Peace Intermediate Stress Syndrome: the Israeli Experience
On September 13, 1993, Mr. Arafat and Mr. Rabin signed an initial agree¬ment in front of the White House. This immediately became the symbol for a potential future peace after one hundred years of bloodshed and rivalry between the Palestinian and the Israeli people. However, aside from the positive feeling of hopefulness, some unexpected stressful reactions could be identified among the two groups. It is unusual to identify prospective peace as an unexpected or even traumatic situation, one which may initi¬ate stressful reactions. One would usually assume that the longing for peace after lengthy periods of warfare would provide more relaxed, posi¬tive and hopeful reactions. This could be basically true also in the Israeli and Palestinian contexts.
However, just when such a possibility started to materialize (as it hap¬pened after the Oslo agreement), completely different reactions surfaced. In the present paper, I will address the potential for a peace-related, inter¬mediate stress syndrome (PISS)¹ which I identified recently in Israeli soci¬ety and which should be taken just as seriously as delayed stressful reac¬tions. Though the Israeli experience is unique in many of its specific com¬ponents, this syndrome can probably be applied to other settings in which sudden, normative changes of expectations, assumed to have a positive meaning for the society, might elicit also negative or stressful reactions.
Stress is a human reaction to unexpected worsening conditions and to a lack of orientation (Lazarus & Folkman, 1984; Wilson, Harel & Kahana, 1988). We prepare ourselves for something bad happening to us or relevant others, but we actually do not know what to expect; we may lack a cogni¬tive map for interpreting current events; we may try to react to them in familiar ways, but these reactions no longer yield the expected outcomes (Seligman, 1980).
Stress reactions may develop owing to the mere threat of future traumatic events. We know of stressful reactions to the possibility of nuclear war, or of similar reactions to the possibility of chemical warfare prior and during the Gulf War (Gal & Meisles, 1992). In such cases, a learning process of anticipation may evolve: you can train people to react efficiently during war and to overcome fear or even anxiety reaction while anticipating threat (Goldberg & Bretnitz, forthcoming). The Israeli society has been especially well-trained to expect war or states of warfare (Solomon, 1993). However, do these procedures also prepare us for a qualitatively different state of affairs? For example, the possibility of moving towards peace, while some alertness for warfare is still necessary?

No More Wars

During all these years an underlying, idealistic wish for a future state of peace has prevailed within the Israeli society. As an example, many of us recall this expectation when our first children were born: "maybe they will not have to fight, or even go to the army." Peace was perceived as an opti¬mal, totally new state of mind and reality in which we would be able to relax from our anticipating war and threat-oriented psychological state of mind. "There will be no more wars between us" was the famous expres¬sion President Sadat used when he came to Jerusalem and addressed the Israeli Parliament in 1977. Peace was expected to be total peace as opposed to the previously unquestionable warfare. This expectation was supported by an either peace or war argumentation (Bar-On, 1992). Interestingly, it was characterized by more passive expressions ("when peace comes to us") in contrast to the active expressions of war ("winning the war," "over¬coming the threat of annihilation"). After the Six-Day War there was a famous idiom that the Israeli leaders were awaiting a phone call from the Arab leaders, pleading for peace. In the end, the phone call never came.
Though this idealized quest for peace is still the prevalent one, since Rabin-Arafat's agreement in September, 1993, one can identify the begin¬ning of a more sober understanding that between total warfare and total peace there may be a long and stressful period of movement towards peace accompanied by ongoing hostile feelings and acts. Though the first steps towards the possibility of peace have been made, the potential for a sud¬den and dangerous outbreak of war, as well as ongoing guerrilla activities, has not diminished. On the contrary, the better did the chances for the peace process materialize, the more did extreme groups on both sides try to prevent it from happening. Both negotiating parties claim to have the majority of their people's support. However, within the year, since signing the accord in Washington, the pragmatic negotiations between the parties came to a halt several times due to murderous acts of extremists on both sides. There were even moments when the impression was that support for the process was undermined.
How can we account for these difficulties?

