The Palestine-Israel Journal is a quarterly of MIDDLE EAST PUBLICATIONS, a registered non-profit organization (No. 58-023862-4).
Bookmark and Share















Editorial Board

Adnan Abdelrazek

Danny Rubinstein

Sam'an Khoury

Daniel Bar-Tal

Walid Salem

Galia Golan

Gershon Baskin

Hind Khoury

Edy Kaufman

Ata Qaymari

Benjamin Pogrund

Nafez Nazzal

Dan Jacobson

Jumana Jaouni

Moshe Maoz

Munther Dajani

Khuloud Khayyat Dajani

Izhak Schnell

Lucy Nusseibah

Meir Margalit

Menachem Klein

Ali Abu Shahla

Ilan Baruch

Hanna Siniora

Yehudit Oppenheimer

Mossi Raz

Susie Becher

Frances Raday




Vol.3 No.1 1996 / Education

Focus

Societal Beliefs in Israel: from Conflict to Peace

The psychological infrastructure in war and peace

     by Daniel Bar-Tal

At the crux of this article lies the claim that, in the past, Israeli society, since it was in the throes of an intractable conflict with the Arab peoples, devel¬oped an appropriate psychological infrastructure. This consisted mainly of societal beliefs which helped Israeli society to exist in such conditions and to cope successfully with the conflict. However, with the progress made in the peace process between Israel and the Arab states and the Palestinians, the question arises - is this psychological infrastructure suitable for the advancing conditions of peace; and what changes will take place in it in order to adapt it to the new reality hopefully taking shape now?
Intractable conflicts are defined as those which are protracted, irrecon¬cilable, violent, of zero-sum nature and central. The parties have an inter¬est in their continuation. Such conflicts are demanding, stressful, painful, exhausting and costly, both in human and material terms. They therefore demand from members of the society the development of conditions which enable it to successfully come to grips with the situation.
One important aspect of the conditions is a psychological infrastruc¬ture consisting, to name some examples, of devotion to society and country, high motivation to contribute, persistent readiness for personal sacrifice, unity, solidarity, determination, courage and endurance. This psychological infrastructure enables a society which is coping with an intractable conflict to adapt to the conflict situation, survive the stressful period and struggle successfully with the enemy.
Societal beliefs are defined here as shared cognitions by society mem¬bers on topics and issues that are of special concern to a particular society and contribute to the sense of uniqueness of the society's members. Such beliefs play an important part in shaping the psychological conditions which enable a society to cope with intractable conflicts.
Eight societal beliefs have been suggested to fulfill the role described above, and thus serve as a sort of conflict ideology.
Societal beliefs on the justness of one's own goals: These deal with the reasons, justifications and rationales of those goals which lead to the con¬flict. Above all, these societal beliefs recognize the crucial importance of these goals, thus motivating the society members to struggle and fight for them. This makes the intractable conflict and its cost bearable in terms of sacrifice, losses and stresses.
Societal beliefs about security stress the importance of personal safety and national survival and outline the conditions for their achievement. Special significance is attributed to beliefs about military conditions facil¬itating the maintenance of security, including heroism on the part of sol¬diers. This is essential for a society engaged in a conflict which involves violence, hostile acts and wars. These beliefs give high priority to security as a value, serve as a rationale for personal and societal decisions and actions, mobilize the society for active participation in the conflict and steer them to live in stressful conditions.
Societal beliefs about self-image concern the ethnocentric tendency to attribute positive traits, values and behavior to our own society, fostering moral strength and a sense of our own superiority. The characteristics propagated are related on the one hand to courage, heroism or endurance, and on the other, to traits like humaneness, morality, fairness, trustwor¬thiness and progress. A clear differentiation is presented here between the society members and the "enemy."
