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
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.
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
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
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.
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.
Abu-Samra, Y. "The Israeli-Palestinian Conflict: Effects of
Textbooks and the Process of Socialization. International
Schulbuchforschung 13:19-179. Frankfurt: Diesterweg, 1991.
Frank, J.D. "The Nuclear Arms Race - Sociopolitical Aspects."
Journal of Public Health 70 (9): 950-952, 1980.
Freud, S. Group Psychology and the Ego. Stand. ed. 18:67, 1921.
---. Civilization and Its Discontents, Stand. ed. 21:59,
Moses, R. "The Group, Self and the Arab-Israeli Conflict."
International Review of Psychoanalysis 9:55-65, 1982.
White, R.K. Fearful Warriors: A Psychological Profile of US-Soviet
New York: Free Press, 1984.