Taken together, the papers by Sabella and Erlich seem to provide
the reader with a wide bifocal perspective for approaching the
issue of the enemy in the Israeli-Palestinian context. As befits
psychoanalysts, Erlich's emphasis is on psychic forces no less than
on social reality, on the construction of the inner world no less
than on the actual working of the outside world. Sabella, a social
scientist, is more outer-oriented, interested in "the specific and
concrete situation of conflict which is responsible for enmity." He
accords psychology a secondary role, concomitant or consequential
rather than causal. While these differences may simply reflect
divergent paradigms associated with different disciplines, it is
not impossible that they are also related to the asymmetrical
political stance of the parties. Relegating the political reality
and its historical antecedents to the background while focusing on
universal psychic processes which are only abstrusely related to
the world out there may seem easier for the Israelis who, as a
whole, live more peacefully with the current state of political
affairs than do the Palestinians.
It is reassuring, however, that both authors, each from his own
theoretical perspective, have included in their presentations the
other party's point of view. This measure of empathy is a
prerequisite for changing the negative stereotypical views that
Israelis and Palestinians still hold of each other.
I would like to embark on these two issues of inner versus outer
reality and empathy in the context of a study on children's dreams
which I, with a team of graduate students, conducted in the early
We were able to collect more than 2,000 written dream accounts from
Jewish and Palestinian fifth-to seventh-graders living in various
places within and beyond the Green Line. In culling encounter
dreams (reports dealing explicitly with the other side) from the
general dream collection, we could delineate the image of the enemy
as projected by the dream process or as constructed in the written
account (both cases arguably deal with the fantasy lives of the
children). The somber picture that emerged on both sides was a
lucid demonstration of the hatred and terror invoked by the other
side. Let me summarize in brief the core constituents of that
First, Jews and Arabs appeared in each other's dreams stripped of
any personal characterization that would depict them as distinctive
individuals. Dream characters were never nominally identified.
Rather they were accorded collective designations, often with
strong depreciatory connotations: Arab terrorists, Arab criminals,
Jewish oppressors, Zionist usurpers. Grim, tough, frightening
facial expressions and the color black completed the stereotypical
view of the enemy.
That the other is indeed an enemy became evident when we analyzed
the content of the social interactions in the dreams. More than
ninety percent of the dream encounters were aggressive in nature,
and the dreamers in both sectors were actively involved in these
acts of aggression. Moreover, the dreamers usually tended to
perceive themselves as the victims of aggression launched by
powerful adults. In most cases the aggression escalated to high
levels of violence involving physical injury and death. These
nightmarish features were quite common, though the dreams took
different trajectories in the two sectors.
Among the Jewish children, the typical context of violent dream
interactions were terrorist attacks and suspicious objects. In both
settings, the dream reports conveyed a strong sense of
vulnerability, as the attacks were launched at home or in other
close surroundings normally deemed bounded and safe. It should be
noted, however, that in the majority of the dreams of the Jewish
children, an effective retaliation overturned the picture and
sealed the report with a sense of relief. This happy end was
usually absent from typical aggressive dreams of the Palestinian
children. These dreams, definitely gloomier and more violent than
the Jewish dreams, typically involved scenes in which the
protagonists were harassed, expelled, arrested, beaten up, and
killed in the context of fierce confrontations with Israeli
Faces of Ambivalence
Thus the image of the enemy in the dreams was nurtured by the harsh
reality and dire manifestations of the political conflict. But at
the same time it was fashioned by the refracted prism of each
dreamer's psychological make-up and subjective apprehension. It
seems that both external circumstances and mental processing and
articulation are crucial to the understanding of how the image of
the enemy is crystallized.
But what about empathy? Could one trace in the dreams hints of the
ability to take the view of the other side, despite the fact that
the latter was usually deemed a dangerous foe, a potentially brutal
aggressor and a natural object of attack? I would like to argue
that indeed, despite the heavy sediments of hatred and enmity, a
closer look at the dreams could reveal some sparsely dispersed
finer hues, reflecting feelings towards the other side which were
more equivocal and intricate. These subtle affective expressions
could be viewed as inchoate precursors of a process of change. The
main cracks in the wall of enmity were manifested in accounts
tinted with ambivalence. While there is a wide gap between
ambivalent and empathic attitudes, the former can be the potential
ground in which empathic sentiments may eventually flourish. What
were the actual faces of ambivalence manifested in the dream
accounts? The following four reports, each taken from a distinctive
group of children, may serve as an illustration.
Within the Jewish groups, children from left-oriented kibbutzim and
from right-wing settlements in the West Bank could be cogently
viewed as representing the contrasting poles of the political
spectrum in Israel, yet ambivalent views of the Arabs appeared_in
both groups, though in different intensity and guise. The
kibbutzniks in their dreams tended to distance themselves from the
conflict by blurring the identities of its participants and
sublimating their violent behavior. This tendency, which I
attributed to the contrasting messages encouraging active military
involvement and political compromise to which the children have
been exposed, was particularly noticed when attempts at denial
failed, as in the following dream summary.