The Gray Area

I would like to argue that the gray zone of war and peace is psychological¬ly more stressful than unambiguous war or peace, especially for people who got used to anticipating either one of them. The new gray zone is char¬acterized by a loss of orientation and the lack of a clear set of expectations. The central difficulty is that one does not know how to relate to the relevant other, and to oneself in relation to the other. During warfare Arabs were the enemy from the Israeli perspective; in the future peace they should become our friendly partners. But how can we expect then to be both enemies and partners, especially after so many years of embedded hatred and rivalry? Is it not easier to go relating to them as total evil (Hadar, 1992) until they turn somehow into total good? Here, one is faced with two separate but confounding difficulties: to overcome the burden of the past one hundred years of hatred and fear, and to get over the present ambiguous perspective. One way, used mainly by the Israeli Government and media, was to try and differentiate: there are the other good ones (basi¬cally the PLO) who have changed their attitude from warfare to peace, and there are the bad guys (basically the Islamic fundamentalist movement ¬Hamas) who try to resist and sabotage the agreement. This new perspec¬tive takes care of the current disorientation but it does not take into account the burden of the past, still affecting many of the people on both sides who grew up in fear and hatred.
The complexity of this intermediate gray area in light of the burden of the past could actually be anticipated. We are not machines, and even if we genuinely want to move away from years of hatred and warfare into a clear-cut peace, this cannot be achieved overnight, especially as we will have to share one land and each give up dreams of its total occupation. One could expect a relatively easier shift in the mutual perception of Israelis and citizens of Arab states, once moving out of warfare, as they do not have to share one land, or work through each others' dreams. This was, for example, the case in the Israeli-Egyptian peace process, in which the lead¬ership of both countries were the only ones to encounter each other. However, when the relations with the Palestinians are considered, large groups of citizens from both sides will have to be in daily contact with each other, many of them still maintaining their dreams of zero-sum victory over the other, dreams which have been nourished by many years of igno¬rance, frustration and disillusionment. The complexity of a possible solu¬tion that will genuinely satisfy both sides may, in turn, prolong this inter¬mediate gray area of war and peace.
Many human beings cannot tolerate ambiguity when under stress and do not easily manage cognitive complexity (Tetlock, 1987). Most of us will try to reduce it, using cognitive dissonance strategies (Festinger & Carl smith, 1959). Some may even choose to interpret their world as an ongoing total warfare, in which expectations and behaviors are clear-cut and familiar, rather than be exposed to the prolonged ambiguity and disorientation of the transition period between war and peace. This may be so even if they know, logically, that this ambiguity leads to the expected state of peace. Cognitive simplicity makes it easier to return to war expectations (charac¬terizing mainly the political right), or dreams of a future ideal peace (char¬acterizing more the political left), rather than getting involved into the more stressful ambiguity of both war and peace.

Changing Moods

Which are the pre-peace stressful emotional, cognitive and behavior pat¬terns which we2 identified among the Israeli population within the last year? We found people reporting that since the peace accord, they have more daily difficulties to concentrate and function at home or at work, including sleep difficulties and extreme nervousness. Quite a few people reported that this was accompanied by fast and extreme mood changes, moving from exaggerated optimism and euphoria ("soon we will go and have dinner in Damascus") into anger and depressive moods ("no chance anything will change in this area: just killing each other"). These changes were very much influenced even by minor events reported hourly in the media. Every stabbing, or every word mentioned concerning the peace process got a magnified meaning, causing these mood changes.
On the other hand, we found reactions of numbness, a kind of total apa¬thy to what was happening. One could view this kind of reaction as a defense mechanism - how to avoid the extreme mood changes of the first group. These are two different ways to deal with the same ambiguity (Solomon, 1993). One could see that both overreaction and numbness are inadequate reactions, as they do not help the persons accommodate the reality in a more balanced way. These people reported that they also had difficulty accepting the possibility that something new, regardless if viewed positively or negatively, will emerge out of the present ambiguity.
There is a third common reaction formation: people trying to avoid the news by concentrating on the concrete, minute, daily experiences, espe¬cially those unrelated to the peace process. They talked in their interviews for hours about all kinds of events that had happened in their lives recent¬ly, their reactions and those of others, carefully avoiding anything con¬cerning the recent political developments. When asked about those events, some would shrug their shoulders, as if saying, "this has nothing to do with me and my thoughts or feelings."
When some of these people are asked about their fantasies concerning war and peace, one hears that some want it done and over with. In Hebrew there is an expression for it: zbeng vegamarnu, which means "one blow and we finished" - never mind at what price or what the outcome.3
Similarly, while talking with people after a new move towards the next round of peace talks or following the latest assault on an Israeli by an Arab (or vice versa), one hears familiar expressions of fantasies or anger and frustrations, but very little new expressions or discourse related to more moderate and realistic expectations. We interpreted it as the difficulty peo¬ple exhibit in disassociating themselves from their past perspective of war¬fare. Certain interviewees spoke openly about their pain: their life invested to be wasted time and effort which did not materialize into the expected positive outcome.
Another reaction we identified was that of floating anxiety: fantasies about "them" ("how will they react to us after all that we have done to them?"); fears about one's own people ("we will never be able to integrate into the Middle East society because we are strangers here"); even some fear concerning oneself ("who am I if I am not the brave Israeli fighting against our enemies"). Fears were usually associated with lack of trust in the negotiating parties, who may "try to solve some issues and leave us to live afterwards with all the problems." One person reported dreams of doomsday in which "all this [peace process] will turn suddenly back on us, but we will not be able anymore to defend ourselves, the way we could until now, as we have already given up our control of the territories."

