An Exercise in Empathy not Sympathy: Leon de Winter gets inside the Palestinian head

Empathy is trying to figure out what other people actually think; sympathy is trying to be as nice as possible as you figure out what someone else is thinking, trying to imagine what you would be thinking if you were in his situation. The latter is a form of liberal cognitive egocentrism. I’m particularly interested in what some of our more hostile commenters think about this piece which, I think, hits the tragic nail of an honor-shame culture driven pathological by its failure to redeem its honor in Israeli blood right on the head.

The piece nicely illustrates the Palestinian reaction to the Israelis leaving Gaza: You can’t leave me; you’re still beating me.

Our Neighbor and Why We Have to Kill Him
He humiliates us by his very existence. Destroying him will give our lives meaning.

January 19, 2009 – by Leon de Winter

Our neighbor lives in the house in which our grandfather used to live. He claims he bought the first part of the house from a Turki, and later the second part from a British bank, but that doesn’t make the sale any less illegal: my family lived in that house for hundreds of years and we don’t accept the documents of sale. Now he’s living there. He is the son of monkeys and pigs.

The problem is that he’s not just brazen, he’s also strong, although he is a tiny guy.

The whole neighborhood hates him. He’s a thief and possessed by the devil. But he seems to be able to beat everyone. We tried to force him out of the house together, but it didn’t work. He has bulletproof windows, and the roof is made of inflammable material.

All we think about is him. Our own home is in ruins because all our efforts, all our money and ideas and energy are devoted solely to destroying our neighbor’s house. We’re utterly convinced that we will be perfectly happy just as soon as we’ve killed him and his house is a heap of smoking rubble. We live for one thing only: our neighbor’s demise. It’s a noble ambition for which we’re all willing to die.

Sometimes our neighbor seems to forget we exist, then we throw a couple of pebbles at his windows. If we’re lucky, there’s a window open and we toss a Molotov cocktail inside to start a nasty fire. That makes our neighbor angry, and that’s good. We don’t want him to forget us. Life means nothing to us as long as our neighbor’s living in that house. So we make sure he remembers us, even though we can’t force him out and he sometimes beats the hell out of us.

Every now and then our neighbor gets fed up with our stone-throwing — those are the best moments. Then he storms out of our grandfather’s house and smashes our kitchen or bathroom or refrigerator to pieces. By doing so he proves that it’s right that we hate him. We provoke him until he reveals his true demonic character. That’s what we live for. We can’t beat him, but there’s something satisfying about watching him kick our old, worn-out, empty refrigerator to shreds after we have tried to ransack one of his freezers — he has several, all full of food which he bought with the wealth he found in our grandfather’s house. What he does to us is much worse than our provocations, but we keep provoking him because that’s the main thing we want in life.

Our neighbor, the dog, wants us to leave him alone. We can’t. His death is our ultimate ambition in life. We live in our hovel, we grow nothing in our garden, and we leave our schoolbooks on the shelf because we dream of returning to our grandfather’s house and work solely towards our neighbor’s collapse. Nothing is allowed to distract us from that.

Our neighbor claims that when he bought the house, it was just a wooden hut on a piece of barren land that he turned into a palace. He claims he planted a fertile vegetable garden — that’s a lie. It was an estate with fertile soil and the bathrooms had gold taps; our grandfather told us so himself, we even keep the key to his house in a sacred place. If we had still been living in our grandfather’s house then we would have had all those freezers in which our neighbor keeps his food. The family of monkeys and pigs never lived there before; our neighbor’s existence is based on clever lies and forgeries.

We keep challenging him and when we’ve insulted him enough and managed to wreck some part of his house, he marches angrily into our place. We can’t stop him and we have no idea how long he’ll stay in our hovel, until one day he leaves. Then we lick our wounds in satisfaction and survey in intense pleasure all the destruction he left behind, and we show it to the world. Our scars prove to us and to the world that our cause is just. We know he doesn’t harm us when we leave him alone, but we want him to harm us. If he wouldn’t, the world would think he is just an ordinary guy. Which he isn’t. That’s why we provoke him. Without him harming us, we wouldn’t exist.

We want to kill him, but we don’t have the right weapons. He has the means to kill us all, but he doesn’t, the coward. If we had the weaponry he has, we would have killed him long ago. And the fact that he doesn’t kill us, although he could, is a sign of his unbearable arrogance.

