Shivering in Gaza- Jan Andreae’s work
Geert Van Kesteren’s documentary-
Comments by Dr. Elana Lakh
Jerusalem cinematheque, 18/10/2015
I was asked by Amnesty to comment on the documentary Shivering in Gaza, that tells the story of a trauma treatment intervention conducted by Jan Andreae in Gaza. As we know, trauma is the catastrophe of helplessness, and needs an empathic witness. Jan is most certainly an empathic and present witness. There is a lot that can be said about the documentary in terms of trauma healing methods or cultural sensitive treatment, or gender issues in psychological treatment, etc., but I choose to address not the documentary itself, but the reaction to it in the Israeli public. As an Israeli, I can only observe my own society and culture, and will not be talking about the Palestinian society.
The screening of the documentary had previously been blocked in the south of Israel, and today’s showing in Jerusalem was seriously threatened as well. I suggest here an understanding of the reasons that make it impossible for the Israeli public to tolerate the screening of this documentary, and its existence. I want to focus on the reactions of the Israeli public to this documentary, reactions which reflect the current processes dominating Israeli society.
The attempts to prevent the screening of “Shivering in Gaza” are a clear example of what my Psychoactive colleague, Dr. Sharona Komem, has termed “actively wanting not to know”. It is different than not wanting to know, which can be a rather passive process. Wanting not to know forces us to make an active effort not to let information reach our consciousness or denying information that evades this attempt at complete avoidance. In Israel today, with all the available evidence about the consequences of the occupation, it becomes more and more difficult not to know, and requires stronger psychological measures.
“Shivering in Gaza” as a headline called for severe reactions, though the documentary is mainly human and psychological and not political. I wondered what might have happened, if the shivering was in Kathmandu and not in Gaza. The taxi driver that drove me here and thought that the documentary must not be screened as it portrays Israel in a shameful way, said that if the shivering was in Kathmandu he wouldn’t mind the screening. But the shivering, with both meanings present in the documentary’s title, is not in Kathmandu. It is in Gaza, and that is intolerable in the public atmosphere in Israel today. Why is that so?
Jerusalem municipal council member, Yael Antabi, tried to prevent the screening of the documentary here, in Jerusalem Cinematheque, and threatened to sanction the place: “I will do anything in my power to prevent screening this false documentary about our soldiers! Not at this time, nor at any other time”, she wrote on her facebook page. The film does not even mention Israel or Israeli soldiers. So why does the city council member resist it so much? It is obvious that there is something about the documentary that consciousness cannot tolerate and therefore must be eliminated by any means. The city council member also writes: “In these days, when Israeli security forces work day and night to defend our security, terrorism assisting organizations such as Amnesty are raising their heads again”. Amnesty is an organization that assists terrorism? The council member’s statement reflects a problem of thought processes that characterizes the situation in which Israeli society now finds itself. So why cannot a documentary about trauma treatment in Gaza be screened in Jerusalem? What is so dangerous to the consciousness that needs to be annihilated? And what is the danger of the “terrorism assisting organization” Amnesty?
The danger is of connections and relatedness. And it is a great danger. Relatedness opens the way to complexity, and complexity threatens the sense of cohesiveness and continuity of consciousness in Israel. Connection is something that cannot be risked at this time. Thus, the active effort not to know is meant to protect consciousness against information that is intolerable. This is a dissociation mechanism that is characteristic of traumatic states.
The Israeli society lives in an ongoing traumatic mode of experiencing reality. This traumatic state is used in a cynical way by political interests that never enable relaxing of the situation and processing of the trauma. There is no post trauma here. Israeli society is based on a narrative of a constitutive trauma that is alive in our collective unconscious and is kept alive in the individual consciousness as well, and its reactions are therefore similar to those of a traumatised person. In traumatic states, consciousness is possessed by the sense that one’s life is threatened, and becomes entirely survival-directed. Time and space cease to exist and the person re-lives the traumatic events again and again, and is unable to stop. In such states, various triggers can re-enact the circle of traumatic response, that returns the person to the initial state of a life threat.