The Hazards of Peace

Like PTSD reactions (Figley, 1986; Solomon, 1993), there is a realistic aspect in each of these attitudes and emotions. However, we start to view them as traumatic-stress when they control one's perspective and do not enable a more relaxed form of reality testing. The main problem is to envision the possibility that the future will slowly become different than the past (war¬fare) or the present (ambiguity).
Some interviewees projected their anger at the political leadership involved in the negotiations. Certain interviewees spoke of the "betrayal by the leadership which is tired of wars." Others accused them of their lack of courage to admit past mistakes: after all, it is the same political leader¬ship which claimed all the years that they will never sit together with Arafat at the same table. Both groups actually expressed the feeling that the leadership did not assist them in constructing adequate expectations which could help them cope better with ambiguity of the intermediate phase. "In the past, the leaders had preached that the peace would emerge only as a result of each side's strength and victories. Now we are expected to take the perspective of the Palestinians into account."
Some argued that only the previous leadership could help the Israeli pub¬lic go through this change. However, others would argue that this only adds to the stressfulness of the situation. They believe that only a fresh political leadership, disassociated from the collective memory of the past, could help the public accommodate the new changes and the ambiguity of the intermediate state. Similar projections were made towards the media and the role it plays in accommodating the peace accord. They have been accused of being pro-PLO and anti-PLO by different interviewees, relating almost to the same programs. It seems that certain parts of the media suffers from an additional difficulty during the ambiguous intermediate phase. It is the part of the public media which tends to reinforce simplification as they gain their fame by presenting clear-cut news and sensationalism. They do not view it as their task to help the public cope better with the intermediate gray zone of war and peace.
One could ask if there were more specific reasons or conditions which made the Israeli public more vulnerable to the intermediate stage, more than the usual human difficulties to accommodate changes and live with ambiguities? Though striving for peace for many years, the Israelis have to face many realistic hazards which, manifestly, can be associated with a future state of peace. We have had (and may have) to give up territories, a fact which in certain future scenarios could endanger our existence. Israel is still surrounded by totalitarian regimes and strong fundamentalist extreme movements. They are many and we are few. They have natural resources upon which the world is dependent. However, there are other, more latent psychological hazards in a future peace. Many Israelis will have to question and relinquish the part of their own self-definition which has been achieved mainly through the negative use of the other. This part of their self-definition was achieved though a consistent negative relation to the enemy. Such a definition is, psychologically speaking, more easily achieved than a positive self-determination with no available and negative other. We, as Jews, have been well-trained throughout the ages to define ourselves by experiencing the other who persecuted us and tried to exter¬minate us (Keen, 1987).
Let us examine some normative rituals which the whole Israeli public is exposed to. For example, the education we provide our children with in relation to the relevant other. They learn from a very young age that our festivals are associated with the other who endangered our existence. The calendar year in the kindergarten and elementary schools starts with Hanukkah, the festival commemorating our success in stopping the ancient Greeks from taking over the First Temple. It continues with Purim, which celebrates success in preventing the extermination of the Jews by the Persians. Then comes Passover, when we succeeded in running away from the Egyptian oppressors, followed by Holocaust Day (the Germans) and Independence Day (the Arabs). Last on the list is the Ninth of Av, the day of the destruction of both Temples (by the Babylonians and the Romans). An anecdote illustrating this trend was shown on television during the first school day, September 1, 1993. The Israeli Minister of Education, Prof. Amnon Rubinstein, visited a kindergarten in Jerusalem and asked the kids if they knew about the peace process and with whom are we trying to make peace. A few of the kids reacted spontaneously: "Of course we know." One spoke about the Germans, the other about the Egyptians. Only one said "with the Palestinians."