Our counselor arrives with a funny hair-style. He looks like an
Arab. We walk together and find ourselves in an unknown place, a
road with a fence. Above' the fence there is a signboard - Japan.
And I am amazed: since when does have a border with Israel?
Suddenly a car passes by, and our counselor urges us to hide lest
someone might think we are Arabs.
Note how the reality of the conflict is distanced and made obscure
in this dream account. The presence of the Arab enemy is displaced
onto a remote nation-state which normally does not stir much
political emotion in Israel. (One may wonder what was the
associative link between the two. Is it related to the
stereotypical view of Japanese as harsh, cruel, hardy, exotic, and
incomprehensible?) The report is marked by confusion reflected in
this gross geographical displacement, but also in the identity
reversal that opens and seals the dream. This identity reversal
signifies most dramatically that the boundaries between the two
groups can be crossed. The dream seems to convey the idea that self
can become the other. Judging from the uncanny tone of the account,
this idea is no less frightening than comforting.
In the dreams of the Jewish children from an urban settlement in
the West Bank, ambivalence was subtly and exigiously conveyed as a
covert sense of incertitude concerning the Israelis' right to stake
a claim in an Arab town. The following dream excerpt concluded a
lengthy nightmare in which the dreamer was endlessly chased by
.. .suddenly someone seizes me and I see that this is my house. But
my family has gone and I see Arab kids walking around the rooms.
Their father, who is holding me, wears a keffiyeh, and his face is
tough. And I am not amazed at all that this is the case. I take it
as if this is the way things ought to be. I am not surprised to see
these Arabs living in my house.
Needless to say, this astonishing acquiescence, probably betraying
guilt feelings concerning the right to settle in the town, is
conspicuously incongruent with the settlers' political attitudes,
marked by singleness of purpose and invulnerable faith. It seems
that opinions more congenial to the other side are affordable only
in the refuge of dreams.
The Palestinian sample of dreamers included Israeli children and
children living in the refugee camps in the West Bank. The first
group, assuming as Israeli Palestinians a dual identity which is
quite incongruous, demonstrated in their dreams a particularly high
dose of ambivalent feelings. One indication for these feelings was
alternating scenes of hostility and friendliness in encounter
dreams illustrated by the following example.
I went with my father to one of the towns in the West Bank.
Suddenly an Israeli soldier began to shoot at passers-by. People
were arrested, but soon the situation became normal again.
(After spending some time in a magnificent amusement park,
apparently a relief-restoring interlude, the dreamer and his father
returned to their village in Israel.) We entered a store, and there
was a soldier there carrying a machine-gun.
He went out, leaving his weapon behind. Then my friend Maher came
in carrying an identical machine-gun, and tried to start a fight. I
took the soldier's gun and shot near Maher's feet, whereupon he
threw down his weapon at once. I handed the gun to the shopkeeper,
asking him to give it back to the soldier. I felt good experiencing
an odd sense of bravery.
The "odd" bravery which seals the dream may allude to the dreamer's
ambivalence towards the conflict, displayed redundantly through a
threefold splitting: the violent West Bank town versus the placid
village, the brutal Israeli soldier in the town versus the
innocuous one in the village, and the dreamer himself versus his
impulsive friend. In fact the dreamer's gesture, purporting to
bring back the lost gun to the soldier, may be counted as an act of
friendliness, a rare bird in the dream collection. Note how vague
and fluid is the situation reported here. A potential enemy, the
soldier, becomes worthy of an act of friendliness; a friend, Maher,
becomes an enemy.
Cracks in the stereotypical view of the Israeli soldier as a cruel,
ferocious enemy could even be traced in the dreams of the refugee
camp children, though they were most sparse there. The following
example was taken from dream accounts collected by Dr. Shafiq
Massalha in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip during the heyday of
I dreamed that the occupation soldiers caught me and put me in
jail. They inflicted their blows on me. The officer saw me and
said, "Why do you bring in young children like this one? Take him
back to his home at once." So I returned home. My mother was crying
(out of joy). Many people came to see.
Against the harsh reality of the Intifada - a natural setting for
the demonization of the Israeli soldier, this exceptional dream
account portrays an Israeli officer as human and considerate.
According to our formal criteria of content-analysis, his response
would be defined as a gesture of care and friendliness.
Needless to say, the ambivalent, incongruous views of the enemy
presented here are quite negligent when evaluated against the whole
collection of dreams. As I noted before, most of the dreams were
redolent of aggression and enmity. Yet, in the context of the
recent political moves towards reconciliation and agreement between
the Israelis and the Palestinians, I would like to view these few
discordant voices, hesitant and meek as they may appear, as
manifestations of the potential inherent in both sides to relate to
the enemy in terms which allow him some measure of individuality