarcation, leaving the interpretation of space completely to the person involved. The interpretation of space as being friendly or alien was essential to me as I was expected to change my costume from Israeli to Palestinian to avoid being attacked on the way. Thus, I had to decide which side I was on somewhere in the thirty kilometers between Kesem and Nablus. The first time this was accomplished, I picked a spot on the map, about 8 km outside Nablus and just after the last Israeli settlement. Riding alone, Tracey Chapman wason the tape deck, who sang:
Across the lines
Who would dare to go
Under the bridge, over the tracks
That separate Whites from Blacks.
Two sides - run for your lives
The night the riots began.
The interpretation of space as friendly or alien is central to the existence in Israel-held territories. Even upon entering Palestine as a Palestinian, space is not entirely friendly. There are roadblocks which remind one that control of space is not complete. Since Palestinians are subject to searches (often arbitrary) in their homes without warrant and without notice, at all times of the day or night, there is no absolutely inviolable space. After changing into a Palestinian identity, I had to wait in line at the roadblocks like any other Palestinian. While being interrogated, even after it was clear to the soldiers that I was Israeli, the atmosphere was still suspicious.
Inside Nablus, I felt I was living in two space-dimensions at once. This feeling was particularly evident in some futile attempts to find Majd's house. The first time we met, Majd waited at a central location that was easy to find. The second time she waited outside her house. The third time she must have felt I should know the way and waited inside. In reality, it is embarrassingly easy to reach Majd's house from the Kalkilia-Nablus road. Nevertheless, on the third trip to Nablus I drove by her house several times, and would never have recognized it if she hadn't happened to go out to look for me, exasperated at the delay. The fifth time, I drove through Nablus for over an hour, totally lost. A shop keeper motioned me to stop. He explained in Arabic that he saw me going back and forth so many times; perhaps he could help. Afraid to answer in poor Arabic, I replied in English. He called a boy out, who got in my car and showed the way.
The problem of finding my way in Nablus illustrates the influence of a state of mind on spaciality. Both sides of the line were at that time to me both friend and foe. In Gaza I had been met just across the line and nursed into the GCMHP, while in Nablus I had to make my own way, accompanied by a feeling of inefficacy and disjunction. First and foremost the result was a disturbance in spaciality. It is interesting to note that as soon as the shopkeeper's boy showed me the way, there was no more trouble finding Majd, and I even masterminded my way to her home from an entirely different direction when I had to drive in from Jerusalem one day. It seems that the universality of a friendly gesture to a stranger was the palladium that allowed me to regain spacial focus.
Events in Gaza also wreaked their havoc on my spaciality. The bodyof the GCMHP van gave the feeling in the beginning a separate peace, and traveling in it, there was a feeling of seeing Gaza from inside a bubble. This gave the experience a dream-like quality, disjointed like in Nablus, but with an unreal security, all of Gaza was still hostile except for the space within the van. This feeling abated after leaving the van to be treated to a Felafel in downtown Gaza by Husam, who works with Shadia in public relations, and walking from the clinic with Shadia and Husam to the meeting with Ms. Arafat.
Temporality: Temporality is one of the few existentials that Husserl (1928/1964) discussed in depth. It is not trivial that his collection of essays on construction of time in consciousness was edited by Heidegger just after Being and Time (1927/1962) was written and just before his break with Husserl. Time is considered both by "pure" phenomenologists and by existentialists as the major and most fundamental dimension, horizon and carrier of human existence. It is no wonder, then, that in existential terms psychosis is primarily a disturbance of time (Landsman, 1992). As a carrier of human existence, experience may define and construct time as well as being defined and constructed by it. A curious slogan often found in printing shops aptly illustrates the human construction of time:
Too long for those who wait
Too short for those who are joyous
An eternity for those who grieve
But for those who love, time is not (T. Landsman, 1976).
In everyday language, time interacts directly with our present experiencing, our anticipation and our memories. Our consciousness is utterly filled with temporal affairs. A person can remember (present -> past) childhood anticipations (past -> future) of retiring, or anticipate memories of this present unforgettable moment (present -> future -> past) (Keen, 1975).
