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Breakable and Unbreakable Silences: Implicit Dehumanization and Anti-Arab Prejudice in Israeli Soldiers’ Narratives Concerning Palestinian Women

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This paper illustrates an empirical paradigm for a minimally-biased characterization of the internal representations of female enemy members by male soldiers in the context of a military occupation. Using a combination of psycholinguistic and psychoanalytic tools, the study examined the associative structure of the language that was used by Israeli ex-soldiers in a large corpus of verbatim testimonies detailing their service in the Palestinian occupied territories. Since explicit dehumanization is rare in Israeli official discourse and in media- and political correctness-savvy occupying forces worldwide, this study examined implicit dehumanization through the non-conscious use of spontaneous linguistic choices. Using both computerized and quantitative linguistic analyses, this study tracked a particular pattern or word choice, presumed to capture implicit dehumanization based on a trans-disciplinary definition of the construct. Furthermore, to mitigate the potential confound between fear of the enemy and its dehumanization, this study focused on anecdotes concerning Palestinian women, as they pose less realistic threat to Israeli soldiers. Consistent with this study's formulation of implicit dehumanization, Israeli soldiers tended to describe Palestinian women's mental state in situational and behavioral terms (e.g. scream, make a mess, piss her pants, had a heart attack, etc.). In contrast, empathic inference – whereby the narrator extends their emotional understanding of themselves and other humans to the person whose emotional state they attempt to describe or understand – was often reserved in the testimonials only to the narrator and his fellow comrades. This evidence for implicit dehumanization is then discussed as a borderline-level defense mechanism within the larger context of both individual- and national-level anti-Arab prejudice in Israel. Copyright © 2015 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.
Breakable and Unbreakable
Silences: Implicit Dehumanization
and Anti-Arab Prejudice in Israeli
SoldiersNarratives Concerning
Palestinian Women
SHUKI J. COHEN
ABSTRACT
This paper illustrates an empirical paradigm for a minimally-biased characterization of the
internal representations of female enemy members by male soldiers in the context of a
military occupation. Using a combination of psycholinguistic and psychoanalytic tools,
the study examined the associative structure of the language that was used by Israeli ex-
soldiers in a large corpus of verbatim testimonies detailing their service in the Palestinian
occupied territories. Since explicit dehumanization is rare in Israeli ofcial discourse and
in media- and political correctness-savvy occupying forces worldwide, this study examined
implicit dehumanization through the non-conscious use of spontaneous linguistic choices.
Using both computerized and quantitative linguistic analyses, this study tracked a
particular pattern or word choice, presumed to capture implicit dehumanization based
on a trans-disciplinary denition of the construct. Furthermore, to mitigate the potential
confound between fear of the enemy and its dehumanization, this study focused on
anecdotes concerning Palestinian women, as they pose less realistic threat to Israeli
soldiers. Consistent with this studys formulation of implicit dehumanization, Israeli
soldiers tended to describe Palestinian womens mental state in situational and behavioral
terms (e.g. scream, make a mess, piss her pants, had a heart attack, etc.). In contrast,
empathic inference whereby the narrator extends their emotional understanding of
themselves and other humans to the person whose emotional state they attempt to describe
or understand was often reserved in the testimonials only to the narrator and his fellow
comrades. This evidence for implicit dehumanization is then discussed as a borderline-level
defense mechanism within the larger context of both individual- and national-level
anti-Arab prejudice in Israel. Copyright © 2015 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.
Key words: dehumanization, linguistic analyses, prejudice, Palestinian women
Int. J. Appl. Psychoanal. Studies 12: 245277 (2015)
DOI: 10.1002/apsCopyright © 2015 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.
International Journal of Applied Psychoanalytic Studies
Int. J. Appl. Psychoanal. Studies 12(3): 245277 (2015)
Published online in Wiley Online Library
(wileyonlinelibrary.com) DOI: 10.1002/aps.1461
INTRODUCTION
The ubiquity of dehumanization in intergroup conict
Dehumanization in its many and varied denitions and forms is a ubiquitous
component of intergroup conict throughout history (for reviews see Haslam,
Loughman, & Holland, 2013; Jahoda, 1999; Smith, 2011). However, while
dehumanization as a psychological phenomenon and mindset can only be
inferred from acts of war in antiquity, the construct seems most amenable to an
in-depth psychological exploration in modern warfare, with its extensive use of
documented self-reective narratives. Furthermore, unlike in antiquity, whereby
children, women, prisoners of war or slaves (among others) were primarily con-
sidered as property with little societal expectation on either part to be treated
as full-edged humans (e.g. Hagedorn & Tzoref, 2013), and the full appreciation
of the ruinous nature of dehumanization seems to have been largely established in
post-enlightenment civil societies, with their emphasis on pan-human equality
(e.g. Adorno, 1973; Fanon, 1952/1967; Geneste, 2011; Memmi, 2013).
As such, modern warfare is replete with documented cases of dehumanization,
on its post-enlightenment denitions and modern psychological sense. Conse-
quently, this study rests on the premise that modern expressions of dehumanization
are more conducive to empirical research on both the behavioral level whereby
dehumanization as a psychological process can be reliably inferred and on the
bona de psychological level, whereby dehumanization is explicitly articulated
through self-reection or direct observation of mental content.
Mental representations of the dehumanized other: integrating insights from experimen-
tal social psychology and psychoanalysis
Psychoanalytic models were among the rst to offer a comprehensive set of tools
with which to understand mental representations in general (e.g. Freud,
1912/1958, 1930/1961; Kohut, 1971; Kohut, 1984; Sullivan, 1953), and those
that concern abject objects in particular (e.g. Fonagy, 2000; Klein, 1935;
Kernberg, 1976). With their emphasis on associative networks of both
conscious and unconscious experience, psychoanalytic insights into the role
of unconscious mental representations in shaping our attitude, stance and
behavior toward others have largely foreshadowed more recent advances in
cognitive neuroscience and social cognition. As such, this study is based on
the premise that both experimental social psychology and cognitive neuroscience
share (both explicitly and implicitly) much of their understanding of unconscious
processes with psychoanalytic theory; Among these are: the semantic nature of our
mental representations of others, the associative nature of these representations,
the privileged weight given to encoding of autobiographical, valenced and/or
emotional experience and, inter alia, the disproportionate impact of trauma-related
associations on our mental representations of others (e.g. Cohen, 2011a;
Hassin et al., 2005; Talvitie, 2009). Conversely, and more relevantly for this
246 Cohen
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study, the fault lines between the disciplines which seem to largely concern their
different assumptions regarding the pre-determined or hard-wired content of
unconscious representations, are of lesser import or utility. Though not often
emphasized in either discipline, this congruence between psychoanalysis and
experimental social psychology is substantial, and has been consistently
demonstrated in clinical, observational and experimental settings (e.g. Baldwin,
1992; Bargh & Pietromonaco, 1982; Boulanger, 2007; Delgado et al., 2009;
Fonagy, 2001; Luborsky & Crits-Christoph, 1990; Roffman & Gerber, 2009;
Westen, 1988; Westen, 1991).
Building upon this congruence, this studys working model of dehumaniza-
tion conceptualizes it as a set of either non-human (i.e. inanimate, as if the
humans are objects) or sub-human (i.e. animalistic, as if the humans as lesser
beings) attributes that are tightly associated (consciously and/or unconsciously)
with enemy members. Furthermore, considering the dynamics that govern
mental representations change (a process dubbed schema modicationin cog-
nitive science), it is argued that these prominent associations between inanimate
or animalistic attributes and enemy members reside in a cognitive chasm between
the mental representations of the enemy and those of other human beings. In
turn, this mental barrier is likely to prevent the individual from generalizing
attributes that inhabit their schemata of other viable humans to enemy members.
To minimize the confusion which arguably exists in the psychoanalytic and
empirical psychological literature, as well as in common parlance between
generalized negative attributes in the mental representation of the enemy and
inanimate or animalistic ones specically, this study will not presume (or
actively search for) generalized negative attributes within the mental representa-
tions of the enemy. Justication for this distinction between negativity and
dehumanization propercan be readily observed in historical records, where
portrayals of the enemy (a negative entity denition) could potentially take
the form of both super-human aggrandization (e.g. enemy as exceedingly strong,
smart, intuitive, etc.) and sub-human denigration (e.g. enemy as exceedingly
revolting, immoral, ignorant, etc.). Conversely, history is equally replete with
descriptions of enemy members as inanimate objects, in language that is
affectless, or devoid of emotional or valenced attributes. This phenomenon
seems particularly relevant to ethnic conicts, when the discourse surrounding
enemy members may consist only of procedures for efcient handling and
containment. Generalized negativity may also be confounded with animalistic
attributes, which may be of ambivalent valence or downright positive (e.g. strong
as a beast,street-smart,resourcefully opportunistic, etc.). Similarly, inanimate
attributes though dehumanizing by denition may also be independent of
emotional or value judgement, and even used to reect positively on the subject
(e.g. accurate/efcient like a machine).