Societal beliefs of our own victimization concern self-presentation as a victim. They focus on the unjust harm, evil and atrocities perpetrated against us by the enemy, providing us with the moral strength to fight our opponent and to mobilize the moral, political and material support of the international community for our just cause.
Societal beliefs on delegitimization of the opponent concern the beliefs which deny the enemy's humanity. Through extreme negative trait char¬acteristics, outcasting, the use of negative political labels and group comparisons, a society puts the opponent into a particular social category: he is excluded from human groups considered as acting within limits of accepted norms and/ or values. These beliefs explain the causes of the out¬break of the conflict, its continuation, and the violence of the opponent; and they justify our own hostile acts.
Societal beliefs of patriotism impart attachment to the country and society, propagating loyalty, love, care and sacrifice. This fosters unity and dedication, facilitating mobilization for the conflict and the endurance of hardship.
Social beliefs of unity refer to the importance of abandoning internal con¬flicts and disagreements during intractable conflict, in order to unite in the face of external threat. This strengthens the society internally, develops a sense of consensus and of belonging to the whole group, bolsters solidarity and facili¬tates the direction of forces and energy to the task of coping with the enemy.
Finally, societal beliefs in peace refer to peace as the ultimate desire of the society, and to society members as peace loving. The role of these beliefs is to provide hope and optimism. They also strengthen the self-¬image and contribute to an empathic self-presentation to the outside world.
It is assumed that these societal beliefs can be found in societies engaged in intractable conflict, especially in those coping with it successfully. However, they are far from being adequate to win a conflict. For that, other conditions of a military, political and economic nature are also required.
Israeli society is one of the salient examples of 20th century societies involved in intractable conflict. In the hundred-year Israeli-Arab conflict, the particularly violent years since the late 1940s had all the characteristics of intractable conflict. So as to cope with it in those violent years, the relevant societal beliefs mentioned above were propagated in Israeli society. The efforts to impart them were implemented directly and indirectly through var¬ious societal channels of communication and via political, social, educational and cultural institutions. They were repeated and emphasized, norms were based upon them and they were transformed into primary values and goals.
Eventually, these societal beliefs were incorporated into the Israeli ethos, and language, symbols, myths and collective memories were constructed on their basis. They were also drawn into the ideologies of political parties and of social and cultural organizations. Over and above these prevalent social beliefs, there developed politically, religiously or socially oriented ideologies which shaped an overall conception based on these beliefs. These ideologies facilitate the vindication of the present situ¬ation and propose an overall future solution.
Yet this reality of conflict is now undergoing a process of change after a period when it constituted a vital factor in enabling Israeli society to hold out in such conditions. The Middle East has already changed dramatically. There is no longer total and inevitable conflict with all the Arab peoples, accompanied by the sense that "there is nobody to talk to" on the other side. Instead, there are clearly differential relations with the various Arab states and a political process which can achieve peace in our region: fully peace¬ful relations with Egypt and Jordan, peaceful relations involving different levels of cooperation with Arab states in the Persian Gulf and North Africa, negotiations with Syria, and far-reaching negotiations with the Palestinians.
There is indeed no doubt that the societal beliefs which developed against the background of the conflict have undergone changes of no small measure in the wake of internal social processes, changes in the geopolitical situation of Israel, changes in the Arab states and among the Palestinians and naturally, as a result of the peace process. Nevertheless, in conditions totally different from those of total conflict, the dominant ethos is still one of conflict, even when at least part of the societal beliefs which we have described are no longer functional.