Apropos temporality and psychosis, I found myself living in an unreal world from the day before traveling to Nablus until late in the day of the visit. Matters later in the day did not help to dispel the feeling: I would leave my home in Southern Israel about 5:30 am, arrive in Nablus about 8:30, and leave at 10:30. I would return to Israel at an undetermined time and usually with no time to breathe and get my bearings because of the variable waiting time at three roadblocks - to courses in psychotherapy. The first class, on the clinical interview, was always at the Shalvatah Hospital, where we interviewed hospitalized psychotics and people with severe personality disorders.
Considering again my disorientation, it is possible that the reason was a rupture of time as a continuous factor in my experience. Before leaving for Nablus a feeling pervaded that I had to put my affairs in order, and I ruminated about what would happen if the visit were fatal. Thus, the perceived future was suddenly cut off. Arriving again within the green line, time began to flow again with the spurt of a dam opening. This starting and stopping of time played havoc with my consciousness, and I am sure my fellow students at the psychotherapy course sometimes wondered which side of the interview I should be on.
In Gaza time flew. The work was always with a team, although the brittleness and uncertainty of work in the clinic dictated changes in the team's constitution. It seemed that there was some group activity perpetually going on, and usually there was some other Mental Health person from abroad who was conducting a workshop for the staff that day. In spite of breakneck schedules, Shadia could always find several people who had time to work on the project. The GCMHP also has modern electronic equipment which allows communication between meetings, which abetted a freer flow of time.
Bodyhood: Our body is the agent for physically reaching out to the open world. Our spiritual being permeates the body so that we see limbs literally as members of a whole being and as expressing that particular mode of being at the moment (Condrau, 1988). Seeman (1989) has shown that an intimate integration exists between biological, cognitive and emotional levels of human organization.
A meaningful expression of bodyhood is the way we clothe our bodies. In clothing, we often express wishes concerning our bodies and emphasize or conceal certain physical ways of being. As mentioned above, I was required to enter Palestine disguised as someone - or something - else. One of the consequences of the disguise was an immediate sharing of the Palestinian fate. I was held up at roadblocks, questioned by soldiers, and viewed suspiciously by settlers. On the way to Nablus, the timing of the change in dress was planned for minimum hostility from both sides: Go a few hundred meters past the last Israeli settlement, dress up the car in sign and headdress, and make my own clothing more neutral. It all took about three minutes. On the way out of Nablus I was always questioned by a soldier the age of my son, who was in the army at the time. He always asked where I was from, was I Jewish, and why were my car and I dressed up the way we were. After a while, I began to look forward to this little ceremony as a kind of decompression chamber back to the other side.
Attunement and Mood: These existentials affect the basic way one ventures out into the opening world. Research in temperament (e.g. Kagan, 1980) is relevant to this view, and most of it has been done on the introvert/ extrovert constructs. The worlds of the extrovert and the ntrovert are profoundly different from each other, especially as our cultural horizon is extrovert-oriented. Mood, too, influences the way we venture into the world and how we interact with other people.
The basic attunement I hold toward environment is discontinuous and, had the term been invented then, I would certainly have been diagnosed as Attention Deficit Disordered during childhood. This made it easier to work in Gaza than in Nablus, since Gaza offered a team setting where attention could be divided among various people. In Nablus, I attempted to overcome this problem by taking back homework and doing things at my own rate between meetings. It also meant that the work in Nablus went more slowly, and Majd was perhaps disappointed when we did not meet our self-set deadline I had confidently estimated our first meeting on the basis of the Gaza visits. Majd also probably experienced me as a more intense and nervous person, coming late and worried aboutleaving on time.
