Irrational Fear - Part I

When I tell people that I live in a West Bank settlement, they look at me as though I am an idiot, insane, or both. As this is a consistent reaction, I have to give this some serious deliberation. Am I insanely, idiotically and irresponsibly exposing myself, my wife and children to danger?

Prof. Shmuel Neumann

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When I tell people that I live in a West Bank settlement, they look at me as though I am an idiot, insane, or both. As this is a consistent reaction, I have to give this some serious deliberation. Am I insanely, idiotically and irresponsibly exposing myself, my wife and children to danger?

Danger can be empirically measured. In fact, several compilations of all terror attacks within Israel, Judea, Samaria and Gaza are available. Tabulating the numbers from Robert Johnston's chronology(1), the number killed by terrorist attacks in Gaza was 80 civilians and 105 soldiers. In the entire Judea and Samaria, 216 civilians and 97 soldiers were killed. Conversely, 395 civilians were killed by terrorist attacks in Jerusalem, 70 in Haifa and 135 in Tel Aviv. The numbers reveal that there were more than double the number of fatal civilian casualties in the three major Israeli cities than in the six and a half million dunam (about 1.6 million acres) comprising Judea, Samaria and Gaza.

The numbers of those injured are even more extreme. The number injured in Gaza totaled 159 civilians and 105 soldiers. The number injured in Judea and Samaria numbered 336 civilians and 117 soldiers and policemen. Those injured in terrorist attacks numbered 2,645 in Jerusalem, 296 in Haifa and 919 in Tel Aviv. In other words, there are seven times more injuries from terrorist attacks in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and Haifa than the entire so-called West Bank and Gaza. Of the 42 worst terrorist attacks in the greater Israel(2), where ten or more were killed in the attack, only one was in Judea, two in Samaria and none in Gaza.

The data on the number of attacks was also surprising. There were a total of 120 attacks with casualties in Judea and Samaria and 104 in Gaza. The number of attacks with casualties in Jerusalem was 203, in Tel Aviv, 54, and in Haifa, 14. There were more attacks with casualties, not just more victims, in the three cities alone than in all of Judea, Samaria and Gaza.

When you look at the numbers of casualties of attacks within the cities and within the settlements, the numbers are even more compelling. The casualties from terrorist attacks in Judea, Samaria and Gaza were almost exclusively on the roads. Overall, 34 persons were killed and 58 injured inside the 136 settlements in Judea, Samaria and Gaza; whereas, 600 persons were killed and 3,860 injured inside the city limits of Jerusalem, Haifa and Tel Aviv. Without going into detail, many more were killed and injured in other cities such as Hadera, Afula, Bet Shean and Ashdod. There were also numerous attacks upon moshavim and kibbutzim. And this is only 30% of the attacks attempted. The Israel Defense Forces has been successful in thwarting 70% of planned terrorist attacks.

Objectively, the numbers speak for themselves; Jerusalem is about a thousand times more dangerous than inside any West Bank settlement.

Objectively, living in any major Israeli city is much more dangerous than living inside any so-called West Bank settlement and Gaza. Adding to these figures the highly disparate rates of violent crime in the major cities and the settlements, living in any major Israeli city is many more times more dangerous than living inside any so-called West Bank settlement and Gaza.

Despite everything, living in the major Israeli cities is safer than cities worldwide. The crime rates are much lower and none of the worst terrorist attacks worldwide occurred in either Israel or in Judea, Samaria or Gaza.(3)

Objectively, settlements are the safest place in Israel to live. Yet, most people are terrified of even visiting one.

It seems that people's fear, unlike that of animals, is independent of objective danger. Ever see a cow fenced in by an electrified fence? You would expect the cow to distance itself from the fence that administered severely painful shock. But in reality, the cow will graze anywhere in the field that has grass, including areas mere centimeters from the fence. That is because the cow is "rational" and possesses adaptive rational fear. It learned that the fence is extremely painful, but unless the fence is touched, there is no shock.

Unlike the cow's healthy, rational fear of the electrified fence, our fear of Arabs is an irrational fear. It has no survival value and is unrelated to objective dangers. Similarly, our fear of the "territories" over inside the Green Line is an irrational fear. It is so common, so debilitating, that it should be a new psychiatric diagnostic category: hitnachluyotophobia, or fear of settlements. It is this irrational fear that is the sole motivation behind the drive to dismantle settlements, not just in Gaza, but throughout Judea and Samaria. Most people are not afraid of the objectively dangerous locations such as Jerusalem, Haifa and Tel Aviv, and therefore would never think of disposing of those cities.

How do otherwise intelligent people lose their rationality? The intelligent person who goes to a dentist and experiences some pain continues with his/her daily routine without missing a step. The intelligent person who gets a vaccine or minor, but painful, medical procedure puts the trauma behind him/her and the fear dissipates. People are generally resilient.

What is different about settlements? Or more to the point, how do irrational fears evolve?

Irrational fears evolve from faulty thinking. The individual keeps replaying the trauma over and over again, much like most television stations that kept flashing, non-stop, the instant replay of the planes hitting the World Trade Center. Fear generally incubates such that the normal person is more afraid of the trauma a short time after the trauma and it then dissipates. Pathological fear keeps incubating, so that the fear not only doesn't dissipate, but keeps avalanching to unbearable, and in some cases fatal, levels. Stimulus generalization then cements the pathology. Not only is the person terrified of the trauma, but of stimuli remotely connected to the trauma. A lifestyle centered upon catastrophising and compulsive avoidance keeps feeding itself so that the phobia stays alive and robust.

Paradoxical fear then takes over. The fear is so traumatic that the individual develops a fear of the fear. The trauma that triggered it is much less frightening than the fear itself, so the individual does whatever he can to avoid the fear. There is then a cognitive distortion so that the probability of the danger is distorted. The person avoids, at all costs, confrontation with the thing he is afraid of. And the only thing that can eliminate this fear is confrontation with the object of the fear.

Where fear is in a social context, the person becomes the scapegoat and is persecuted mercilessly, like chickens in a pecking party. There are times that roosters or chickens may get into a fight and one of them bleeds. The roosters or chickens will attack the one that is bleeding until the victim is dead. If some of that blood splatters on another chicken, then they all attack the one that has blood on it. Similarly, in social situations, bullies target victims that are already afraid.

Does this at all sound familiar?

For two thousand years, Jews suffered unimaginable horrors. From random expulsions to pillage, rape and plunder, to inquisitions, pogroms, blood libels and the Holocaust. Why have we compounded the trauma and allowed the fears to incubate to debilitating levels? Simply, after a period of victimization, a sense of helplessness sets in and the victims feel intense depression, in addition to intense fear. High levels of anxiety and depression, when both are concurrently high, not sequentially, trigger suicidal feelings. When an entire people feels high levels of fear and depression, it will commit national suicide.

It is no wonder, then, that the current Israeli government inanely freezes settlement construction in compliance with an imposed Roadmap, despite the so-called Palestinians' consistent violation, and then even worse, seeks to implement Ariel Sharon's disengagement plan and walk away from Gaza and four Jewish towns in Samaria.

The bombings, shootings and killings in Judea, Samaria and Gaza are far less than in the major cities in Israel, yet our fear is exponential. We allow ourselves to give in to psychotic depression and overstate our fears because of the helplessness engendered by the universal persecution of the Jews.

[Part 1 of 2]