“The occupation of Palestine is not only a serious attack on Palestinian rights and humanitarian standards – it is a cancer that will ultimately destroy democracy in Israel”, says Daniel Bar-Tal, a 71-year-old Israeli, founder of the Save Israel – Stop the Occupation (SISO) movement and one of the world’s leading authorities in political psychology.
Fifty years have passed since Israel’s occupation of Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Alarmed by the effects on Israeli society, Daniel Bar-Tal decided to take action.
In Israel, he is contributing to efforts to convince Israeli society that ending the occupation of Palestine is a moral obligation and a vital strategic and economic issue for Israel. Aware of the enormous pressure potential of diaspora Jews, he travels all over the world determined to gather the voices of all those who oppose the occupation. He urges the Israeli government to withdraw from the occupied land before 5 June 2017, the fiftieth anniversary of the Palestinian occupation of the Palestinian territories following the Six-Day War.
“These 50 years of occupation of Palestine have turned Israel into a pariah state,” Daniel Bar-Tal told Euronews in Geneva, where he participated in the “Israelis and Palestinians against Occupation” debate.
H3. Moral disengagement
His knowledge of Israeli society does not allow him to be optimistic. He explains that the Israeli public have effectively been subject to indoctrination: “Following the occupation, the government and the institutions constructed a narrative that was assumed as epistemological cornerstone. The fruits are in sight: for 72% of the population there is no occupation and the Palestinians are intrinsically violent terrorists who want to annihilate the Jews.”
Bar-Tal, who founded the SISO movement in 2015 alongside heavyweights such as the former Foreign Policy Adviser to Ehud Barak and former Israeli Director General of Foreign Affairs, Alon Liel, stresses that this is a conviction shared by ordinary citizens and political leaders, including many from the opposition, and that only 20% of the population rejects this narrative.
He identifies a process of “dehumanisation of Israeli society” that should deeply shock Jews because it “evokes memories of Nazi persecution against the Jews.” People believe what the government tells them, he says, and consider as traitors all Jews who stand for peace with the Palestinians or who denounce the immorality of the occupation. Under this narrative the Palestinians cannot be victims, because the status of victim belongs exclusively to the Jews.
“The lesson to be drawn from the holocaust is that we should never allow a regime based on contempt for other human beings to be instituted, but this lesson is adulterated: we Jews must defend ourselves without listening to what others say, because the other nations remained silent when six million Jews were annihilated.”
Daniel Bar-Tal recalls the concepts of his discipline: “Victimisation, the claim to exclusivity of the victim status, is linked to two major principles of psychology: moral disengagement – Jews do not feel guilty or ashamed for what they do to others, and moral entitlement – the feeling that Jews are allowed the privilege of committing cruelties to defend themselves. These two principles give us the picture of the Jew today in Israel.”
This narrative is cemented from generation to generation. The government uses the media and the education system to do this, the activist points out: “The Green Line, which delimited the border between Israel and the Palestinian territories, disappeared in 1972 from geography textbooks. Israeli children are led to think that it is Israel’s territory.”
H3. A sick society
In August 2014, the president of Israel, Reuven Rivlin, said: “The time has come to admit that Israel is a sick society, with an illness that demands treatment.” He recently condemned the exploitation of fear by Israeli politicians.
Despite this, it would be vain hope to seek in the president’s statements signs of opposition to the occupation. For Daniel Bar-Tal, this contradiction well illustrates a schizophrenia installed in Israeli politics. “The deterioration of democracy and disregard for the rights of the Palestinians are two closely related issues, but the Likud politician does not see this connection.” Why? Bar-Tal explains that the head of state is a “hawk”, a politician who “sacrifices democratic principles to defend that the whole territory belongs to us exclusively and who at the same time considers himself a Democrat.”
Israeli politicians deny full rights to the Palestinians because doing otherwise would mean losing the majority and the Jewish nature of the state, “the great Zionist dogma.”
For Daniel Bar-Tal democracy is paying the bill: “The truth is that if we continue to dominate the Palestinians, we will turn Israel into an apartheid system. Apartheid already exists and avoiding the word does not change the reality.
“The Israeli government has turned Gaza into “an open-air prison”, says Bar-Tal. “If you ask the Israelis, they tell you that Gaza is free, but it is not free. It’s true, Gaza is under full control of Israel – everything that comes in or out, people and goods.”
Convinced that “the Jews will no longer be able to act as their persecutors acted,” Bar-Tal stresses that there are more and more who say “Enough!”, who do not feel represented by nationalist prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Betting on uniting diaspora Jews who are against the degradation of democracy in Israel, he rejects government criticism: “The same Israeli authorities who say that Jews living outside Israel do not have the right to speak out against Israel’s policies, are constantly appealing to the political and financial lobby of the Diaspora.”
Daniel Bar-Tal was born in Tajikistan, USSR, in 1946, but lived his childhood in Szczecin, Poland, until he immigrated to Israel in 1957. He completed his undergraduate degree at the University of Tel Aviv and did postgraduate studies in social psychology at the University of Pittsburgh in Pennsylvania.
Daniel Bar-Tal is one of the world’s leading authorities in political and educational psychology. He received several academic distinctions for his work on the practical application of the principles of political psychology to conflict resolution.