I certainly must have seen both the Gazans and Majd as whole people based upon thin slices of the reality of their worlds, colored by the way they saw me in that tiny part of their lives, what inconveniences they had to overcome to meet me, and the place of the projects we were working on in the life-space of their highly pressured ives. Because of the serious difficulties of getting together, Israelis often see the Palestinians as slackers, not being able to get their acts together. It is deeply banal that Israelis must make more of an effort to meet Palestinians than to meet other Israelis. In order to meet Majd, for instance, I had to leave my home at 5:30 am, travel through half the country, change costumes and go through at least two hostile roadblocks dressed as a Palestinian. Occasional efforts to meet in more comfortable circumstances for me never worked out, and I probably sometimes saw Majd as ungrateful. Could she top that inconvenience? Of course she could! In order to get anywhere nearer to me, she had to spend hours, sometimes days, getting permission from the authorities. he hostile roadblocks are an integral part of the lives of Palestinians, as is the possibility of searches, insults, and degradations by Israeli Soldiers.
One time, Majd called me from Gaza, asking if I could help her get out, as her permit had expired. For me this meant leaving work early, driving an hour and a half to Gaza, getting in the back way with an Israeli car, running the risk of getting stoned, to say nothing of what would happen if I was caught smuggling out a Palestinian without a permit. I asked her to call back while I made the arrangements. She didn't. Later, when I found her again on the telephone safe and sound in Nablus, she said she found another way out and had to hurry. I am sure that the way we perceive and interact with each other is profoundly colored by the mood created by our mutual inconveniences, risks and efforts we routinely make and take to sit down over a cup of coffee and discuss psychotherapy.
Mitsein: The human being is naturally gregarious, although some cultures are more so than others. Our lived world includes other human beings from the very beginnings of the most intimate relation between the fetus and its mother. Our mode of being with others is a complex pattern of actions, reactions and interactions. This weave of being-with -others gives special color to our life-space, creating the basic concentric ecosystems of human activity (Bronfenbrenner, 1979).
Meetings with people in Gaza and Nablus thoroughly changed my being-with-others. I must remark that this metamorphosis occurred in a completely natural and unconscious process and it is with great effort that I even attempt to analyze the change. It showed through its clearest in some strong emotional reactions to dialogueing with professionals belonging to the Israeli right. I suddenly felt myself reacting with deep emotional disgust to a perfectly straightforward proposal brought up by a professional group in Judea and Samaria (areas occupied by Israel since 1967 and where Israeli settlers actively dispute Palestinian land rights) at an IMUT board meeting. A first reflection on this emotion revealed a feeling of betrayal of Palestinian friends if I entered into a true dialogue with these professionals. This pervasive reaction was probably not too rational but the feeling recurred when the same group sent another proposal for a joint tour of parts of Judea and Samaria. I Felt that I could not travel the same roads used to visit Majd and see them through settler's eyes. My lebenswelt - my lived world, now included experience with Israelis and -Palestinians, which felt mutually exclusive emotionally. I had to choose sides, and remember finding myself heatedly stating to the IMUT board that I prefer the friendship of Eyad and Shadia and Majd to the settlers any day, and would defend that friendship to the death. Probably my IMUT colleagues, most of them clinical psychologists, believed I needed immediate professional help - from the right OR the left.
This new way of being was a radical departure from former choices in life. Tolerance has always been a matter of principle for me and I now found myself being ferociously intolerant toward people who had a democratically different view. We are not discussing the violent right, but mental health workers who, like myself, believe in non-violent methods of solving problems. I now feel intolerant, even violent, toward that point of view. I do not want to listen. Another, even more startling example for me of this aggressive feeling occurred during a heated discussion with my grown son, a professed moderate right-winger, during the 1995 Passover holiday. The discussion was about the 1994 Hebron massacre (where an Israeli extremist machine-gunned dozens of innocent Palestinians), and I found myself getting more and more heated up, even though he listened empathetically. When I made kiddush, the ritual holiday blessing over wine, I realized I had "forgotten" to pour a cup for him, "inadvertently" excluding him from the blessing. In thinking of the long trips to Nablus in the biblical metaphor of Passover, I had come out of Egypt with Majd, and could not travel that way again to horse-trade any more.
