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Umm El Hiran, Freud and the Zionists’ original sin

Jan 29,2017 - Last updated at Jan 29,2017

Very few had seen the massacring of Palestinians, the destruction of Palestine and the expulsion of Palestinians en masse in 1948. 

One may have seen a documentary on or read about the tragedy, but it is never the same as seeing and bearing witness to it firsthand.

Yet, in the morning of January 18, one could watch a re-enactment of what Palestinians mourn every year: the Nakbeh (the catastrophe).

The re-enactment happened in the Israeli-controlled Palestinian village, Atir-Umm El Hiran, which is located in the Naqab desert. 

The details of the re-enactment — orchestrated by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu — are as follows: Having killed two Palestinians, the Israeli colonial machine razed most of the city to the ground and made its citizens homeless, or rather refugees yet again.

All the elemental claims that catalysed the implementation of Israel’s vision and Palestine’s nightmare were there. But two are conspicuous: Umm El Hiran was claimed to be uninhabited; and when its inhabitants — unlike Zionist settlers, who, we are told, are pioneers who make use of the land — could not be blocked from view, they were considered nomads who roamed the land without cultivating it, and thus they did not improve or make any contribution to it.

The history of the village renders impossible to dispute the implications of that ideological erasure of the inhabitants of the village in particular and Palestinians in general.

The village was established in 1956 by the Israeli colonial army. The inhabitants belonged to the Qi’an family who, during the pre-1948 period, lived in Khirbet Zubaleh, “which they had cultivated for centuries”, according to the 2011 Adalah report titled “Nomads against their will: The attempted expulsion of the Arab bedouin in the Naqab: The example of Atir–Umm Al Hiran”.

The establishment of Israel in 1948 meant — thanks to Plan Dalet — the expulsion of Palestinians from around 500 villages, one of which was the village inhabited by the Qi’ans.

The inhabitants had no choice but to move to other places. When they decided to go back to their village, they were prevented from doing so and were relocated under military orders to Atir-Umm El Hiran, in 1956.

The Israeli colonial state later decided to make their alleged nomadism permanent, slowly but surely, as the cliché goes, a cliché that is constantly being reinvigorated by Israel’s draconian measures that target Palestinians every now and then.

The Israeli colonial state sued the local inhabitants, putting forward two arguments.

Mohammad Bassam, an attorney working for Adalah, succinctly explains the first: “Because the state granted the bedouin permission to use the land, it was also entitled to revoke it.”

The second argument, which is a little more preposterous, had to do with the inability of the Zionist authorities to contact the inhabitants.

They concluded that the state “was unable to identify or reach the inhabitants” and the locals were considered “trespassers who were squatting illegally”, transforming through sleight of hand a land specified by Israeli military generals for Palestinian refugees into an “unrecognised village”.

As a result, the 1,000-plus inhabitants were thought of as “a special obstacle”, according to the Israel Land Administration, to “developing” the land. Relocation without compensation was inevitable.

The decision was to move the inhabitants — considered nomads in spite of their long years of settlement, let alone the derogatory use of the word “nomad” to suggest criminality — to “a small number of specially designated reservation-like towns”, namely Hura.

This move would set a precedent for further relocations.

The thread running through such relocations, as Adalah puts it, is crystal clear: to “contain” and “concentrate” the so-called bedouins.

The end game of that insidious strategy is to push out the inhabitants of the Naqab desert into another place. Perhaps the sea! 

One of the underlying reasons for such constant relocation is pragmatic: Israel’s interest in the oil reserves in the Naqab desert.

The expulsion of Palestinians will empty the land for exploration, a word that is synonymous with colonial theft.

Another reason is Israel’s sadistic strategy of persecuting Palestinians wherever they are; that is, to make life unliveable for them so that they can become living dead while making sure that that is accompanied by constant movement.

Indeed, Israel is very well invested in nomadising, as it were, Palestinians. 

After all, nomadising — again this is not to suggest that there is anything inherently negative about nomads — the inhabitants of Umm El Hiran in particular is meant to pave the way for the settlers or the allegedly civilised population.

The Israeli colonial state now wants to establish in its stead another Jewish village (read settler colony), under the name Hiran.

University of London Professor Neve Gordon, who visited the Jewish community that is going to replace the Palestinian one, reports that the community consists of “about 30 religious families” already living in great conditions, making real before our very eyes the re-enactment, the substitution of one community with another.

Greed and power aside, how can one understand Israel’s obdurate behaviour?

It is time to turn to psychoanalysis, as Freud, whose stance on Zionism was ambivalent, may ironically provide one with a deeper understanding of Israel’s designs.

In his lengthy essay “Beyond the pleasure principle”, Freud writes: “The patient cannot remember the whole of what is repressed in him, and what he cannot remember may be precisely the essential part of it. 

“Thus he acquires no sense of conviction of the correctness of the construction that has been communicated to him. He is obliged to repeat the repressed material as a contemporary experience instead of, as the physician would prefer to see, remembering it as something belonging to the past.”

It is clear that Freud’s analysis could be used to analyse Israel’s acts vis-à-vis the inhabitants of Umm El Hiran.

Israel simply has that disorder: the compulsion to repeat.

Indeed, it “is obliged to repeat” its originary moment as many times as possible, and it cannot avoid it; it is Israel’s primal scene, to stick to Freudian terminology.

It is worth recalling that Freud’s dystopian vision is meant to account not only for the behaviour of mental patients but for the human condition in its entirety.

In his last book, “Civilisation and its discontents”, Freud claims: “Men are not gentle creatures who want to be loved, and who at the most can defend themselves if they are attacked; they are, on the contrary, creatures among whose instinctual endowments is to be reckoned a powerful share of aggressiveness. As a result, their neighbour is for them not only a potential helper or sexual object, but also someone who tempts them to satisfy their aggressiveness on him, to exploit his capacity for work without compensation, to use him sexually without his consent, to seize his possessions, to humiliate him, to cause him pain, to torture and kill him. Homo homini lupus.”

History flouts Freud’s vision, as it suggests that human beings can and do support one another. A case in point is the support that the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa received from all over the world.

I disagree with Freud’s tendency to over-generalise. Nevertheless, I argue that Freud’s analysis perfectly diagnoses Zionists’ behaviour and mentality.



The writer, a Fulbright scholar, contributed this article to The Jordan Times.

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