Denial: a defense mechanism involving a disavowal or failure consciously to acknowledge thoughts, feelings, desires, or aspects of reality that would be painful or unacceptable, as when a person with a terminal illness refuses to acknowledge the imminence of death. (Colman, A.M. Dictionary of Psychology. New York: Oxford Press, 2001. p.194)

For academic purposes, Colman's definition of denial is good and sufficient. Only in life, the picture is much more complicated. Not only do different defense mechanisms usually coincide, they might work synergistically with some basic psychological assumptions.
If we imagine a collective of typical Zionist Israelis, we could say that their collective psychology is organized around basic "unchallengeable" assumptions - that we are pure, we are right, we have high moral values, we don't do evil, we are victims and we are united. In the collective's eyes, its army conducts itself with "purity of arms," meaning that it uses only unavoidable force, only for self-defense.
The role of the denial mechanism in human psychology is to facilitate passage from knowing to not knowing, as well as to not remembering unacceptable knowledge. In this way denial helps the collective ignore the fact that, although they own the largest and mightiest army in the Middle East, they feel that their existence is threatened by the Palestinians, who have no air force, no navy and no sophisticated weapons. The fear is real, only the facts on which it is based are incoherent.
The collective is held together by a common feeling of victimhood, given the Jews' long history of victimization, and despite Israel's military might, it still maintains this victim identity, always prepared for the inevitable catastrophe. Closely connected to this identity is, in its most extreme form, the belief that "the whole world is against us." The "Arabs" become part of this ahistorical enemy entity. The profound feeling that Jews have been persecuted throughout history - without consideration of any historical or sociopolitical factors - takes precedence over the facts of Israel's current strength.
Another important Zionist axiom is that Palestine was an empty land. "A land without people for a people without a land" is a well-known early Zionist slogan, (attributed to Israel Zangwill in 1892). This belief was very much needed at the time: It allowed Zionists to maintain their self-image as righteous people by avoiding the notion of taking another people's land. But the land was not empty; therefore, the collective implemented an active non-seeing mechanism: Its members actually saw an empty land.