It is noteworthy in this context, that this studys premise concerning the
independence (and potential irrelevance) of generic negative words to dehuman-
ization properis also consistent with current social psychological models, in
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which the negative stance towards the enemy operates on a different level than
dehumanization, and perhaps provide some of the motivation for it, consciously
or unconsciously (see recent reviews in Smith et al., 2011; Zaki, 2014). It should
also be noted that this formulation is not incompatible with psychoanalytic views
of dehumanization as an ego defense mechanism (which could explain its nature
as both conscious/verbalized and unconscious/enacted), fueled by a deeper
unconscious drive that assigns valence to objects based on primitive judgment
of utility and survival (e.g. Howell, 2005; Kohut, 1984; Novac et al., 1999).
Furthermore, distinguishing between inanimate and animalistic modesof
dehumanization, regardless of the general negativity of the enemy is also
consistent with Nick Haslams observations, following reviews of the theories
on the subject, of implicit dehumanization as comprised of two independent
forms: mechanisticand animalistic(Haslam, 2006; Haslam, 2013). The
independence (or disassociation) between these two forms and valence judgment
(emotional or moral) and dehumanization were also concluded by other
literature reviews in related elds. For example, Susan Fiske (Fiske, 2013)
concluded that contempt and fear represent two distinct motives that lead to
two distinct varieties of dehumanization and objectication, while Susan
Opotow (Opotow, 1990), presents sociological evidence for moral exclusion,
in which dehumanized others reside outside the boundaries of moral values,
accountability and practice.
Testing the proposed conceptualization of dehumanization against the Gold Standard
body of knowledge concerning Nazi attitudes towards Jews
Based on commonalities in both psychoanalysis, psycholinguistics and empirical
social psychology, I proposed (earlier) a conceptualization of dehumanization
comprising three relatively independent (though modularly linkable) compo-
nents in the mental representation of the enemy. These include attributes
that are associated with the enemys (1) general negative nature, (2)
inanimate/mechanistic nature, and (3) animalistic/sub-human nature. In the
following, this model will be briey exemplied on the variety of Nazi
attitudes towards Jews, as one of the most extensively documented examples
of dehumanization. Arguably, the modular nature of these components may
explicate the seeming contradiction between the vast procedural knowledge
that the Nazis seemed to have about the Jews as far as their handling and
containment was concerned (clearest examples for this procedural-level
dehumanization can be inferred from the efciently minimal feeding and
medical attention that were given to Jews that were needed alive for labor
camps or propaganda purposes). This proceduraldehumanization is in stark
contrast to the general lack of empathy or acknowledgment of the emotional
distress that might have been associated with those needs in any other
viablehuman being (e.g. fellow Aryans). Understanding dehumanization
as an emotionally-motivated cognitive (but not necessarily conscious) chasm
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between the mental representations of viable human beings and that of
enemy members is also consistent with the puzzling historical accounts of
Nazi leaders as charming,compassionate, and altruistic. In fact, the
distinction that I made earlier between emotional stance and dehumanization
can explicate another paradox, namely the Nazis effusive anthropomorphic
empathy to animals, as evidenced on both the individual level (e.g. the relation-
ships between Rudolf Höss and Adolf Hitler to their respective family dogs see
Sereny, 1974; Setkiewicz, 2012) and the ideological-political level (e.g. the strict
laws against experimentation with animals and preservation of nature see
Arluke & Sanders, 1996; Sax, 2000). Thus, while the presumed Nazi mental
representations of the Jews included negative animalistic attributes (e.g. vermin
or rats), bona de animals enjoyed a distinct set of positive animalistic attributes,
associated with their healthy and natural place in the history and geography of
the beloved Heimatland.
Furthermore, the distinction that this studys model makes between
emotional and/or judgmental aspects of the enemy and its more cognitive men-
tal representation may also be demonstrated by the distinct lines of reasoning
that the Nazi ideology gave for the dehumanization of the Jews. The rst con-
cerned the contempt towards the Jews as inferior and disgusting sub-humans
(Untermenschen) and the second concerned the fear of them as dangerous
(e.g. Smith, 2011). Some historians even claim (a claim, it should be noted, that
is not inconsistent with object relations formulations of dehumanization) that
the Nazi hatred for the Jews was secondary to (or mediated by) their perceived
threat to German economy and culture (e.g. Koonz, 2003). As such, our
formulation of dehumanization further accounts for the distinct (albeit often
intertwined) sub-schemas of the Jews as odd and disgusting on the one hand
and as dangerous parasites and/or conspirators on the other hand. Most
exemplary of this distinction is Adolf Hitlers use of both fear-related words
and oddity-related word (both neutral and derogatory) in association with
the Jewin his book Mein Kampf, including his likening himself to Robert
Koch for discovering the equivalent of the Anthrax bacillus pathogen that ailed
Europes lungsfor generations.
Dehumanization in the context of asymmetric conict on both individual and
societal/political levels
This study aims to use language choice (presumed to be largely non-conscious) to
shed light on the mental processes at the intersection of sexual and political
prejudice and dehumanization. Since these mental processes seem to reside at
the maelstrom of two issues that are independently mired with layers of societal
taboos, analyzing non-conscious linguistic patterns seems a particularly potent
technique for understanding them.
Arguably, though, systemic asymmetry of power is always joined with more
local or individual forms of power asymmetry to produce coercive and aggressive
249Implicit dehumanization and anti-Arab prejudice in IDF stories
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phenomena. Thus, gendered power asymmetry is particularly apparent in (and
hence can make for a uniquely incisive understanding of) aggression against
women especially when these women are also politically disenfranchised.
Although not often recognized as intersectional manifestations of the same basic
dehumanization mechanisms, aggressive acts that fuse both gender and political
asymmetry are common in all social strata: From conjugal couples (whose power
differential may or may not be acknowledged e.g. Crenshaw, 1991; Cohen &
Raghavan, 2013) to the more organized trafcking of vulnerable individuals
(e.g. Antonopoulos & Winterdyk, 2005; Copley, 2014) and all the way to
the systematic (yet largely invisible) coercion and control of women in the course
of military offensives and military-supported occupation.
In this context it is worthy of mention that this study does not contradict
theories that conceptualize rape in general, and rape in the context of armed
conict in particular, as a purely aggressive act that is devoid of sexual desire
and driven solely by the need for dominance and aggression (e.g. Brownmiller,
2013; Hayden, 2000). However, due to its reliance on personal narratives of
the potential aggressors and its attempt to understand their internal
representations of female members of the designated enemy, this study takes a
psychological, experience-nearapproach (Kohut, 1984; Schafer, 1983) to
these internal representations however subjective and misguided as they might
be. As such, this study is more comparable to those concerning the (heterosex-
ual) male experience and mental representations of women (e.g. Beevor, 2003;
Ben-Ari, 1998; Hearn, 1998). Thus, despite the inherent subjectivity of the
informants in these studies (notwithstanding their likely confusion of sexual de-
sire with a variety of aggressive sentiments), the insights of these studies are
nonetheless considered valuable in understanding the internal representations
of sexual frustration, dominance, conquest, coercion, aggression and rape
especially when they concern the minds of male aggressors. Although a full
exposition of these studies and the models of sexual aggression and/or violence
that they offer is beyond the scope of this paper, most relevant to our discussion
is their common denominator: The various forms in which sexual aggression
and/or violence manifests itself in heterosexual males in general and those
in the context of armed conicts in particular can adequately t on a plane
comprised of two independent dimensions, namely sexual desire and aggression
(e.g. Littlewood, 1997; MacKinnon, 1994). As was mentioned earlier,
psychoanalytic models of the male psyche are largely compatible with this
formulation. These models emphasize the largely unconscious, experience-
bound and associative nature of the interplay between sexual and aggressive
drives. The intertwined relationships between sexual desire, sexual dominance
and sexual violence is often appreciated in psychoanalytic practice for its fuzzy
unconscious nature and boundaries thus paving the way for this study, whose
linguistic methods allow (at least in theory) for an interplay between sexual and
aggressive aspects (among others) of the mental representations of female enemy
members.
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Sexual violence and dehumanization in the IsraeliPalestinian context
Within the wide variety of ways in which dehumanization manifests itself in
asymmetric conicts, this study focuses on the mental representations of
Palestinian women that male ex-military narrators may harbor. This was done
for several reasons. Firstly, from a methodological perspective, controlling for
the gender of both the narrators and the subject of their stories augments the
homogeneity of the sample and thus likely to increase the reliability of the nd-
ings and minimize their undue over-generalization. Secondly, by analyzing only
stories concerning enemy members who ostensibly pose less physical threat to
the narrators, this study attempts to minimize the potentially more justiable
and realistic motivation for the dehumanization of the enemy and thus
ensuring a focused examination of internally-motivated dehumanization.
