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Bar-Tal and the “ethos of conflict” in the Israeli-Palestinian issue epos_print_logo.png
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Bar-Tal and the “ethos of conflict” in the Israeli-Palestinian issue

Wednesday, 19 April 2017 14:40
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Epos converses with Prof. Daniel Bar-Tal

by Melania Malomo (EPOS)
EPOS Conversations


The critical situation in Palestine started many years before the first Arab-Israeli conflict in 1948: since the Balfour's Declaration in 1917, the immigration of the Jews in the “Holy Land” became more substantial and, subsequently, the reactions of the Arab inhabitants became more violent. From this date on, the two populations have been living together in a conflict situation which has changed their culture and, consequentially, their mind. The long exposition to death, suffer and anger has played an important role in this social evolution, especially after the mass media's diffusion. Nowadays, there is a process of polarization that, despite the repeated attempt of negotiation, makes the peace unreached and difficult to be attained.

In the opinion of Daniel Bar-Tal, the Israeli-Palestinian is an intractable conflict a with socio-psychological component and involvement. Daniel Bar-Tal is Professor Emeritus of Social Psychology at the School of Education, Tel Aviv University. He has won several awards for his contribution to conflict resolution's theory and practice, such as the Morton Deutsch Conflict Resolution Award of the Society for the Study of Peace, Conflict, and Violence. Since the early 1980s,  he has focused on political and social psychology, studying socio-psychological foundations of intractable conflicts and peace building, as well as development of political understanding among children and peace education. He has studied and examined in depth the shared social beliefs that strength the differences between two enemies groups in order to maintain the culture of conflict.

Professor Bar-Tal argues that the so-called “ethos of conflict” is developed to modify individual’s perspective about the conflict and to maintain a distortion of reality, by providing a unique, general and dominant orientation to society. Basically, it is due to the needs of the groups involved in this situation, such as copying with the stress and providing a self-justification and a sense of unity. So the institutionalization and the spreading of this ideology leads individuals to select information in accordance with this hegemonic perception in their everyday life; but, at the same time, it is a natural tendency for a society that is raised in a conflict situation.

Professor Bar-Tal talks about 8 themes that are recurrent in conflict society’s beliefs: 1) providing a meaningful explanation in order to demonstrate the justness of the goals that the group wants to achieve; 2) portraying the enemy into a negative stereotype, even de-humanizing him, by the de-legitimization of the opponent; 3) so it naturally leads to the belief that the questioned group is victim in the conflict against a foe that use to harm immorally and undeservedly, then, in this way, the capacity of being empathic is reduced; 4) obviously, the society maintains a positive self-image: thanks to the comparison between the parties, they can see themselves as superior human beings even if they have killed innocents (the de-legitimization of the adversary helps to strengthen this point); 5) excessive preoccupation with security that could outstrip to the perception that the enemy is a threat to the mere existence of the collective; 6) fostering patriotism in order to increase a sense of belonging and integration that could provide justification for sacrifices made and mobilize the entire citizens; 7) in addition to the last one there are beliefs about unity that avoid internal tension and increase cohesiveness among society; 8) last but not least, the “light at the end of the tunnel”: peace as the supreme goals, presented in the form of utopian aim, and society as peace loving.

According to Professor Bar-Tal, in the last decades, both the Israeli and the Palestinian societies have developed a shared system of beliefs that leads them to avoid any kind of contact or discussion within the other one; thus, in order to achieve a resolution of this conflict, a change in education and cultural system is needed. The Israeli and the Palestinian societies are both so polarized that none of them could agree on a compromise in which one of them may move backwards on the belief that the Jews, after 1.000 years of diaspora, have the legitimacy to live in their “Holy Land”, or the claim that the sovereignty of Jerusalem belongs to the Palestinians, because of its holy status. These two positions are now uncompromising and effectively have determinate the unsuccessful of the Camp David Summit in 2000.

Last week I had the pleasure to interview in exclusive for EPOS Professor Bar-Tal, and we talked about his perception of the Jewish society in Israel and about the ethos of conflict that has been developed in the country.