In such a state, there is no space for complexity, and there is no place for thinking processes. The immediate threat must be eliminated. Today the threat is the screening of the documentary that has the word Gaza in its headline. This state of consciousness associated every stab with a knife or a vegetable-peeler with a total annihilation threat for the whole Jewish nation and the state of Israel. This state of mind does not allow any distinction between the current events that are happening within a specific political context that has causes and solutions, and between the constituting Israeli narrative of surviving extinction attempts, since the Biblical Amalek till today. Thus, in situations dominated by the experience of a life threat there is an attack on thought processes and on linking, and the notion of cause and context cannot be remembered. The attacks in Jerusalem and in other places in Israel, as well as in the occupied territories are thus experiences as antisemitism and hatred of Jews just because of being Jewish, and are dissociated from the current context of decades of Israeli occupation of Palestinian lands and lives. This context is denied and forgotten, and only the belief in a threat to the Jews prevails, timeless and placeless. Fear dominates reality perception, which in itself is very much a topic for disagreement now.
In such a survival mode of thinking there is no place for complexity, and there is no place for two subjects. Processes of splitting dominate consciousness, and are driven by fear. In such a state, one has to determine first, in every single moment, if he or she is facing an immediate life threat. There is only black and white thinking, and no space for shades of gray. There is clear good and clear bad. We can easily recognize them and distinguish them from each other. Good can face evil and win. In such state, Amnesty becomes a terrorism assisting organization.
And why is Amnesty a terrorism assisting organization? Because Amnesty compromises the clarity of the distinction between Good and Evil, between black and white. By screening “Shivering in Gaza”, Amnesty forces us to see the people in Gaza, the people who suffered trauma. Real people.
“Shivering in Gaza” is dangerous because it can ‘whiten’ the ‘black’, if we see the face of Gazan people, their homes, their children and their pain. Watching the documentary might make the people of Gaza closer and more like us, and thus compromise the clear distinction of Good and Evil. “Shivering in Gaza” is also dangerous because it can ‘blacken’ the ‘white’, if we know that we are the cause of the shivering. As the Jerusalem city council member Antabi said: “The film stains our soldiers’ morality”. Not their acts, but the film. If the documentary is not screened, perhaps the clear-cut distinction between good and evil can be preserved. Can it really be preserved?
In the split reality of the Israeli public that opposes the screening in Jerusalem, there is no place for two – no place for two peoples, no place for two narratives, and no place to witness the other’s suffering. Acknowledging the other’s humanness eliminates our legitimacy of existence, and those who try to bridge this abyss are perceived as traitors that threaten the cohesiveness of society. If the cohesiveness of Israeli society depends on splitting processes, attempts of connection and relatedness are indeed dangerous.
“Shivering in Gaza” also confront Israelis with our Shadow parts (as C.G.Jung described them) – those parts of our own individual and collective psyche that are intolerable for the conscious perception of ourselves, the parts that we condemn as bad and unwanted. The parts that we need to repress and deny in order to protect our self-perception as good people. The shadow is always visible when projected on the other, thus preserving self-perception, and the split between good and evil. Encounter with our shadow parts is a painful one, since it forces us to see our own dark parts in ourselves, and not in the other that we project upon. Looking at our own shadow might force us, Israelis, to see the pain and suffering that we cause, our own violence and murderous tendencies, and the evidence that we are aggressors and not only victims – this is the danger we face watching this documentary. This is almost impossible for the collective Israeli consciousness that is based on a narrative of victimhood. For such consciousness, acknowledging the Palestinian as a complex human being with good parts and bad parts is dangerous as much as acknowledging our own complexity as humans that also have good parts and bad parts.
The Swiss psychiatrist and psychoanalyst, C. G. Jung wrote after WW II, that the most dangerous evil is the evil inside man itself, and it tends to be projected and cause horrible disasters. He, and his Israeli student Erich Neumann, called upon human beings to get to know our own shadow and evil parts, as a moral imperative. Watching this documentary in Israel might be part of such an acknowledgment.