This studys particular interest in the mental representations of Palestinian
women in the mind of the Israeli soldiers who were stationed in occupied
Palestine comes on the backdrop of a recent surge in the political awareness
to the issue of gendered dehumanization in the context of asymmetric armed
conicts that involve civilians. Throughout the past decade, the issues of sexual
torture and sexual coercion within asymmetric political conicts have
commanded intense public awareness and debates. Worldwide, the debate
seemed to revolve mainly around the practices associated with the US war
on terror, and the conduct of US forces in the de facto military occupation of Iraq
and Afghanistan (see, for example Senate Select Committee on Intelligence
Report on Torture, 2014). Also noteworthy is that in the latest version of the
US Army Field Manual for Intelligence (2006), the rst item in the list of
prohibited practices with detainees is sexual violence (pp. 521). In Israel, the
discussions of sexual dehumanization and torture occurred mainly in the context
of the Israeli defense forces both internally and in their treatment of Palestinians.
Several unique characteristics make the IsraeliPalestinian conict particu-
larly worthy of in-depth, empirical studies in the context of politically-bound
sexual assault and coercion. Before detailing them, however, it is important to
mention that this studys interest in the intersection between gender and
political asymmetric conicts comes on the backdrop of the heightened aware-
ness in Israel at large to sexual coercion, harassment and downright femicide
even outside the IsraeliPalestinian conict. Thus, over the past two decades,
Israel was rattled by a series of high prole sexual indictments, of which most
notably are: Former minister of defense and deputy PM (Yitzhak Mordechai;
Convicted 2001); Former minister of justice and vice PM (Haim Ramon;
Convicted 2007); and the former president of Israel (Moshe Katsav; Convicted
2011). In tandem, the number of complaints and indictment over sexual
misconduct has burgeoned especially in the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF)
(e.g. Cohen, 2008; Cohen, 2013).
1
Within the context of the IsraeliPalestinian conict, however, this general
heightened awareness and openness has only meagerly trickled into public
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Int. J. Appl. Psychoanal. Studies 12: 245277 (2015)
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awareness and discourse. This study attempts to ll this gap in our appreciation of
this particular intersection of gender and political asymmetric conict. This gap
seems to be rst and foremost due to the considerable secrecy surrounding the
subject both from the Israeli end (where opaqueness [in Hebrew: Amimut]is
explicitly touted as an ofcial policy, and is deemed essential to national security
above and beyond any other obligation that Israel might have as a signatory of
human rights treaties in global organizations such as the United Nations
[UN]); and from the Palestinian end, where womens honor is one of the most
sacred societal values. Conversely, several notable exceptions have contributed
to the acute awareness of this issue: First, governmentally-sanctioned special
committees of inquiries (e.g. those headed by Moshe Landau in 1987 and Jacob
Turkel in 2010), have shed light on torture practices against Palestinian prisoners
and detainees (although they did not mention sexual torture per se). Secondly,
Israeli human rights organizations (e.g. BTselem, Yesh Din, etc.) routinely
collaborate with Palestinian organizations to obtain aggregate data regarding
sexual assault of Palestinians, and thus engage in the systematic documentation
of the phenomenon without jeopardizing the social standing of individual
victims (e.g. (BTselem, 2012). Thirdly, with an unprecedented transparency,
two male Arab detainees (Mustafa Dirani & Sheikh Abd-AlKarim Ubayd), who
were kidnapped in Lebanon by Israeli troops and underwent sexual torture in
Israeli prisons openly shared stories of their torture and included them in their legal
appeals to the Israeli Supreme Court (e.g. Israel Supreme Court, 2015; Lubitz,
2004). These public testimonials are joined by a few Palestinian women who
wrote candidly about their sexual torture in Israeli Prisons (e.g. Badarna, 2013;
Odeh, 2012; Odeh, 2014). Fourthly, in 2008 a qualitative study, submitted by
Tal Nitzan in 2008 as a Masters thesis of sociology in the Hebrew University,
examined in-depth interviews with 25 IDF ex-military linked the low rates of
rape of Palestinian women to their sub-human, abject status in the Israeli sol-
diersmind. Fifthly, in July 2014, during an interview of rare frankness,
Dr Mordechai Keidar, a professor of Islamic Studies in Bar Ilan University in
Israel explicitly suggested that rape of female relatives of Palestinian suicide
bombers would likely be the best deterrent of terrorist attacks against Israelis.
Although threats of sexual violence were used in the past to terrorize the
Palestinian population into submission by both Israelis (Morris, 2004,
pp. 226, 250) and British Mandate ofcers before them (Lahav, 2000,
p. 256), Keidars interview garnered immediate notoriety and was not hushed
as previous incidents (although the recording of his interview had mysteriously
disappeared from the ofcial radio site shortly thereafter). Finally, the discus-
sion of sexual torture, unlike many others concerning human rights in Israel,
was picked up by the Jewish orthodox community, and a urry of queries sud-
denly appeared, regarding the intricacies of the biblical law of war that allows a
Jewish soldier to mate with a particularly beautiful female prisoner of war under
certain circumstances (Din Eshet Yefat Toar; e.g. IDF Colonel Rabbi
(Qarim, 2012; Rabbi Zolden, 2006). Similarly, a recent (2009) bestseller in
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orthodox Jewish circles, Torat Hamelech, focuses explicitly on doctrinal
justications for treating non-Jews as sub-humans.
Breaking the silence: Israeli ex-military testimonials of occupation as a potential
repository of their mental representations of Palestinians
This paper uses psychoanalytically-informed linguistic tools to elucidate the
mental representations of Palestinian women in the mind of Israeli ex-military
who came into contact with them during their service in occupied Palestine.
This inquiry would not have been possible without a remarkable (and almost
unprecedented in the history of occupying armies) Israeli initiative of collecting,
verifying and publishing testimonials of IDF ex-military who wish to share with
others the cascading nefarious impact that military occupation has on the
society that sponsors it, and to break the silencesurrounding the topic in
Israeli society hence the name of the organization: Breaking the Silence.
Operationalizing implicit dehumanization for the purpose of this study
This study advocates for psychoanalytically-informed, empirical linguistics as
having the potential to provide an optimal set of tools for reliably uncovering
implicit dehumanization in personal narratives (for more discussion of this ratio-
nale see Cohen, 2011a). In practice, this study will gauge the extent to which
the perceived attributes in the mental representation of members of the enemy
(e.g. the descriptions of their external circumstances and behavior) are contex-
tualized and understood through empathic inferences that are drawn from the
observers understanding of themselves and other human beings. Considering
the bias-prone nature of the dehumanization construct, this admittedly narrow
vantage point has nonetheless a considerable potential to reliably gauge uncon-
sciously dehumanized mental representations through their enactments as word
choices. Preserving what is arguably the heartof psychoanalytic understanding
of the aggressors unconscious, this operationalization of the dehumanized
othercan thus be applied to autobiographical and emotional narratives akin
to the analysis of personal anecdotes in a psychoanalytic setting.
In practice, the proposed operationalization of the dehumanization concept
will tally the number of instrumental or procedural attributes of the other
and contrast it to the paucity of emotional language that was used to describe
them thus quantifying, albeit narrowly, the level of the dehumanization in
the narrators mental representation of the other. For example, describing his
units invasion of a family home in the middle of the night, one of the narrators
for this study complained how the women of the house screamed like crazy
which necessitated a change of the arrest plans and made him exasperated in
his attempts to get them to shut up. In line with this studys proposed operational
denition of the construct, the dehumanized mental model of the other
is evident in (1) the lack of mention of the potential association between the
womens screams and their presumed emotional distress, and (2) in the
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Int. J. Appl. Psychoanal. Studies 12: 245277 (2015)
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procedural attitude towards these screams as a nuisance that is devoid of human
emotional context but nonetheless one that necessitates controlling and
operational adjustment.
METHOD
To minimize sampling bias (unconscious or otherwise), the entire collection of
original testimonials in Hebrew (N= 1858) was obtained from the Shovrim
Shtikawebsite in its November 2014 version (http://www.shovrimshtika.org).
Due to the website condentiality policy, the speakers gender was not provided
by the website. However, since Hebrew is a gendered language, the speakers gen-
der was identied based on their gendered verb inections surrounding the word
Ion its various forms (e.g. I,and I,that Iand When I”–all of which are
single words in Hebrew). Surprisingly, not all narratives contained the word I
on either of its various forms. In total, there were 1601 speakers whose narrative
comprised of an individually owned personal experience, as evidenced by their
use of the word Iin its various forms. The manualidentication procedure
conclusively determined the gender of 1549 (96.8%) of the Icontaining narra-
tives, 1354 (87.4%) of which were male speakers. It should be noted that this
rather laborious method of gender identication was nevertheless deemed prefer-
able to requesting help from the organization in providing privileged information
which could potentially result in unconscious biases that are typically associ-
ated with such collaborations, including indebtedness and/or transference to-
wards the organization and its workers. Conversely, in 309 narratives (16.6%
of the entire corpus), the collectivistic wording of the personal experience
(e.g. speaking as part of the military unit in the rst person plural we)
has not once given way to an individually-owned narrative (as evidenced
by using the rst person singular Iin any of its Hebrew forms). This linguis-
tic symptom of over-identication of the individual soldier with their military
unit which can be viewed as a symptom of de-individuation will be
discussed later due to its implications in dehumanization and violent
prejudice in social psychological theories (e.g. Bandura, 2002; Cohen,
2012a; Diener, 1980). This study is thus based on the 1373 testimonials that
were provided by male ex-soldiers who owned up to their individual contribu-
tion to the narrative at least once.