The mitsein of the conflict between the Palestinian and Israeli lived worlds is like two dimensional warps. Encountering them has brought me face-to-face with two self warps: Two diametrically opposed modes of being with others. Integration of the meaning of this discovery will be a challenge for the immediate - and perhaps the not-so immediate - future.
Being-Towards Death: Death defines life's boundaries, allowing one to see a life as a whole entity. Yalom (1980) has expressed his opinion that encounter with death is the most fundamental of human concerns. Heidegger (1927/1962) has contended that we begin the process of dying the second we enter this world; therefore our dying pervades our life and the way we live. Rollo May (1985) contended that without death life would have no meaning at all.
As mentioned above, meetings at Gaza and Nablus created a radical change in my being-towards death, and as such added a new meaning to life. As I mentioned, during the period of these meetings there was a constant message that my life was in danger. A person experiencing this feeling must first make a choice (assuming s/he has one, and I had) whether or not to continue being exposed to the danger. Once the choice has been made to continue working on the project, the reasons for doing so assume monumental meaning; that is, they are the monument for the protagonist in case something happens.
Mulling over what to write next has taken over a week. During that time I have discovered that an unexpected domain permeates my being-towards-death: The holocaust.
My parents are not holocaust survivors, and no known blood relatives perished in the holocaust. Although growing up Jewish in the southern USA exposed me occasionally to anti-semitism, there was no real danger. I did not even meet a holocaust survivor before coming to Israel at the age of 18. Yet thoughts of the holocaust are in my memory for as long as I can remember, such as fantasizing escape routes under an assumed name. Perhaps my participation in sports and my aforementioned aggression come from this ubiquitous mode of being-towards-death. The connection between the holocaust and a way of living might best be illustrated by the words of Joachim Prinz, a Rabbi of Berlin under the Hitler regime, at the March on Washington on August 28, 1963. I had just turned fourteen. I can hear him now:
The most important thing I learned in my life, and under those
tragic circumstances, is that hatred and bigotry are not the
most urgent problem. The most urgent, the most disgraceful,
the most shameful and the most tragic problem is silence.
The life-meaning for me of the holocaust has become to stand up and speak out; to work for and with the weak; to give sanctuary to the refugee. I have found that this is my mode of being. It is the only way I can live in my being-towards-death.
Palestinians are uneasy when Israelis mention the holocaust. They feel compelled to mention their own suffering or to add disclaimers. Unlike many Israelis, I do not see the holocaust as a discrete event, but as a prototype of the tribulation of moral living. The holocaust was the trial of Europe's moral fibre, both of Gentile and Jew. Although this is a separate subject, I believe that we have been tried and found wanting. Reincarnated as Israelis, we have been given a second chance. The moral way of living can be a viable monument of meaning in our being-towards-death.
In Place of a Conclusion: A meeting With Mrs. Suhah Arafat
About seven months after the creation of the Palestinian Authority, Shadia invited me to come again to Gaza to see the beginning of the project we had planned with the rest of the team and meet Mrs. Suhah Arafat. My wife came with me, and the day before we quarrelled over thepresent to buy her. That night I had a dream:
I was in Gaza with Shadia and we were in a large lobby. Suddenly
seemed that we were mistaken, not in the right place, and the
people, mostly large men, began to act hostile. Shadia motioned to
leave quickly and appeared disguised. Her face became rounder and
she began to make Christian religious gestures, although she is a
Moslem. I quickened my step, but felt they were after me. I ran
into a large corridor with many people who were indifferent to what
was going on. I came out the other side and was completely alone in
an entirely different neighborhood in Gaza, thinking that this is a
new neighborhood. There were vividly colored villas and shrubbery,
as if they had been built of Leggo blocks. I felt alone, calm and
I had a day of reserve duty and arranged to leave early, meeting my wife at Netivot. She had bought beautiful balsam flowers the colors of the Israeli and Palestinian flags. I was glad she won the argument. I did not tell my commanding officers the reasons for leaving early. My wife did tell the salesperson why she wanted the flowers and the attitude of the salesperson suddenly became frigid (she sold her the flowers anyway).