Some, who don’t live in our neighborhood and who don’t know how things work around here, occasionally ask us, “Why do you keep provoking him when you know that he’ll hit back so ferociously?”

This question proves they are ignorant about our neighborhood. We do it because that’s what our life is about. Our neighbor, who’s a murderer of prophets, humiliates us just because he is there. That’s why we can’t think about anything else. Our grandfather’s honor is worth risking our own lives and those of our children and grandchildren. We have no future as long as our neighbor lives in peace and plenty. None of us in the neighborhood can build as long as his house remains standing.

Strangers sometimes try to persuade us that we ought to build a viable house on our own lot. But nothing is viable beside our neighbor’s stolen property. He is the burning focus of our existence. He is rich, so we are poor. He is powerful, so we are weak. He has to disappear.

A little further along in our neighborhood we have a friend who supplies us secretly with stones and Molotov cocktails. He’s working on a big bomb that will reduce our neighbor to a miserable pile of atoms in a fraction of a second. That bomb will kill us too — that hellish thought is almost erotic. Our neighbor will burn, and we will as well, but one thing is certain: we won’t feel inferior anymore; at last we’ll have beaten him, in death — which we don’t fear, but he does.

The neighborhood will be completely gone. And that’s how it should be. Death will free us of the son of monkeys and pigs, and of our infuriating obsession with him.

Let’s not say this is the case for certain. But what if it is? What if this, rather than all the generous sympathetic projection that so moves the hearts of Western sympathizers actually animates the Palestinian cause? What then…?

23 Responses to An Exercise in Empathy not Sympathy: Leon de Winter gets inside the Palestinian head

  1. abu yussif says:

    and if any of us knew of someone like this in our own neighborhood, what would we do? nothing? help him by enriching him? support him? help him to get what he wants?

    i know what i’d do, and it’s nothing i’ve already mentioned.

  2. oao says:

    aside from islam/jihad there are 2 other factors which drive this:

    1. shame and denial. the way in which they lost to israel — their leaders ran away first, then called them to get out of the way so that the arab armies could finish the jews off, and the win of the jews is simply too shameful and depressing, so a myth narrative must be construed and transferred through generations to obscure that shameful loss.

    2. envy. had israel been at the same level as the pals, their hate would have probably been just a tad less intense. but it’s successful and the thought that it can all be theirs one day is too tantalizing. after all, islam has always lived off jiziya and the output of the dhimmis, the whole point of being supremacist.

  3. oao says:

    and if any of us knew of someone like this in our own neighborhood, what would we do? nothing? help him by enriching him? support him? help him to get what he wants?

    but Europe HAS them in its neighborhood and what it does is appease them and self-dhimmifies.

  4. JD says:

    He misunderstands the core problem handed down by grandfather.

    That grandpa didn’t leave because the Israeli army made him,

    But that he left because he assumed the Israeli army would do to him what the Arab armies promised to do to the Jews.

    Which didn’t happen.

    That is the core instability in the Palestinian narrative.

  5. JD, Good insight. Arab cognitive egocentrism at work.

    This is no doubt a universal human trait. How could it be otherwise. We humans are only aware, firsthand, of our own conscious minds. All other sentience must be inferred from its effects. Imagining minds that are different from our own is hard work. So, many of us even believe our cats and dogs think like we do.

  6. igout says:

    What then? Depends on whether the Israelis want to be the subject or the direct object.

  7. oao says:

    That grandpa didn’t leave because the Israeli army made him

    and he did not have all the stuff that is being assigned to him.

    israel produced all the stuff, arabs did not (and do not) produce anything. they only take jiziah and destroy.

  8. Howard says:

    This act of empathy reminds me of one of Kafka’s enigmatic narratives. The absurdity of the Palestinian weltanshauung shines forth.

  9. Cynic says:

    So, many of us even believe our cats and dogs think like we do. :-)

    Pelican’s Point,
    I still remember an episode of “The Dog Whisperer” where Mr Milano corrected the owners on how to hold their Chihuahua, not as a human baby but as a dog.
    Now if we could only get someone like him to inject some of that intelligence into the mind of Rice, and now Clinton, we might have got off to a better start in 2005.
    Then again there are those who think that they can hold a discussion with a crocodile; a convincing one at that.

  10. Cynic says:

    and he did not have all the stuff that is being assigned to him.