Next, all instances where females were mentioned in the 1354 male-narrated
testimonials were identied using software written by the author. The software
used a comprehensive internal dictionary of the top 32 most frequent feminine
particles in the corpus (e.g. she,her,young woman, etc.). In total, 1902 oc-
currences of feminine particles were found in the male narratives. Since Hebrew
feminine particles can be used to refer to both inanimate and animate subjects,
the context in which each one of those feminine particles in the narratives was
examined (a process dubbed concordance analysis in computational linguis-
tics) to conclusively identify those narratives that concern female Palestinians.
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Of the 1354 male-narrated testimonials, 76 narratives (5.6% of the corpus)
concerned Palestinian women. The paucity of narratives concerning Palestinian
women is puzzling considering their representation in the civilian Palestinian
population that the Israeli army comes in extensive contact with, and the pos-
sible reasons for this gender bias in the corpus will be explored in the Discussion
section to follow.
The systematic, comprehensive and inclusive nature of the procedures that
were used in canvassing the website and in further delimiting the testimonials
to those deemed most relevant to the aim of this study were designed to mitigate
any sample bias due to the potential counter-transference that might affect the
author, who is an Israeli Jew. Consistent with the premise of this study regarding
the ability of word choice and associations to uncover potentially unconscious
mental representations, all word-association analyses were done in the original
Hebrew. The corpus of narratives in their electronic format was analyzed using
text-analysis computer software written by the author.
RESULTS
Generalized Thematic Analysis
First, Generalized Thematic Analysis was conducted to understand the broad
mindset associated with narratives concerning Palestinian women and the
characteristics that might distinguish them from the more general thematic
preoccupations of the same speakers. To that aim, a sub-corpus was created using
only the narrative excerpts that concerned Palestinian women (as identied in
the procedure described in the Method section earlier), and the general themes
in this corpus were contrasted with the corpus of the 76 narratives that
included references to Palestinian women. Thus, the themes that were associ-
ated with Palestinian women were in effect contrasted with the themes that
were on the mind of the same narrators while speaking about topics other than
Palestinian women. This contrast ensures that any individual (i.e. between-
subjects) differences that might distinguish those soldiers who chose to
mention Palestinian women from the rest of the narrators will not be confused
with the intra-personal (i.e. within-subject) thematic milieuand mindset
that is associated with Palestinian women which this study targeted. Gener-
alized Thematic Analysis was carried out using the LIWC (Linguistic Inquiry
and Word Count) software package (Pennebaker et al., 2007), which is the
most studied thematic dictionary in psycholinguistic studies to date. However,
LIWC data analysis can only be carried out on English, and was therefore
conducted on the English translation of the corpora, owing to the fact that
aggregated data from content words resumably survive translation with mini-
mal bias (e.g. Gentner, 1981; Prior et al., 2007; Prior et al., 2011; Barnbrook
et al., 2005, p. 179).
255Implicit dehumanization and anti-Arab prejudice in IDF stories
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Figure 1 shows the differential thematic representation in excepts concerning
Palestinian women as compared to the themes that the 76 soldiers spoke about
in general. The differential was calculated using the following formula:
Thematic Differential ¼%of Theme-Related Words in All Excerpts on Palestinian Women
%of Theme-Related Words in All Testimonials that Mentioned Palestinian Women
Figure 1 also suggests a few notable differences in the thematic content of
excerpts regarding Palestinian women and the corpus of 76 full testimonials. The
rst peak, corresponding to feminine pronouns (She) is not surprising, but none-
theless can serve as a validity indicator for the results. Of the remaining distinct
deviations, the following patternsare noteworthy considering the aim of this study:
(1) The over-representation of words associated with biological functions,
health and sex-related words.
(2) The under-representation of words associated with work and
achievement.
(3) The over-representation of negative emotions (but not positive emotions)
and sadness words
(4) The over-representation of words associated with the social sphere, family,
friends and people in general.
Figure 1: Themes that were over-represented in male IDF soldiersexcerpts concerning
their experience with Palestinian women compared to the themes of the same narrators
when discussing other topics in their testimonials.
256 Cohen
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(5) The under-representation of words denoting assent.
Tracking the themes in the actual excerpts provided further insight regarding
their origin:
(1) The over-representation of words associated with biological functions,
health and sex-related words is attributable to the fact that many stories
concern Palestinian women that cross checkpoints on their way for
medical procedures (e.g. giving birth).
(2) The under-representation of words associated with work and achievement is
attributable to the frequent incidents in which soldiers have to control people
whoaregoingtoworkof which women are almost unrepresented in the stories.
(3) The over-representation of negative emotions (but not positive emotions)
and sadness words may be attributable to the fact that soldiers were more
likely to describe situations that involved women as sad, frustrating or
futile, as compared to the other situations that they related.
(4) The over-representation of words associated with the social sphere, family,
friends and people in general can be attributable to the fact that women are
usually accompanied by their family members and/or neighbors and friends.
(5) The under-representation of words denoting assent was traced back to the
fact that soldiers were more likely to describe situations that involved
women as not goodor not ok. This phenomenon might be thematically
related to point (3). This result underscores one of the main disadvantages
of Generalized Thematic Analysis, namely its context-independence.
Single Word Frequency Analysis
Generalized Thematic Analysis was followed up with Word Frequency Analysis,
to uncover potential differences in choice of individual words (as opposed to
general thematic content) between the excerpts concerning Palestinian females
and the corpus of testimonials at large. Unlike Generalized Thematic Analysis,
which examined only broad, pre-determined themes using the English transla-
tion of the corpus, Word Frequency Analysis was conducted on the original
stories in Hebrew and on the single word level. The analysis was carried out
using the Wordsmith5.0 software package (Scott, 2008). Similarly to the previ-
ous analysis method, the differential in the prevalence of words that were used
with stories about Palestinian women and those that were used in all other
stories of the same narrators were calculated using
Word Choice
Differential per wordðÞ¼
Number of occurrences of the word in excerpts on Palestinian Women½
Number of occurrences of the word in all other stories ;b;y same narrator½ 
Number of occurrences of the word in all other stories by same narrator
½
Table 1 shows the highest differences (i.e. entailing both over-representation
and under-representation) between the two corpora. For the sake of
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transparency, Table 1 is provided with the Hebrew words from the raw data,
along with their rough translation into English. Several insights from Table 1
are noteworthy in their relevance both to this studys subject matter and in further
explicating the results from the Generalized Thematic Analysis of which the rst
three items seem to be the most relevant to this study:
(1) Word Frequency Analysis qualied the over-representation of the general
themes concerning biological functions, health and sex as partial to phys-
ical violence (e.g. a slap), mobilizing (words related to passage”–which
usually refer to walking past a checkpoint or in/outside the house and so
on occur ve times in the top 50 words with the highest differential),
non-verbal communication (e.g. [signaling with] the hands). Also
Table 1: Top 30 most frequent words in stories concerning Palestinian women as compared to all
other stories of the same narrator
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contributing to this general theme (although not listed within the 30
words with the highest differentials) are words associated with watching
and surveilling the women (e.g. so that we can see, ranked #32, we
saw, ranked #53, etc.) and physical needs (needed toranked #33,
foodranked #63, etc.)
Relatedly to needs, and of particular relevance to empathy and dehuman-
ization, the use of the words she wantedand she needed(used inter-
changeably in the testimonials) was further characterized using
Concordance Analysis. Examination of the 1191 words that anked the
161 occurrences of the keyword she(in reference to Palestinian women)
in male testimonials show that the verbs (constituting one word in
Hebrew) were used 13 times: two in expressing exasperation as to what
the subject might have wanted to do, six in expressing the subjects
need/wish to cross the checkpoint, one expressing the subjects hypothet-
ical need to wait if shed like to go to the hospital and four times to wander
if the subject wanted to attack the speaker. Overall, in agreement with the
Word Frequency Analysis, the needsof the Palestinian women seem to
be restricted to physical needs. While this emphasis on external needs is
not surprising considering the nature of the soldiers tasks vis-à-vis the
Palestinian civilian population, it nonetheless is curious that no other
(e.g. more internal or abstract) needs or wishes were attributed to Palestinian
women by empathic inference throughout the testimonies.
