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Monday, January 17, 2005

dehumanization of israelis

in intense ethnic conflicts, usually a lot of dehumanization goes on, and the israel/palestine conflict is no exception. arabs are dehumanized in israeli media and public discourse, israelis are demonized in palestinian media and public discourse. one asymmetry between oppressor and oppressed is that in order to be the oppressor, israelis must also dehumanize themselves. those who watch the israeli army know that the kids who serve in the occupied territories often have to drive themselves out of their own minds in order to do the things they do. as with american GIs in vietnam, many soldiers abuse drugs while on active duty. it's well-known that those who can afford it will often follow up their army stint with either a series of visits to their psychiatrist, or on the beaches of goa in a drug-induced haze. i don't know if this is backed up empirically, but anecdotes have it that physical abuse of spouses spikes in post-military situations.

in a a recent interview in the israeli daily maariv, soldiers speak out about their mental state while in "service":

"It takes time to understand that for three years we weren't normal people", says K., a first-sergeant who served in the Engineering Corps' Yael reconnaissance unit. "We were like zombies. We didn't make decisions independently. We did things without prior thought. If I'd been told - and I was told - to hit some old woman in the stomach with my rifle-butt, to get her to shut up, I would have done it without thinking at all. No problems".
whatever one thinks of the ethics of the palestinians' attacks on civilians, it seems that this sort of self-dehumanization doesn't take place. i'm finally getting around to reading fanon's the wretched of the earth, where he argues that the colonized person in fact humanizes herself through violence. my mind's not made up on this, and i understand that hannah arendt takes a very different view from fanon - i'll be reading her book on violence once i'm through with fanon.


Yesh Gvul
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