Melania Malomo, EPOS: In which kind of people do you find a high level of the ethos of conflict and why?

Daniel Bar-Tal: It is very prevailing in Israel. At the moment we are experiencing a process of re-escalation of the conflict, so there is also strengthening of the ethos. This ethos was so moderated during the 80s and 90s that this was a period of alternative ethos which I call “ethos of peace”. But now the ethos has become again a kind of hegemonic ideology in Israel and it is held by 60-70% of Israeli Jewish.

Melania Malomo, EPOS: In your opinion, how is it possible to uncover the Maya veil that obstructs the right perception of reality among Jewish? Is it a top-down or bottom-up process?

Daniel Bar-Tal: It goes usually in both directions. In every place in which very long conflicts were settled, like Northern -Ireland, Guatemala, El Salvador, South-Africa, or Algeria-France it was going in both directions but sometimes the leader was playing a very important role as in the case of France, or South-Africa. In other places, like in Northern Ireland, civil society was playing also an important role. I am not sure and I don’t know a case in which only civil society can bring a change but it is possible. Also in Israel, as I told before, there was a process of moderation during the end of the 70s, 80s, and 90s. But since 2000 we experienced a re-development of the ethos because of the leadership that was extremely hawkish and obviously helped very much to propagate and maintain the ethos of conflict.

Melania Malomo, EPOS: In your opinion, which is the impact of the Wall in West Bank on Palestinian and Jewish people? Is it only a physical manifestation of barriers that are primarily mental or is it more than that?

Daniel Bar-Tal: It provides psychological barrier because the slogan at the moment is that we need to separate from Palestinians and do not have any relationship. It is a kind of divorce, whereas the other possibility will be reconciliation and the Wall provides a symbolic barrier. The Wall provides in the minds of Israelis a kind of tangible barrier so a kind of security also if it really does not prevent terror attacks, that can be carried in very easily despite the Wall.

Melania Malomo, EPOS: The settlements in the Occupied Territory force Israelis and Palestinians to live side by side without having any contact with each other, excluded the violent ones. In your opinion, are the settlements the proof of the impossibility of the coexistence between those two people?

Daniel Bar-Tal: Usually, settlers will tell that they have a wonderful relationship with the Palestinians but in principles, settlers are perceived as very hawkish, disturbing and fanatic, etc. So the settlements cannot, in the present situation, be a basis for coexistence.

Melania Malomo, EPOS: As you know, a lot of young Jewish people use to do a one-year-trip after the three years of military service in order to clean up their mind after the war. How new is this phenomenon? Why did it become a trend among young people?

Daniel Bar-Tal: This phenomenon is probably thirty years now. It develops firstly because of the economic growth, in fact, my generation did not do it because go abroad was a very special journey and we did not have money to do it. I believe it started in the 70s and now it becomes a ritual, a part of the culture for people who comes from middle or middle-upper class. At the moment 30,000 of young Israelis are probably between South America, Africa, India, Thailand, New Zealand, Australia. They go for a year, maybe they can extend it even to two years, and it is called “cleaning the head”. I was curious whereas the people who leave come back with small doggish opinion but I must say that there is no indication, maybe it comes later.

Melania Malomo, EPOS: How do you forsee the future? Do you have faith in the fact that new Jewish generation will gradually change or even break the hegemonic ideology which you talks about?

Daniel Bar-Tal: The younger generation is more hawkish than the older one so I am not sure if I have hope in them because they live in a claimed environment, they are indoctrinated in school, kinder gardens, army, media or by leaders. But I do see thousands of young people who are very interesting in how does it happens and they are peace supporters. Probably it is the effect of the parents and maybe it is because there is not this something that disturbed so they can be basically moral and empathetic, or with the ability to take perspective. But the majority of Israeli Jewish are hawkish.


DISCLAIMER: The views expressed in this article are the interviewed’s own and do not necessarily reflect EPOS WorldView’s editorial policy

Last modified on Thursday, 20 April 2017 14:50

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