(2) Word Frequency Analysis also shed light on the nature of the under-
representation of the general themes of work and achievement in narra-
tives concerning females. Specically, Table 1 seems to suggest a relatively
high prevalence of words related to potential physical activity (largely
comprising of army routines) associated with the general stories compared
to Palestinian women-centered ones. For example, words associated with
the verb to shoot(rank #4, #28, and also #44 and #66 that did not make
it to the top 30) or resting(a word whose mention is frequently associ-
ated with narratives concerning or implying hard work; ranked #9), to
stop(ranked #17, see also arrestsranked #19), power(ranked #21),
entering(ranked #29; exitingand ranked #41 not in the table). Also
common (although not making the mark for Table 1) are variations of the
verb to do(e.g. ranks #37 and #38, among others). Naturally, Word Fre-
quency Analysis does not distinguish between work- and achievement-
related words that are attributed to Palestinians and those that are
attributed to Israeli soldiers. As mentioned in the Methods section, to
disambiguate the results of the Word Frequency Analysis, this study will
later examine the context of these words using Concordance Analysis
(3) The over-representation of themes concerning negative emotions and sad-
ness, concurrent with relative paucity in positive emotion and anger words
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are of particular relevance to the dehumanization concept in general and to
this studys operational denition thereof in particular. As was mentioned
earlier, this studys conceptualization of dehumanization suggests that it is
likely to manifest itself implicitly in personal narratives as a curtailment
of empathic inference whereby circumstantial, presentational and behav-
ioral words are used to describe the affective state of the subject, rather than
more abstract emotion terms that would convey the internal experience
that brought about said affective state terms that presumably develop
through empathic exchanges with other viablehuman beings, including
the selfobject (Kohut, 1984; Sherman, 2014). Therefore, to ascertain the
role of negative emotion in the narratives, all words denoting Negative
Emotionin the LIWC were tracked back to their Hebrew origin.
Overall, Word Frequency Analysis failed to nd evidence for dehumanization
based on this studys prediction regarding the word choice in the narratives. Thus,
the heightened prevalence of negative emotions seemed to stem equally from
words that denote explicit (and largely abstract and potentially empathically
inferred) emotions (e.g. annoy,awful,awkward,bother,scared/scary,
depress,disgust,frustrate,horrible/horror,miserable,unpleasant,
worry”–on their various forms), and from words that only imply emotions (largely
by describing behaviors, circumstances or judgment that are associated with nega-
tive affect e.g. punch/beat up/hit,(actlike/be)crazy,cry,disgust,
lthy(behave as if having or about to get) a heart attack,(cause)amess,
nasty,pass out,piss in pants”–on their various grammatical forms).
Examining keywords in their context: narrative and discourse analyses
Word Frequency Analysis was able to identify the single words that make up the
thematic pattern that empirically distinguished stories concerning Palestinian
women. However, for the denitive establishment of implicit dehumanization
as dened in this study, these words have to be examined within the context
of the narratives to counter the decontextualized nature of the Word Frequency
Analysis (e.g. Cohen, 2011b; Cohen, 2012a).
Since the associative nature of emotional language is the most relevant to the
construct of empathy, and hence to dehumanization, narrative analysis was per-
formed primarily on the negative emotions that were identied in item (3) ear-
lier as contributing most to the general heightened use of negative emotion
words in narratives concerning Palestinian women.
When the negative emotion words were traced back to the original narrative,
a striking pattern of differentiation was found between the explicit and abstract
negative emotion words and the implicit ones. Consistent with the assumption
that dehumanization entails a curtailment of empathic inference, almost all
explicit and inferred emotion words in the narrative concerning women were
attributed to the Israeli narrator or to his fellow comrades, while words that
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merely implied negative emotions by describing observable behavior and circum-
stances that may point to negative affect states were almost invariably attributed
to Palestinians.
Table 2: Top 30 most frequent negative emotion and affect words in stories concerning Palestinian
women as compared to all other stories of the same narrator
Table 2 shows that the attribution of negative emotion words that represent
internal (and therefore inferred) affect states is reserved mostly for the Israeli
narrator and his fellow comrades, while external manifestations of negative
emotions are mostly attributed to Palestinian women without empathic infer-
ence regarding the negative affect state underlying them.
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Table 2 tallies the ethnicity of the subject to whom the two types of negative
emotion words were attributed, for the most frequent words of each type, as
listed in item (3).
To further understand the general mindset that may give rise to this pattern,
text analysis software identied those narratives that were particularly high in
negative emotions. Within them, those sections that contain the high frequency
negative emotion words listed in item (3) and Table 2 are presented below along
with their Testimony Number and the source of their translations. When the
translation was not found on the ofcial site, the author translated the section
as faithfully/literally as possible. For the readers who wish to read the testimonies
in the original Hebrew, the URL format is http://www.shovrimshtika.org/testi-
monies/database/xx, where xx is the testimonial number. For the readers conve-
nience, the negative emotion words of type 1 (explicit, reective, abstract, etc.)
are underlined once, while the negative emotion words of type 2 (implicit,
circumstantial, acted out, inferred, etc.) are double underlined:
Testimony #117112:it always happens: you always put the family [in the house that
you commandeered] into one room and theres always one woman that screams and
we always push her forcefully into the room and after they stay there for a couple of
days theyre apparently thirsty and hungry and then you bring them food or you dont
bring them food. its all shitty anyways, especially on that front, the sink is becoming
the lavatory of the group anyways, and the water is cut out anyway at some point be-
cause its been destroyed or it was cut ahead of the operation or during the operation.
when you take the whole family, it can be done aggressively, but also not. they can get
irritated, and once the temper of the family ares up and the tension is in the air in
this stage there are usually stress-related manifestations also by the soldiers whether
by physical force, [or by commanding] get into the room and sit quietly, or tying up a
woman that screams. I remember this house we went into we took the men outside
as usual, and there is this young woman who screams maniacally, maniacally, and
theres this ofcer who speaks a little Arabic who tries to calm her down. shes trying
to scream and still ailing with her hands, so within seconds two soldiers come by, tie
her hands in a strap, take her by force, seating her inside the room, so she can scream
with her family.
(Translated by the author;Note the awkward phrasing tries to scream.Apart from being a
curious grammatical construction in Hebrew,it is also of dubious informative value:The
woman was tied up but not gagged.It almost seems as if there is an internalized prohibition
in the mind of the narrator to attribute to the woman a more internal,abstract emotion that
might underlie her attemptsto scream (e.g.frustration,anxiety,etc.), and he opted for an
awkward and counterfactual phrasing that used the more external and observable (albeit de-
void of empathic inference)emotion term.)
Testimony #400623:
I was looking for the adult in charge. In that case it was the grandmother. She doesnt
understand Hebrew, she screams hysterically in Arabic and you dont know if its just
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for show. The aunt is faking a heart attack and anger at the child that made the army
come to the house
(Translated by the author.)
Testimony #478027:
Around 12 a.m. You go into a house, bang ba-ba-ba, come wearing ceramic vests,
camouage face paint. Once, some old lady opened the door and was stunned, nearly
had a heart attack from what she saw. An 80-year old granny opens the door, youre
there with your ceramic vest and gear and grenades, eight guys standing like that out-
side her door, each covering a corner, she comes out and nearly pisses in her pants.
(Translation from: http://www.breakingthesilence.org.il/testimonies/database/478027)
Testimony #234713:
When we were in the Telem outpost we arrested somebody and his mother came out [of
the house] totally hysterical she was really aggressive she tried to pull him out of
the military vehicle. I remember that I literally reached a situation with her whereby I
scream at her in Arabic, go away or I shoot, and then she looks at me like this and said
to me (literally in Hebrew: did to me) shoot, shootand looked me in the eyes intently
(also deliberately) and said (literally: did to me) shoot me, shoot meand started screaming
at me, and I was with the barrel actually touching her. In that moment she was on the verge
of being violent, like, she actually wanted to attack me. She saw that Imserious and tense
andpreparedtoherattacking me and simply said shoot mewith a look of, like, Idont
care.
(Translated by the author.)
Testimony #89282:
we took [the kid who was throwing empty bottles at the soldiers] to his parents and said,
Hesthrowing bottles at us. Could you stop this?And right there and then, before we
even nished talking, this kids mother started beating him up, and you saw the pain in
her eyes. You saw her hitting him to please the soldiers. Hitting him really hard. When
she was through with this show, she promised us, Dont worry, when his father comes
home hellseetohim. So besides feeling ashamedandleavingfollowedbythelookofthat
kid as he watched us go out besides that, there was nothing we could do. This was already
the catastrophe we had triggered in the family which for me is simply terrible, and for them,
unfortunately, its a routine matter. That look, I mean it followed me for several nights.