As usual, we met Shadia and Husam at the checkpoint. I had my passport, since we had no idea what was required to enter the new Palestinian Authority. As it turned out, we just walked across the line as if nothing had changed. I emotionally embraced Husam and my wife embraced Shadia. A short discussion ensued between them and the Palestinian guards, each with a different uniform or none at all, some looked like teen-agers. Then we were let through. I took pictures.
Ordinarily we would go to the clinic using a roundabout route, but on this occasion we went through central Gaza. The clinic had also moved to a different building. We entered the new building, more modern and ess picturesque than the old one. Shadia's project, not yet funded, was carried out in a room on the ground floor, where about six women work with a crafts teacher. Some of them had been prisoners themselves; others had husbands in prison. They were painting on silk, working exactly and delicately with thin brushes. There is to be an exhibition and they hoped to sell their work and use the money by their own independent choice for the first time in their lives. They probably knew we were Israelis from my feeble attempts to speak Arabic and I wondered how they felt about showing their works to people that some of them may have seen as the enemy. The teacher was, of course, Shadia's sister, pressed into service until the program gets funded.
About a half hour later we walked to the Arafat home, which also belongs to the El Sarraj family. Shadia had met Mrs. Arafat on a trip toTunisia and they became immediate friends. Shadia has a knack for making deep friendships with other intelligent women almost immediately. When the Arafats came to Gaza, The El Sarraj family gave them a house until an appropriate dwelling could be found.
Mrs. Arafat entered after the appropriate waiting period, shook hands, and asked about what we thought of the new Gaza, the chances of the agreement, and especially discussed the importance of mental health in building the new Palestine. Her English was perfect, and she seemed widely versed in Israeli politics. She asked about our participation in dialogue groups, and said that as a teen-ager in Ramallah, she saw many Israelis who visited her house to talk with her mother about chances of peace with the Palestinians. Her experience with these sympathetic Israelis made her work hard to convince her husband that peace with Israel was possible. This revelation caused me great emotion because my father had spent the last years of his life researching the positive human experience, and had always contended that personal experiences can decisively influence political decisions.
Since this meeting I have not returned to Gaza, although I would very much like to do so. The preparatory work in Nablus is also done. The experience of working with dedicated mental health workers in Gaza and Nablus has been a treasure hunt for me, and on the road I have made discoveries about working in the eye of a storm of conflict, with a different culture, even in a situation that may be considered dangerous. Work with Palestinians under these circumstances had helped me further discover myself and deepen the meaning given to the most essential dimensions of living. I fervently hope that the friendships made willstand the test of time and tribulation.
During the years that have passed since the above experiences were recorded the Middle East has made the most horrendous roller coaster look like a slow lope on a West Texas highway. The perils of navigating the peace process have left deep scars in the lives and relationships of the protagonists of this report as well as in the larger life space of this region. Eyad, for one, as if sucked in by his own prophesy, has been arrested three times by the Palestinian authority; the last time he was beaten. On the other hand, Shadia, like Pete Seeger's proverbial blessed grass, has grown through the ground, reached for the air, and her project is growing everywhere - It is one of the flagship programs of the GCMHP and appears on the program's new web site. It seems that Shadia has the rare talent of making this community intervention work like the books say it is supposed to: The project now encompasses more than sixty women and the first group members are leaders on subsequent groups. Two promo films have been made of the project. Meanwhile, Majd has abandoned plans for her center and is looking for a study opening abroad. We all seem to be riding away together into the horizon of increasing despair in relationships between open-hearted Palestinians and sympathetic Israelis. This horizon seem to be imbedded in the larger one of betrayals in the macrosystem context. Dare we transcend?
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Author's note: Moshe Landsman is the director of the Psychological Services of the unrecognized Bedouin settlements in Southern Israel. He is also a lecturer in Special Education at the Kaye and Achva Teachers' colleges and adjunct lecturer in counseling at Ben-Gurion University in Beer-Sheva, Israel. One week each month he travels to Kosovo, where he is international director of a project to establish the Psychology Department at the University of Prishtina. He can be reached at Moshel@macam.ac.il.