    He did not have ANY of the stuff.
    Read Mark Twain’s account of his visit to the region, as well as that of others to discover what was and wasn’t.
    Who drained the malarial swamps and rid the area of several diseases rampant in the country, made holes in the rock to hold earth for the first trees they planted. Who literally watered each individual fruit tree by making a hole next to the trunk and poured a measured amount of water due to the scarcity and to prevent evaporation of the precious liquid.
    The physical sacrifice the individual made to create today’s reality has not been sufficiently told.

  11. Cynic says:

    Heh! I should have used Wisdom instead of Intelligence
    in #9 above.

  12. Cynic – An edit that left undone wouldn’t hurt much – but added, adds much.

  13. Richard Landes says:

    i actually disagree with the idea that trying to reason with palestinians is like trying to convince a crocodile. it’s only when, fearing they won’t respond to reason, we pretend they already have, and make concessions, rather than make reasonable demands, that we strengthen their inner crocodile.

    but maybe i’m being too optomistic.

  14. oao says:

    Now if we could only get someone like him to inject some of that intelligence into the mind of Rice, and now Clinton, we might have got off to a better start in 2005.

    the arabs pumped zillions into clinton’s so-called foundation, which nobody knows what it does and where the money goes. and rice is now fishing for arab money in her private life.

    so you see, they ARE intelligent insofar as their finances are concerned. as to wisdom, no chance.

  15. oao says:

    rl,

    but maybe i’m being too optomistic.

    you’re partially right and partially optimistic.

    the west is bribing them with economics and they are only interested in destroying israel.

  16. oao says:

    they take the money and use it for the destruction.

  17. E.G. says:

    This is a bit tangential “They don’t want to hear the other side.”

    excerpt:
    “So much ink has been spilled on academic research about the voice of the other in post-colonial society, and so many conferences and articles have determined that Israeli society has long ago passed the melting-pot stage and is now a multicultural society that makes space for the voice of the other. Now Abu al-Aish has inadvertently revealed how false that is. The residents of Gaza don’t exist at all in the Israeli consciousness, failing even to merit the status of “other.”"

    Virtuous contempt.

  18. E.G. says:

    Ruminating a magnified version of a loss, with the active support of world’s institutions, proves unhealthy.
    Kirschen got it:
    http://drybonesblog.blogspot.com/2009/01/palestinian-pit-bull.html

    BTW, he made a nice illustration of “the Naive Newsman”.

  19. E.G. says:

    Cynic and RL,

    Your “crocodile” discussion prompted the 1st chapter of “The Little Prince” to my mind.
    I say (see) a boa constrictor digesting an elephant, you say (see) a hat.

    One doesn’t talk with either, but with persons perceiving either image.

  20. Devshirme says:

    Is it only Israel they are driven to destroy, or is that only the first instalment on the whole of Dar al Harb?

  21. JD says:

    “So much ink has been spilled on academic research about the voice of the other in post-colonial society,”

    Blah blah. The voice of the other Western chatterers search for and concoct is their own echo, what they think “the other” should think, should say. Post-colonial narrativeology is an imperial project. The “others” who buy into this Western fashion are not trying to get over colonialism, but hang on to some of its mental constructs. One way they serve the empire of thought is apologizing or explaining real “other” thought, like Khalidi trying to gloss over Islamism. But Edward Said was the master of faux otherness. Unlike Khalidi who is younger, Said knew the myth of the flight from Israel, not only concocting an utterly fake story about his family being pushed out, but creating a story about the “Haganah truck” which scared them, displacing blame from the Arab total war rhetoric that was in actuality.

    The article you cite is another example of second-rate leftist fashion from an Israeli. Although it is less irritating that the second-rate left-wing Israelis who spout western leftist cant but do not realize its anti-semitic content.

  22. Cynic says:

    E.G.

    The residents of Gaza don’t exist at all in the Israeli consciousness, failing even to merit the status of “other.””

    This is pure projection.
    Having been present in a number of homes and having witnessed the reactions of some Israelis at the scenes on TV and having heard their comments on the discomfort suffered by the Palestinians the above extract is bovine excrement.

  23. oao says:

    Having been present in a number of homes and having witnessed the reactions of some Israelis at the scenes on TV and having heard their comments on the discomfort suffered by the Palestinians the above extract is bovine excrement.

    all you have to do is watch israel tv. there is constant evidence that they empathize with the civilians in ghaza and they ACT on it too.

    name another army who will fuel and feed their enemies while it rains missiles on them.

    it’s precisely this which drives the world mad with envy/hatred: the israelis are much better than they are.

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