(Translation from: http://www.breakingthesilence.org.il/testimonies/database/89282; Note
the (rare)indication for empathy in yousawthepaininhereyes;This empathy,however,is
psycholinguistically distanced by using you sawrather than personally owning the experience
(e.g.Isaw).)
Testimony #747814:
we climbed, together with our commander, on a roof that had a good view of the road
then came a crazy old lady and screamed in Arabic that we should go away, itsnotour
place its hers and she wont go away. At rst we triedtocalmherdown,explain,abityell
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at her to calm her down. At rst we tried to ignore her but she just screamed and ailed
with her hands yallah, go away. At some point we just up and left, after all we didntcome
to bother her, but it was more like alright, already calm down, were leaving.Beforethat
my commander also yelled at her enough already, shut upand words to that effect. It
didnt work. She wouldnt shut up. In the end we really had to go somewhere else, but it
was very frustrating because none of us knew Arabic and it was terribly frustrating because
had I known Arabic well, my attitude to these people would have been different. I could
have really explained to them and talked to them.
(Translated by the author;Note that although calm her downcould be either internal/inferred
(Type 1)or external/observational (Type 2)in English,the Hebrew word was distinctly the latter.)
Testimony #270099:
I remember very vividly an image of a woman coming, standing in front of me and crying.
A woman of 50, 60 at least that cries that she must pass. How on earth did I get to this mis-
erable position that some woman standing in front of me, and Im only a 19 years old kid,
andawomanisstandinginfrontofmeandiscrying that I dontletherpassandshemust
pass through to reach the hospital and I cantletherpass.Ialsoknowthatshecouldpass
around us with the cab, but Imstillbeingajerkandwontletherpass.Andsheiscrying.
(Translated by the author;Therepetitiveuseoftheverbpassinstead of more appropriate syno-
nyms,although awkward,nonetheless reects more reliably the actual rigid and non-generative
speech style of the narrator.)
Testimony #522750:
it [the contents of the bag that was used as a lavatory during the ambush in the house that
the soldiered commandeered for several days] got spilled on the stairs. We were stressed and
under time pressure. And the woman, who was the wife of the person who owned the
house, already started to climb up the stairs so we just left. We might have tried to help
her but it was quite an awkward affair at that moment.
(Translated by the author.)
Testimony #117587:
[women] were the limit. Like, still to respect. Theresthisnotionofwhat, itsawoman
you have to still respect them. Despite them being disgusting and all, you still have to re-
spect them. You know that if youre hurting a woman she starts pushing the soldiers and
then one of them will slap her and within a second the whole family is outside, you know
what itslikeshesawoman,shes a mother, and when youre hurting a mother nothing
to be done. [you cant avoid] exchanging blows, [its] amess.
(Translated by the author.)
Testimony #32456:
you get an order that nobody should pass [through the checkpoint] no matter what and
then you get all these stories my sister is getting married,my grandmother whatnotand
everybody has the same stories and itsannoying and youre fed up with them.
(Translated by the author.)
264 Cohen
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Testimony #609962:
Even I as a moralperson, when my patience has reached its limits I used to raise my gun so
that theyll listen to me, and I would get irritated and scream at the Arabs.
(Translated by the author.)
Testimony #96130:
yes, well an annoying little [Palestinian] kid. Big deal!
(Translated by the author.)
Testimony #654192:
OntheGazafrontyoure dying of fear all the time.
(Translated by the author.)
Testimony #581671:
[understafng] produces (in you) a kind of stress, fatigue, burnout.
(Translated by the author.)
Conversely, it may be instructive to examine closely the few exceptions in
which empathic inference could be found. Apart from Testimony #89282
(you saw the pain in her eyes) that was discussed earlier, ve other testimonies
(of the 76 stories corpus concerning Palestinian women) contained evidence for
empathic processing. Due to their signicance as exceptions to the pervasive
rule, all ve of them are reproduced here. The empathic utterances are
underlined:
Testimony #581671:obviously youre trying as much as you can to see through [literally: be
inside] the eyes of the person that needs to get to the hospital, or the woman who is in a
hurry to get to work [exception of workwoman connection].
(Translated by the author.)
Testimony #115893:
There was one house where the woman had a picture on the refrigerator or something, of
her man with a weapon. A picture with a weapon? Yes. Whats this? and you know I
mean, people were crazy. Where is he, what is he, like that. She tried to explain, like,
you know, its a picture, its pride, its some Palestinian policeman. Just like we have.
Why compare? Yeah, photographs, but its like we had during the time of, you know
its a militant thing, its their national pride, you know, and ours, okay. (Translation from:
http://www.breakingthesilence.org.il/testimonies/database/115893 Note the immediate acti-
vation of an internal conict associated with the empathic process,manifest here by voicing out loud
the adversarial self-reexive question why compare?.This may also be preemptive of a projected/
anticipated question to that effect by the interviewer.)
Testimony #93944:
We picked up three kids there. The mother was crying, the women were all in tears, the
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kids were shackled, taken into the jeep, scared. I just try to think what they must have felt,
what its like to be taken in an army jeep.
(Translation from: http://www.breakingthesilence.org.il/testimonies/database/93944)
Testimony #777629:
I dont know who was there [in one of the checkpoints], it was a woman or an old man
they [the other military unit] came and evacuated them and suddenly I felt like Im going to
cry. I looked at it [the situation] and said to myself: if Im crying now, which really reects
my feeling there all the time when we do what we do, then I cant go on doing it. Im bound
to break down and must get out of here. Then I said to myself that this is impossible, so I
took that feeling [literally: that space] and just put it aside, and it was supplanted by some
sort of apathy that followed me even when I was no longer on duty, it stayed with me even
when I would go home, up to the end of my military service. I put some sort of a veil and
this is the turning point this is where I was not alive, entirely from then up to the end of
my army service. I was just somewhere else. It was quite amazing how a person can put himself
in a different mode [sic] entirely. It just snapped. In that time when I was in that checkpoint.
After that its not like it was easier it just didnt matter. It didnt matter: you go out, you act.
(Translated by the author.)
Testimony #58606:
[I feel] a bit scared, but ok thats what I have to do, I cantchangeit.Its [separating the
mother from the son whos being arrested] also not an irrational command its quite logical.
Nothing to be done about it the mother grabs him and doesnt let him go, [she] doesnt
want him to get into the police car for very understandable reasons, like my mother wouldnt
have wanted me to get into the police car. We must isolate her. There was this issue with us
grabbing her with some sensitivity and the commanders were like, told us yank her the hell
awayand in their eyes they were quite sensitive. I cant tell whatsrightit was an unpleas-
ant situation and thats how it felt to me. A rotten situation mostly. Thats it. It wasntlikea
formative event or anything like that. It was the rst situation I was exposed to. The rst
IsraeliPalestinian conict situation.
(Translated by the author;Note how the empathic equivalence between the narrator and the
Palestinian son is preceded by evidence for cognitive dissonance/rationalization surrounding the com-
mand to separate the mother and the son.)
It is interesting to note that only in three out of the ve stories that expressed
empathy, the empathic reaction occurred during the action. In the rest (the rst
two above) this empathic extension came only in retrospect. This will be
discussed later in the context of the defensive nature of dehumanization and
the curtailment of empathic inference.
DISCUSSION
This study describes a programmatic and comprehensive empirical paradigm for
a minimally-biased exploration of the internal representations of occupied
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female enemy members in the minds of male soldiers based on their choice of
words in personal narratives.
The narratives for this study were a unique set of verbatim testimonies, given
by Israeli ex-soldiers as regards to their service in the Palestinian occupied terri-
tories. To detect implicit dehumanization of individuals in the narratives, this
study used a psychoanalytically-informed set of psycholinguistic tools to peer
into the associative semantic networks that may underpin the soldiersnarra-
tives. The choice to restrict the analyses here to stories of male soldiers in their
interactions with Palestinian women purported to mitigate the confounding
effect that imminent and realistic threats might have on the cognitive links be-
tween the enemy, its danger and its dehumanization. Under these conditions,
the narratives are optimally (though not completely) conducive for the detec-
tion of non-realistic projections and fantasy content which lie at the heart
of unconscious prejudice and dehumanization. Furthermore, it was presumed
(in a potentially sexist way, but consistent with object relations theories) that
there would be less defensive barriers against empathy towards women. Taken
together with the fact that the testimonials in this study came from a small
fraction of Israeli ex-soldiers who felt the need to provide testimonials to the
Breaking the Silenceinitiative, the results of this study may be viewed as
demarcating the upper bound for empathy and civil society sentiments in Israeli
soldiers towards Palestinians.
Overall, the results of this study uncover a deeply skewed non-conscious cog-
nitive style that is often surmised (but rarely examined empirically) in social set-
tings involving discrimination, occupation, apartheid and even genocide. Since
this paper cannot possibly do justice to the richness of the patterns that this
study uncovered, in what follows I will exclusively focus on the main foci of
the paper as delineated in the introduction section, namely: (1) the cognitive
structures underlying dehumanization and how they might be motivated by
emotional stance (and as such may be considered defensive formations); (2) un-
derstanding semi- or non-conscious enactments of discrimination and prejudice
against Palestinians or Arabs through the lens of implicit dehumanization as
operationalized and detected in this studys corpus of testimonials.