Losing an Enemy

We are not the only people who were threatened by the loss of the enemy. Russia is moving these days through a painful transition in which it not only lost its enemy, but also its own pure-ideological identity of a world superpower (Zizeck, 1989). The American people lost their traditional enemy after the collapse of the Communist bloc. Though these enemies were imagined rather than real ones, they did however preoccupy people's minds and imagination, in both countries, for quite a few decades. In a sense, this is a stressful situation because one has to face oneself, one's internal problems, after being accustomed for many years to define oneself through negative others. In the Israeli case, this danger is not yet so acute. Even if the peace process moves on, certain others may still be counted on as enemies: the Iranians, Hamas, Hizbullah. Still, the fear of losing the enemy who helped one define oneself in the past, the fear of falling apart as one people owing to internal conflicts (religious-secular; ethnic groups; political orientations), the uncertainty of obtaining enough positive and internal resources for self-determination as a people, can be stressful.
There are specific groups within our society (and probably also within the Palestinian society) which may not only suffer from a latent danger of los¬ing an enemy, but whose stressful situation is real and practical. Some peo¬ple have been economically linked to the production of weapons (Kimmerling, 1993). Others have their occupation directly linked to main¬taining our security. For these groups a future peace may mean personal uncertainty or a loss of career. In addition, there is a whole section of Israeli society which moved to the Golan Heights, to the West Bank and Gaza for ideological and religious reasons - not economic ones. For these, even the first step of the intermediate phase of peace and war is very stressful because they can anticipate that the following stages will endanger their future in these places and/or their security.
An additional group should concern people in charge of the helping pro¬fessions. Within or right after the intermediate phase, those who suffer from latent PTSD, experienced during one of the previous wars, and espe¬cially who experienced it during the Intifada, may suddenly show overt PTSD symptoms. Perhaps some of the reactions quoted earlier from the interviews are early signs of this pattern. These people will now be able to express the traumatic experiences they have had to deny earlier, when the political conflict around the Intifada was still full-fledged and did not enable them to relate to their own experiences (Bar-On, 1992). They may soon find themselves alone with their trauma because their commanders and the politicians who had supported their activity may be more than happy to forget their responsibility for that period.
Another group which may face additional stress in the intermediate phase of war and peace are those families who lost members during the long period of warfare with the Arabs. For them the justification for their loss was that one day peace would come and compensate the living for the dead who, thus, would not have died in vain. However, this justification is based on the illusion or fantasy of total peace, not on the ambiguous and complex intermediate phase of peace and war. Such a phase may cause them to question the former justification and feel the meaninglessness of the loss: "Did our dear ones die for this kind of peace?" Again, some of the reactions I have quoted before relate to this aspect.

Role of Leadership

It is usually seen as the task of the political and social leadership to assist the vulnerable groups in the society, as well as the society as a whole, to accommodate the delicate and complex demands of the intermediate phase. They will have to confront previous unrealistic expectations which have developed during earlier stressful and frustrating years of warfare. However, it is not easy to suggest what they should actually do to enhance such a process. For example, when they prefer to present every new act or situation as an error or as a coincidence, rather than as an anticipated part of a larger process, this may help some people while perhaps distress oth¬ers. It would help those who cannot cope with the whole process at once, while it may hamper the efforts of others who could gain from a wider interpretive map which would help them reduce uncertainty, but prefer to give it in bits and pieces, or present voluntary acts as concessions to American pressure. As they cannot predict the outcome of the process they are leading, they may prefer to limit their own perspective and that of others, rather than show a clear direction and be punished if this fails at some point in the future.
The PISS concept can be applied to other social contexts in which a sud¬den collapse of the enemy or an intermediate phase of war and peace can be identified. This is true of the countries which were deeply involved in the cold war, such as the U.S.A, Germany and those in East Europe. Other societies that suffer from long and exhausting conflicts, such as North Ireland, Bosnia, Cambodia and South Africa, and that try to move towards resolving the conflict, will experience a similar intermediate phase like the one described earlier. However, in each social context these factors, and possibly also others, have to be assessed separately, according to the spe¬cific characteristics of that context.

This paper was first presented at a symposium of the Israeli Society for Family Therapy, on May 19, 1993, at Tel Aviv University.

1 I suggest PISS and not anticipatory stress as the major issue of the current stress that one cannot anticipate as one does not know what to expect from the future. On one hand, it may include many of the symptoms of PTSD (sleep and functional dis¬turbances, aggression, helplessness). However, these reactions will be associated with future ambiguity in relation to war and peace, though they will be based on past experience with traumatizing events. The segments of the population which I expect to be less tolerant to this kind of ambiguity will be discussed later in this paper.
2 I refer here to a study currently being conducted by the author and Dr. Sarit Helman, in which we follow changes in the discourse of the Israeli population owing to the peace process. We surveyed the major daily newspapers, media news and talk-shows and conducted interviews with about thirty students. This sample is yet too small to draw statistical conclusions, but large enough to follow certain trends by narrative analysis.
3 Dr. Tom Greening suggested the phrase "the temptation of facile fatalism and dreamy optimism" to describe the simplistic solution some people tend to prefer when faced with the ambiguity of a sudden transition like the one from war to peace (personal communication, December 17, 1993).


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