Changes of Societal Beliefs

It can be assumed that the societal beliefs which developed in the period of intractable conflict and were necessary in that context, will change now that the peace process is shaping a new Middle Eastern reality. The new beliefs will surely reflect a new reality developing in the region and influ¬encing society in the State of Israel. One must of course differentiate, rather than relate to the beliefs of the conflict period as a totality. Thus, for example, while the beliefs in delegitimization of the Arabs is contrary to the peace process, those relating to a positive self-image, to the value of security or of patriotism and unity, still have importance for the very exis¬tence of a society in peace.
It is possible to assume that in the course of time, peace beliefs will change. The peace process will illuminate and clarify the essence of peace. Beliefs about peace will descend from a general and amorphous utopian level to a practical and concrete one. It will become clear that making peace involves not only negotiating with the enemy, but also mutual concessions.
Moreover, it will be understood that there is not only one kind of peace¬ful relations but different sorts, with different levels of closeness, friendship and cooperation. The State of Israel will apparently have differ- ent forms of peaceful relations with different Arab states and the perception of peace will differ accordingly. One can expect conflicts as an inseparable part of peaceful relations because of the natural development of conflicting interests, competition and misunderstandings. Israeli society will come to learn, in connection with the pattern of relations with the Arab states, that disputes are solved by institutionalized means of recognized rules and mechanisms of negotiations instead of force. Peace will accordingly not be a mere striving, prayer or dream, but a reality in which it is deeds that count. Peace will be perceived as the people of Israel's supreme interest.
The belief in the delegitimization of the Arabs will change with the peace process. First, a differentiation will be made between various patterns of relations developing with each Arab nation. For example, perceptions of the Syrians and the Iraqis will differ from those of the Palestinians, and there will be quite different perceptions of the Jordanians, the Moroccans and the Tunisians. Moreover, the term" Arab" will no longer be wholly negative, and will include various elements, some positive and some negative. It can be assumed that our general beliefs toward the Arabs, and toward each of the Arab peoples, will be more complex, more human, more balanced. To no small extent, they will also reflect the quality of Israeli experience of var¬ious encounters and meetings which they will hold with Arabs. In time, Israeli self-perception as the victim will be reduced. The less the hostility on the part of the Arab states, the less will be the perceived threat of destroying Israel; and the fuller the peaceful relations developing in the region, the less will the siege mentality be felt in Israel. Not only will Israelis become less critical, but the sense of "a people dwelling alone" and of other peoples naturally conspiring against Jews, will weaken. There will be a growing sense of empathy toward foreign peoples, and a readiness to learn and understand their positions.
Security will, as far as one can assess, remain a central value for many years to come. Its centrality will depend on how relations will develop with the Arab peoples. The perception of the Arabs' intentions to destroy Israel will lose its importance with fully peaceful relations. Other beliefs stemming from the perception of this threat will also have to be examined. The less the threat, the less will be the need for unity. Presumably, peace will strengthen the legitimization of pluralism and tolerance in Israeli society toward the "others." It will be a positive development if our soci¬ety can succeed in finding new challenges and goals in order to preserve that social solidarity which constitutes an essential need.
It is hard, on the other hand, to forecast what will become of our pos¬itive self-image. Openness and contact with the Arab peoples can strengthen ethnocentric tendencies, but they might also weaken them. However, there is no doubt that peaceful relations will strengthen a criti¬cal approach in Israeli society and develop a more critical self-image. Such relations may well also facilitate a more balanced and critical look at past events, revealing a more complex self-portrait.
Finally, it should be noted that changing the societal beliefs which were functional in times of intractable conflict is a prolonged process. It mainly depends on changes in the reality - that is, in the quality of relations developing with the Arab peoples, and the position of the State of Israel in the world. However, various internal factors can also
hold back or promote the changes. There is a role in changing the social ethos for the educationa1 system, the mass media, cultural prod¬ucts, and political lead¬ership. If these free them-selves from past concepts and reflect the peace process, then Jewish-Israeli society will, over the years, develop societal beliefs that will be functional for maintaining the peace.

As this issue went to print, Prof. Daniel Bar-Tal put the last touches to his three-year research on the "ethos of conflict" in Israeli school textbooks. The following is an abstract.

Since the late seventies the Israeli-Arab conflict has been gradually changing and losing its intractable characteristics. In the last years, the Middle East has changed even more, beyond recognition. The research attempted to find out whether the changes in the nature of the Israeli-Arab relations are followed by complementary changes in the ethos of the conflict in Israeli society as reflected in school textbooks.
One-hundred-and-twenty-four textbooks, in five disciplines, were content-analyzed: Hebrew language and literature (readers), history, geography and civic studies (on the elementary, junior¬ high, and high school levels, in the secular and religious sectors). The research only examined books that were formally approved by the Ministry of Education, Culture and Sport in March 1994. Such approval is mandatory before textbooks can be used by Israeli schools.
The analysis examined the extent to which the textbooks pre¬sented societal beliefs reflecting ethos of conflict: societal beliefs of security, positive self-image, victimization, delegitimization of the opponent, unity and peace. The findings do not reveal a uniform picture. Books, subject matters, level of schools and sectors differ in their emphasis on the investigated societal beliefs. The analysis shows that societal beliefs of security received most emphasis, fol¬lowed by the societal beliefs of positive self-image and victimiza¬tion of Jews. Societal beliefs of unity and of peace appeared infre¬quently. Finally, a very rare delegitimization of Arabs is seen, but the majority of books stereotype Arabs negatively. These findings are discussed in the framework of the required changes in the societal ethos that have to accompany the peace process, which has dramatically altered the nature of Israeli-Arab relations.








 © 2012 Palestine-Israel Journal. All Rights Reserved. Articles, excerpts, and translations may not be reproduced in any form without written permission.
The Palestine-Israel Journal gratefully acknowledges the support of UNESCO for the initial development of the website.
The Palestine-Israel Journal gratefully acknowledges the support of the European Union for the maintenance and development
of the website.