Generally speaking, the results of this study are consistent with its operational
denition of implicit dehumanization. Specically, the results suggest a cognitive style
characterized by relative paucity of emotional terms, which indicates a curtailed
empathic extension (or inference of abstract emotions) toward Palestinian women.
Thus, Palestinian womens emotional state was mostly conveyed by describing their
external behavior (with said behavior being mostly uncouth, irrational and uncontrol-
lable), while emotions that were attributed to the narrator and his fellow comrades
were more abstract, nuanced and reective. This evidence for the curtailment of
empathic inference in describing enemy members emotions was, predictably, embed-
ded in narratives that made extensive use of procedural and instrumental words and
concerned the handling, containment and transport of Palestinian women and the
actions that should be taken for protection against them.
267Implicit dehumanization and anti-Arab prejudice in IDF stories
Int. J. Appl. Psychoanal. Studies 12: 245277 (2015)
DOI: 10.1002/apsCopyright © 2015 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.
Dehumanization of the designated enemyas a borderline-level defense mechanism
The implicit dehumanization of Palestinian women, as operationalized and
uncovered by this study, may be viewed as an attempt to suppress the extension
of human attributes to them in order to handle and contain them as inferior and
potentially dangerous objects. As such, this implicit dehumanization may be
seen as a defense mechanism. Furthermore, the fragility of this defense and its
associations with low-level defenses such as over-identication (recall that in
about 17% of the interviews there were not enough rst person singular verbs to
ascertain the speakers gender), splitting, disassociation, acting out and rationaliza-
tion suggests that it operates on the borderline level of personality functioning.
As any presumed defense mechanism, dehumanization of Palestinians, as it
manifests in the testimonials, is partially amenable to reection, though hard
to actually experience, contain or process emotionally. This characteristic is
consistent with the general understanding of an ego defense mechanism and
its relationship to unconscious conict and survival-bound drives (Freud,
1936/1937). Thus, though in numerous testimonials (some of which were
reproduced earlier) the ex-soldiers express discomfort and dissonance with both
their actions and the orders that they were obeying, very few of them denounced
them explicitly or categorically. Furthermore, on the organizational level, the
very name Breaking the Silencesuggests some recognition of this defense-
eliciting conict between a presumed need or motivation to keep the silence
and the need or motivation to break it. In fact, despite their name, explicit mis-
sion and the fact that many testimonials explicitly lament the unbearable men-
tal toll that serving in the occupied territories had demanded from the narrators
(e.g. Testimonies #777629, #44401, #47978, #606713, #122006, #130653,
#20393, #292216, #326287, #46258, #70062, #751740, #774582, #38762),
the organizationsofcial book of testimonials is defensively entitled Our Harsh
Logic (Breaking the Silence, 2012).
Consistent with group psychoanalytic models that extrapolate from individ-
ual psychodynamics to understand social and political phenomena (e.g. Bion,
1959; Chasseguet-Smirgel, 1990; Freud, 1930/1961; Volkan, 1999), this
carry-overof the internal conict that was expressed in the individual narra-
tive to the organizational level seems to generalize further to the Israeli society
at large as evident in the highly polarizing effect that the organization has in-
duced on Israeli public opinion (for a recent are up of this debate see Oakford,
2015). Here, too, the borderline nature of the psychic conict is manifest not
only in the aggressive splitting between the camps and the vehement contempt
for (and fear of) the organizations impact internally and worldwide, but also in
the fact that it has not yet devolved to a patently psychotic and violent levels.
The dehumanization of Palestinians, as Breaking the Silencetestimonials
suggest, is a complex defense, whose borderline-level of functioning may be a
result of the multiplicity and intensity of the conict between the motives that
it aims to reconcile: The need to identify with ones comrades, the need to service
268 Cohen
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DOI: 10.1002/apsCopyright © 2015 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.
and obey the state, the need to contain and handle denigrated and potentially
dangerous inhabitants who are devoid of legal status or recourse, and the need
to maintain a sense of self as a moral and humane individual (whether to the
selfobject, the loved objects, or even to international observers or media) to
name but a few components of this individual and arguably societal conict.
Such complex conicts are not unusual in clinical settings, and common psy-
choanalytic praxis usually advocates for an empathic acknowledgment of the
defenses that the patient mounts in an effort to mitigate them, while reecting
on the costbenet ratiothat these defenses may possess as a way to assess their
functionality and promote change towards a more realistic views of the world.
However, in the case of political conict, gauging the adaptabilityof a defense
is complicated by the moral relativism that nationalistic sentiments (and
agenda) command. For example, had the disassociation-based dehumanization
expressed in Testimony #777629 (also see Testimony #662231) been professed by
a surgeon in the name of improving their capacity to operate on people and save
their lives, this dissociative dehumanization would have surely been perceived as
unconditionally higher-level defense by both psychoanalysts and laymen.
2
How-
ever, when the same defense mechanism is activated in order to adapt to laws or
norms that serve the particular regional, ethnic, or national milieu of the individual,
while violating basic human rights or international laws, weighing the utility of this
defense mechanism is arguably much more conicted for both the ex-soldiers, their
therapists and society at large (see further discussion in Cohen, 2009).
As with most defenses, the testimonies suggest that the use of dehumanization
increases with perceived anxiety. Here, too, the question where on the neurotic-
borderline-psychotic spectrum of reality perception does the anxiety actually
reside and who is the arbiter of the reality when it comes to gauging said anxiety
is an added layer of complexity. This is particularly true when as is often the case
in the trauma-ridden discourse in Israel the political apparatus often actively
amplies the sense of perceived threat posed by the Palestinians. Once again, whether
this induction of anxiety is motivated by an anti-Arab prejudice or by a survivalist
sense that inducing (hyper)vigilance in the troops will protect them is anybodys
guess. The corpus, however, documents this sanctioned process of fear induction:
Testimony #675148:
before embarking on straw widows[the commandeering of a Palestinian family house to estab-
lish an ambush], part of the debrieng is always the same story about the soldier who let the mother
of the family get out and how at the moment that she came out she stabbed him or something like
this. Then its very vivid in the mind of the soldiers not to let anybody out because they can turn
against you on a dime [literally: with a wave of the hand].
(Translated by the author;Note the mitigation in owning the feelings of fear by attributing it generally to
the mind of the soldiers.)
Borrowing from psychoanalytic diagnostic practices, this study limited itself
to the study of dehumanization of Palestinian women. This was done in order
269Implicit dehumanization and anti-Arab prejudice in IDF stories
Int. J. Appl. Psychoanal. Studies 12: 245277 (2015)
DOI: 10.1002/apsCopyright © 2015 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.
to examine the dehumanization of Palestinians by the Israeli military in the
(relative) absence of realistic concerns for their safety (as is frequently reiter-
ated by the narrators own accounts). However, consistent with this studys
contention that dehumanization of Palestinians by Israelis is a borderline level
defense-mechanism that is activated independently of the realistic level of
threat that they pose can be seen in two common IDF practices in the occu-
pied territories, namely Conrmation of Killing(Vidu Hariga”–whereby
soldiers are required to riddle the body of a fallen Palestinian in bullets to en-
sure that they wont pose any further threat; see listing of testimonies on the
subject in http://www.shovrimshtika.org/testimonies/database/?ci=154) and
the destruction of property, which is often justied on grounds of security even
when the potential threat from the property is most likely imaginary (for exam-
ple, one testimony justied the shattering of each and every jar of pickles by
their potential for hiding weapons, while another justied entering into a
row of houses by systematically breaking the walls between them as reducing
the risk of being shot at while venturing into the street; See also Testimony
#82846). The ambiguous utility of such practices is intimately linked to the
borderline-level vagueness in the boundaries between realistic and imaginary
(or projected) appraisal of the imminent danger that lifeless bodies, pickle jars
and the like might pose. As with any defense, and especially in borderline-
level ones, these boundaries in the sense of reality shift in tandem with the
anxiety level of the situation, which in turn (as was demonstrated earlier) is
a complex interplay of individual, communal and politically-motivated in-
duced anxieties.
As this study suggests, implicit dehumanization (in the form of curtailment of
empathic inferences in personal narratives), though permeating most of the
stories, might nonetheless breakat times in the face of reality and lead to emo-
tional ooding. This phenomenon is also amply demonstrated in the testimo-
nies. For example, numerous testimonies mention a sudden and overwhelming
sense of sadness (e.g. Testimonies #777629), rage (Testimonies #781290,
#85495, #46760, #748073), unbridled vandalism (Testimonies #615752,
#830255, #750387, #114236, #73000), futility and helplessness (#771932,
#153662, #816845, #17458, #45787, #773021), scruples (#122892, #478795,
#131683, #263245, #68335) and shame (#109415, #89282).
