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Middle East Conflict - Israelis and Palestinians: Two Worlds, Two Truths

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They live side by side, but in completely different worlds: Palestinians and Israelis. They rarely really get into conversation. The Swiss-Israeli psychologist Gabriel Strenger analyzes the conflict-laden situation.

SRF: The Israeli author Lizzie Doron describes in her book "Sweet Occupation" how she resists listening to Palestinians. Why is such a conversation so difficult?

Gabriel Strenger: You quickly find out that you live in different worlds. In terms of religion - but also the narrative, i.e. the way in which we perceive reality, are very different. These differences cannot be resolved in a short conversation.

But basically we humans are able to perceive and respect different worlds of experience. The narrative differences alone do not explain why it is so difficult to get into conversation with one another.

You have to understand that we are in such a precarious situation here in the Middle East, where both sides feel existentially, in other words, really threatened in life and limb. That makes it very difficult to bear these differences and bring them up.

Israelis celebrate the founding of the state of Israel as a triumph, for Palestinians it is a disaster. If you get involved in such different perspectives, it can lead to an identity conflict.

The stories we tell each other about our past and our present are part of our identity. If someone sees reality very differently, one feels threatened in his identity.

As humans, we need a stable self-image without major contradictions. When meeting others, this self-image begins to falter. That scares and sets defense mechanisms in motion. It takes a lot of inner strength to endure and face it.

Is the question of identity in Israel and Palestine particularly important?

The problem here is that two nations are fighting over such a small area. Israel is only about half the size of Switzerland.

Both nations feel that if they lose, they have nowhere else to go and no longer can live. From a Jewish perspective, it is trauma-laden. We had no territory for 2000 years. The threat of losing it becomes almost unbearable.

As a psychologist, how do you manage to accept the point of view of others, in your case that of the Palestinians?

I am a staunch pluralist. That means: I am aware that the perception of reality is always only part of the truth. It's not about saying that all of my ideas are not true. But to tolerate the fact that all the stories we tell each other are always only part of the truth.

We need this so that we don't get stuck in the dungeon of our own ego. As a pluralist, I therefore welcome the dialogue with the Palestinians as well. It helps me better understand my own story and all of the complicated reality in the Middle East.

The interview was conducted by Antonia Moser.

To person

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Gabriel Strenger (born 1965 in Basel) is a clinical psychologist and lecturer at the Hebrew University, Jerusalem.

Two truths

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  • Context tries to find out why Israel and the Palestinians cannot find peace.
  • An Israeli psychologist and a Palestinian educator started a unique project ten years ago: a joint history book. Echo of the times reports.

Book reference

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Lizzie Doron: "Sweet Occupation". Translated by Mirjam Pressler. dtv Verlag, 2017.

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  • Comment from Dölf Meier (Meier Dölf)
    Do not interfere in foreign dealings, that was a wise saying from Brother Klaus, which is also valid for Israel. The Torah ends around 150 years before Christ. 60 years after Christ, Titus destroyed Jerusalem, only one tower remained. The Jews were expelled all over the world. Gradually back to their homeland, which was desolate and empty. In the meantime, people from Crete have immigrated who call themselves Palestinians and have been blessed with billions from all over the world ...
    Agree Agree to the comment Select answers to reply to the comment
  • Comment from Rolf Künzi (undefined)
    In addition to the fact that both religions have to develop further and are probably the main problem, they really live in a difficult situation. But what about, for example, water justice? The Palestinians would have to be more advanced with the water reserves and the Israelis would have to share more. As long as we humans do not wash up bireligious / culturally we remain short-sighted.
    Agree Agree to the comment Select answers to reply to the comment
  • Comment from Denise Casagrande (begulide)
    Only when both sides are honestly ready to offer each other a "hand" - "where there is a will, there is a way" !! ??
    Agree Agree to the comment Select answers to reply to the comment
    1. answer from Beat Reuteler (br)
      Yes of course. But why don't you visit the people there and talk to them. I find work like that of the two authors to be extremely valuable. You cannot solve the problems immediately, but they are a guide. Personally, I don't think that Ms. Doron is "ostracized" as the article says, but besides supporters there is certainly a lot of headwind there now. Overall, I think it's a shame how little this article really gives.
      Agree agree to the comment
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