The Perception of the Enemy: A Psychological View
If an enemy did not exist, it would be necessary to invent one, said Nietzsche. Common sense has it that the enemy is wildly different from us, has many negative qualities, commits many evil deeds - usually against our own people. We are taught, and we teach our children to beware of them¬ - they are bad! Where does this image of the enemy, the stranger come from?
According to the psychoanalysis of development, stranger anxiety first occurs in an infant at about eight months. Discovering that a face it is look¬ing at is not the mother's, the child bursts into uncontrolled crying to express its unhappiness over the discovery. As the early relationship of the child develops, ambivalence soon becomes an integral part of it. Ambivalence means the existence of both love and hate. Early on, these exist side by side. The toddler of two or three years changes very quickly from expressing one of these emotions to the opposite one. Gradually, it learns to separate the two - love and hate - a little more, to put some dis¬tance between them. At the same time, the toddler is being "socialized," i.e., it is taught, among other things, that negative feelings and their expres¬sions are mostly unwelcome to the grown-ups, and must therefore be kept "under wraps." This means that to quite an extent, the hate of the love/hate pair has to go underground, to be repressed, unavailable to consciousness.
In other words, hate, that which as adults we are expected to feel toward our enemy, and that which we inculcate in our children, intentionally, or not - actually derives from our relationships with what we call "our important others" or "our love objects." If so, this means that hatred - and enmity - are integral parts of our lives; that they are there within us from an early stage, and that they are expressed toward the people with whom we interact. This may explain why such intense conflicts arise within a family between siblings or between parents and children. These tend to be more easily felt and expressed vis-a-vis in-laws or step-parents, sometimes between spouses, and also between neighbors, different sub-groups with¬in a culture, rival organizations (school, work, hospitals, universities, men¬tal health centers, cities), and only then between countries or nations. And even between countries, we find that it is usually neighboring countries or peoples that fight each other.

Hostile Realities

According to Freud, "The evidence of psychoanalysis shows that almost every intimate emotional relationship between two people which lasts for some time - marriage, friendship, the relations between parents and children - contains a sediment of feelings of aversion and hostili¬ty, which only escapes perception because of repression" (1921, p. 101). He goes on to elaborate that "It is clearly not easy for man to give up the satisfaction of his inclination to aggression. Men do not feel com¬fortable without it... It is always possible to bind together a considerable number of people in love, so long as there are other people left over to receive the manifestations of their aggressiveness. It is precisely com¬munities with adjoining territories, and those related to each other in other ways as well, who are engaged in constant feuds and in ridiculing each other" (1930, p. 114).
We can thus see that enmity and hostility are indeed rampant in the relationship between any two people and any two groups - and that soci¬eties have their ways of pushing these feelings aside to an extent that makes relationships more or less bearable.
At the same time Freud reminds us that to have an enemy outside of one's group helps create cohesion inside. A family that has neighbors to be hated as enemies will be able to better maintain peace within its own unit. This phenomenon of a common enemy is certainly evident in Israel. When acute conflagrations with the Arab or Palestinian enemy waned or died down for a while, enmities between the various ethnic groups in Israel, that were at loggerheads with each other, flared up. It seems reasonable to assume that the same relationship holds true for the rivalries between various Arab groups and their enmity with Israel.
If having an enemy helps to keep peace within a group or a society, and increase its cohesion, this is an important function that the existence of the enemy fulfills on the social level. The longer such a function exists, the more it becomes part of the existing equilibrium, here a social one. Therefore, the need to have an enemy, once it has been established and continues to exist, tends to preserve the status quo and perpetuate itself, and thus, necessarily serves as an obstacle to peace, and to a peace process.