Forced Existence vs. Coexistence

"Forced existence" is a "soft," not well-defined term. It cannot be found in textbook indexes. At the same time, it sounds coherent, meaningful and even familiar, possibly because forced existence is part of the human condition. The vast majority of our being or existence is forced upon us: No one chooses to be born; we cannot choose our parents, time and place of birth, sex, race, color, talents, intelligence or other aspects of our selves. These are forced on our existence and play a crucial part in shaping it.
Forced existence also encompasses those imposed by humans on others, for example in punitive institutions, in concentration camps and in personal and collective lives under occupation. Under military occupation, most aspects of human life are subjected to forced existence. Over the last 40 years, Israel has exercised its power over the Palestinian population in the occupied territories through nearly absolute control over day-to-day life. This is expressed most prominently in the Israeli control over Palestinians' mobility - through a system of sieges, roadblocks, closures and an arbitrary permit regime.
Israel also uses direct violence: The policy of assassinations and arrests is a major part of how Israel perpetuates the occupation. Now more than ever, emphasis is placed on control by means of killing and destruction. The entire Palestinian population is a target for Israeli army strikes, in that the intentional destruction of civilian infrastructures, as in the case of the bombing of electric turbines in the Gaza Strip, disables essential civil systems such as health care, water and sewage, education, work and trade. Such a death blow to the Palestinian economy inevitably results in forced existence of poverty, malnutrition and psychological trauma.
A typical junction in the Zionist collective mindset is where denial and the national mythos meet with deliberate lies. Even if the policymakers know everything about the forced existence of the Palestinians created by the occupation, the collective's public opinion, which actively does not wish to know the truth, clings to the national mythos of being good, right, just, etc. So they plant in the very heart of this junction the concept of "coexistence."
At the core of the concept is the assumption that Israelis and Palestinians are two equal partners who engage each other symmetrically. This way of conceptualizing the occupation's reality provides Israeli liberals a comfortable psychological setting for disregarding the fundamental difference between the violent actions performed by the Israeli occupier and those performed by the occupied Palestinians. The denial of the real imbalance of power between the occupier and the occupied is one of the main components of their psychology.
The occupation brought about new dynamics in the collective's denial mechanism: The original denial of Palestinian existence, the "empty land" posited by early Zionism, ended; now the Palestinians' existence must be obvious, since they are needed as objects of forced existence.
Yet the Zionist collective, including the "good," "liberal" Israelis, has genuine difficulty in engaging the Other, the Palestinians. They therefore tell themselves the false story of coexistence - the false inner image of the occupier as benevolent subject who considers the occupied Palestinians as equal in agency, rather than as the object of domination and control. The Israeli-Palestinian existence abounds with examples of how the concept of coexistence serves denial and wrongdoing on the Israeli side.
For example, Route 443, between the Jewish town of Modi'in and Jerusalem, has been closed to Palestinians for the last six years. It includes 9.5 kilometers that run through the Palestinian West Bank, on confiscated Palestinian land where many of their olive trees were uprooted under the justification of local "public needs," i.e., the coexistence of Israelis and Palestinians. Route 443 had once been the main road between six Palestinian villages and Ramallah, as well as the rest of the West Bank. Now some 250,000 Palestinians are forced to spend three or four times more money and time to travel to other parts of the West Bank. Many cannot afford it, financially or due to health reasons, which means no access to education, work, health care or social and family connections.
The vague and decisive border between coexistence and forced existence is such that coexistence yields to forced existence: While forced existence is the harsh reality of the occupation, coexistence is idealization, denial and mystification. The Israeli Jewish drivers on Route 443 do not see the Palestinian villagers - school children, women and men of all ages - who must contend with roadblocks and detours in summer's cruel heat and in winter's muddy dirt.
Why don't the drivers see the misery of the Palestinians on the edges of the modern road? If one doesn't want to look at the forced existence of the Palestinians, one doesn't see. And one doesn't want to look, for their forced existence doesn't accord with the mythological coexistence that justifies the occupation. Moreover, there is the threat of undesirable feelings like identifying with the Palestinians, or guilt for the violations of human rights that they are committing. Or even worse, they may begin to pose questions like, "Is all this really necessary and helpful?" "Is there any coexistence at all?" Denial works to avoid such possibilities.
However, there has been a significant change in this denial mechanism, from total denial of the Palestinians' existence to mixed denial: the imaginary or hypocritical concept of coexistence that denies the reality of forced existence. There is a glimmer of hope in this shift, for hypocrisy means that there is some awareness of uncomfortable feelings at work. Individuals as well as collectives are reacting to shame and guilt, among other emotions, with hypocrisy. This can be contrasted with the fact that there is no hypocrisy in situations involving outright cruelty, racism and genocide, when leaders declare without euphemism their intention to kill, expel, transfer, torture, etc. and their belief in these acts. Therefore, we have learned to appreciate this kind of hypocrisy as a sign of some morality.
While less obvious, the Israeli occupiers also live under forced existence. The collective has forced upon itself a rigid regime of denial and a system of basic assumptions and axioms that are not open to examination or to any kind of critical thinking. They create a vicious circle that traps the collective without a way out, creating a perpetual circle of militarism and warfare.
A central axiom in this mindset is that Israel wants and craves peace and that wars are always forced upon it; the Others, meaning the Palestinians and Arabs in general, are always the warmongers. In this way the Zionist Israelis' forced existence has caused them to rally to one war after another without stopping to think about why they are going to kill and get killed. The axiom of Israel's pursuit of peace is by far stronger than reality.
The collective Zionist Israeli mentality sees the occupation as a constant condition. The contradiction between its claim of profound willingness to have peace and the prolonged occupation belongs to the psycho-political zone of denial, i.e., the collective inability to confront this contradiction.
In order to maintain the occupation and not confront the contradiction, the occupier needs an object on which to perpetuate domination and control. Therefore, the occupied Palestinians are forced to play the role of a voiceless, powerless child. They cannot be conceived as subjects, or the occupier's crimes will come to light. When the mute child tries to rebel, it is an intolerable threat to the occupier's identity and psychological boundaries, for if the rebellion succeeds, it might force the occupier to talk to and consider the child a partner, a mature subject, an Other with his own mind, needs and demands.
Considering the Palestinians as subjects would also force the occupier to start taking responsibility for his aggression, a psychological process that he is neither willing to take on nor capable of. The occupier is trapped in his own forced existence; he cannot change his conduct even though this would benefit both sides.
In order for the occupier's mentality to achieve a state of psychological and political change, the occupier must learn the lesson of compassion. Compassion is the tool we all require in order to take responsibility for our innate aggression. We are all born with some amount of aggression; the crucial question is whether we will learn to take responsibility for our aggression, through the shame and guilt we feel within ourselves. Immature hypocritical conduct should give way to psychological growth and development, leading to a higher psychological degree of compassion. In practical terms, it means that the occupier will have the strength to give up the occupation. How Israelis could further develop this necessary compassion is the subject of a future article I hope to write.
While so many aspects of our human existence are "forced" upon us by circumstances of birth, we enjoy freedom of choice in our moral conduct, the actions we take and those we choose not to, according to our moral values.