The Evil Image

The existence of the enemy does not only serve the needs of a group or a society, but also those of the individual. If the member of a group knows that s/he has an enemy to disdain and look down upon; an enemy who, by general consensus in the society, is regarded as evil, this makes the mem¬ber, as well as the group, appear all the better in his/her own eyes. S/he uses the mechanism of projection to ascribe to the other, here the enemy, all the badness which s/he does not wish to recognize in him/herself. This leads to the demonization and scapegoating of the enemy, the creation of a false, one-dimensional, stereotypical picture.
As time goes on and the enemy continues to be present, the existing equilibrium - now we focus on the intrapsychic, rather than the social ¬adjusts to this fact, so that the situation becomes institutionalized or chron¬ic. Viewed differently, this equilibrium of the individual, too, becomes an obstacle to a peace process that is envisaged or beginning. Here too, the longer the situation of enmity and hostility exists - as in the case of Israeli¬-Arab relations - the more the equilibrium crystallizes or even ossifies, and the harder it will be to bring about change.
When such a state of enmity exists between two societies, the tendency is for members of each society to ascribe to the members of the other all the negative qualities imaginable. All this of course operates in the service of nationalism, or perhaps we should rather say, chauvinism (Moses, 1982). A society, through its leaders, supported by its communication media ¬newspapers, radio and most importantly television - first creates and then supports the image of the "evil" enemy. Textbooks in schools perpet¬uate the image (Abu-Samra, 1991). Social networks of relatives and friends reiterate the image. The function of such an attitude and such activities is to prepare the population to fight the enemy as and when it is deemed necessary.
While this is the basic format of what takes place, it applies most easily to societies and nations whose members have little contact with each other. Under those circumstances, all the negative images of the enemy flower and grow. There exists what has been described as the mirror image situa¬tion (White, 1984). "This image is remarkably similar no matter who the conflicting parties are. Enemy images mirror each other - that is, each side attributes the same virtues to itself and the same vices to the enemy. 'We' are trustworthy, peace-loving, honorable and humanitarian; 'they' are treacherous, warlike and cruel" (Frank, p. 951).
But even in such situations of dire enmity, there are also other psycho¬logical forces at work, though they are mostly hidden, i.e., underground at such times. It is noticeable as a curiosity to find out more about "the other," the stranger, the enemy; to meet, talk to, to learn what s/he is really like. This tendency exists in many people in latent form. Its roots also derive from an early dyadic relationship, but here it is the wish for positive con¬tact that dominates.

Two Reactions

While in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, wars have fuelled the most nega¬tive and off-putting view of the enemy - a period when the other side of the coin was allowed, and perhaps encouraged to express itself, came after the Six-Day War. For Israelis, it was particularly striking to see the intense curiosity of the population to come to know Palestinian Arabs of the West Bank. A visit to the Old City of Jerusalem, to Ramallah, to Hebron, Jenin or Nablus, to Jericho became - what was it? a fad? a mission? a need? an adventure? It was most strongly psychologically motivated. While there was also a marked wish to see areas of a country that had been prohibited up to this point, Israelis who came back from such more and more frequent trips, were full of stories of having met people, human beings from what had been the enemy camp. They cared about how they were received, and, in the first few months, after some initial fear and suspicion, they were very well received indeed. I do not have enough information about the manner this was perceived on the Palestinian side at this time.
The visits of Israelis en masse to Egypt after the Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty (1979) bore characteristics similar to those Israeli visits to the West Bank in 1967, 1968 and 1969. A large majority of these tourists came back to report that they had been absolutely amazed to find how open the average Egyptian(until quite recently an enemy) had been towards them as Israelis: the man in the street, the taxi driver, even people who did not want to sell them any¬thing. Egyptians were warm, friendly and hospitable. Exceptions were rare.
Obviously then, there are two ways of reacting to the enemy: to demonize, to scapegoat and to use, as most of us do, as a foil to make us feel better by comparison. That is the more common, the easier way. Or to seek the other side in us: the thirst for that which is strange and unknown, the wish to con¬quer - not territories, but people, the enemy or ex-enemy. Psychologically, we have both sides of the coin in us. Perhaps we psychologists should work more on understanding under what circumstances and how the second facet becomes more dominant or can be helped to be more dominant than the first.


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Frank, J.D. "The Nuclear Arms Race - Sociopolitical Aspects." American
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Freud, S. Group Psychology and the Ego. Stand. ed. 18:67, 1921. ---. Civilization and Its Discontents, Stand. ed. 21:59, 1930.
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White, R.K. Fearful Warriors: A Psychological Profile of US-Soviet Relations.
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