Implicit dehumanization and anti-Arab prejudice
Examination of the most frequent themes and words that were distinctly used by
Israeli male soldiers in their narratives concerning Palestinian women suggests
that one of the most prominent components of the complex psychodynamic
conict surrounding their dehumanization is the communication barrier
between Israelis and Palestinians. As Table 1 suggests, the soldiersfrustration
with their inability to communicate effectively with Palestinians seems to be
particularly high when it involves female Palestinians (e.g. items #18, #24 and
270 Cohen
Int. J. Appl. Psychoanal. Studies 12: 245277 (2015)
DOI: 10.1002/apsCopyright © 2015 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.
#25 In addition to other, less frequent words). The relationship between this
communication barrier and its perceived role in the dehumanization of Palestinian
women is most eloquently explicated in Testimony #747814 (but see also Testimony
#66838). Conversely, Testimony #82294 suggests that the ability to communicate
with the Palestinian chipped at the dehumanization defense mechanism and led
to an emotional ooding that loomed large over the narrators conscience for a long
time.
This nding further exemplies the interplay between induced, politically-
motivated (i.e. top-down) dehumanization of Palestinians and emergent, indi-
vidually constructed (i.e. bottom-up) dehumanization. Legally, Article 82 of
the 1922 Palestine Order-in-Council (after the amendment to Section 15B
of the Law and Government Ordinance in 1948) declares Arabic as the only
other ofcial language in Israel besides Hebrew. Concomitantly, an unenforced
law (which can be viewed yet another symptom of a conict on a societal level)
of the Israeli Ministry of Education compels Israeli students to study Arabic for
several years in elementary school. Additionally, according to the Israeli government,
as of May 2006 over 18% of Israels seven million people are Palestinians (Central
Bureau of Statistics/Government of Israel, 2006). Arabic is also the mother tongue
of an estimated 16% of the Jewish population in Israel (Soen, 2010). Despite this
state of affairs, there is a low and progressively diminished interest among Israelis to
study Arabic mainly due to their anti-Arab prejudice (Lustigman, 2008; Shohamy
& Donitsa-Schmidt, 1998; Soen, 2010; Uhlmann, 2010).
Against this state of affairs, our nding, of a recurrent wish of Israeli soldiers
to be able to communicate in Arabic, may be viewed as yet another break-
downin the reality-distorting defense that prevents Israelis from recognizing
the extent to which Arab culture inhabits their geographical region. By exten-
sion, it also may hint at a wishful minimization of (1) the demographic presence
of Arabs in the region in general and in Israel in particular and (2) the inuence
of Arab culture on Israeli Jews. The denial of the genetic and cultural heritage
by a substantial slice of the Israeli Jewish population, whose ancestry originated
in Arab countries, can thus be considered a related reality-distorting (i.e. border-
line-level) defense mechanism. Although a thorough exploration of the role
that the presumed internalized shame of Arab Jews in Israel over their origin
plays in maintaining Israeli aggression and occupation is beyond the scope of
this study (but see further discussion in Cohen, 2013), it is interesting to note
that the narrators of the testimonials have still used the ethnic term Arabto
distinctly refer to Palestinians in 78% (955/1223) of the cases.
Finally, of particular relevance to the intersection between anti-Arab preju-
dice, dehumanization and power asymmetry is the view, expressed explicitly in
the testimonials, of Palestinians as physically repugnant. This view is predictably
exacerbated in the case of Palestinian women, whereby gendered power asym-
metry and normativeobjectication are added to the political and ethnic
forms of prejudice and dehumanization. Previous research has already suggested
that the rarity of rape involving male Israeli genitalia (in contrast to the
271Implicit dehumanization and anti-Arab prejudice in IDF stories
Int. J. Appl. Psychoanal. Studies 12: 245277 (2015)
DOI: 10.1002/apsCopyright © 2015 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.
insertion of an object into the Palestinian womens body, which is also consid-
ered rape under both Israeli and international law); may be attributable to this
physical repugnance (Nitsan, 2007; Nitsan, 2012; See also Testimonies
#117587, #147197, #183972, #341968, #530467, #117112, #902821, #93944,
#97200, #66860 and #78712).
Shortcomings and future research
Owing mainly to the novelty of the operational denition of dehumanization in
this study and to the hybrid psycholinguistic and psychoanalytic methods with
which it was detected and tracked, the results of this study should be treated
with caution. Caution is also indicated considering other constraints of this
study, among them:
(1) Emotional expression comes in various ways many of them implied,
rather than explicit. The hybrid psycholinguistic and psychoanalytic treat-
ment of the data was used to capture the emotional processing of the
narrator as completely as possible, but narrators usually have strong self-
censorship with interviewers who are strangers and emotional expressions
are sometimes conveyed in a way that could escape both automated and
human scrutiny.
(2) Relatedly, the pattern that was found, in which internal emotion states are
mainly attributed to the self and viable, or humanized others while exter-
nally observable mental states are attributed to Palestinians may be par-
tially due to the natural phenomenon by which our internal emotional
states are readily available to us while those of others are less so. Still, this
study builds of the ubiquitous observation that when discussing viable
others, most people will engage in empathic inference of their emotional
states based on their own experience, while in our sample this empathic
inference is notably missing or curtailed.
(3) It should be mentioned, again, that only a fraction of the Israeli soldiers
who served in the Palestinian occupied territories were willing and/or able
to provide testimonials. Thus, the results of this study cannot be readily
generalized despite a sample of over 1300 narratives. Additionally, since
this study sought intellectual (and thus presumably attitudinal) indepen-
dence of the Shovrim Shtikaorganization, there is no information whether
the testimonials were deliberately censored. However, no such censorship
was mentioned on the website or the book (Breaking the Silence, 2012)
CONCLUSION
Considering the ubiquity and complexity of dehumanization in armed ethnic
conicts, it would be a simplistic mistake to view the results of this study as
272 Cohen
Int. J. Appl. Psychoanal. Studies 12: 245277 (2015)
DOI: 10.1002/apsCopyright © 2015 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.
attributing dehumanization uniquely to Israelis. Rather, the unique aspect of this
study may very well be the very availability and transparency of Israeli sources in
the form of a not-for-prot organization such as Shovrim Shtikathat is
committed to documenting verbatim the experience of the occupier.
Similarly, considering the multitude of intensely emotional motives that this
study uncovered, it would also seem a simplistic mistake to view the soldiers
pervasive dehumanization of the Palestinian civilians as a uniquely individual
characteristic of their psychodynamics. Rather, the role of the Israeli government
and army in maintaining a matrix of power in which dehumanization seems to be
the modal(and perhaps locally adaptive) mechanism of defense (against real
and/or manufactured threats- and perhaps even guilt) should be routinely incor-
porated into the psychodynamic understanding of the IsraeliPalestinian conict
on its individual, communal and national determinants. Borrowing from defense-
focused psychoanalytic psychotherapy denouncing Israeli soldiers for their utili-
zation of the dehumanization defense would be akin to prematurely challenging
defense mechanisms without a full exploration of their utility vis-à-vis the psychic
conict that may undergird them.
Rather, a more ecological use of this study would be to utilize it for combatting
and inoculating against dehumanization by understanding the structure of the
cognitive networks that supports it, the context in which it arises, and its
purported goals. Akin to most psychodynamic psychotherapies designed to bring
the patient with borderline personality organization to a higher level of function-
ing (e.g. Mentalization-based Therapy; Fonagy & Luyten, 2009; Transference-
focused Psychotherapy; Yeomans et al., 2015), the crux of the efforts to alleviate
the IsraeliPalestinian conict on its various levels may ultimately revolve
around differentiating between real and imaginary threats that Israelis may attribute
to Palestinians, and understanding the secondary gains that Israelis may make from
over-maligning and over-defending against Palestinians, and from adopting a more
realistic vision of existence while, conversely, mourning the idealistic utopian
notion of supremacy and sole control of the land.
NOTES
1 I thank Adib Jarrar for this insight.
2 I thank Dr Jan Roda for this example.
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... The crisis-provoking and conflicting relationships of CRG members with nonmembers can also be interpreted as the result of their paranoid anxieties surrounding persecutory objects, which are projectively identified onto others, whether individual unbelievers or nation states (Cohen, 2015;Post, 2007). The dominant characteristics of CRG members-a Manichaean view of the world, no tolerance of ambiguity, no acceptance of diversity, and intolerance of critical thought-is a product of such primitive psychological defenses. ...
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... The fact that the studies used primary sources in the original Arabic is both consistent with psychoanalytic preference for the experiential language and lends ecological validity to the findings. Similarly, in a corpus of 1373 testimonials of Israeli ex-military against the occupation ('Breaking the Silence'), Cohen (2015) found evidence for lingering unconscious dehumanization of Palestinian women in the unconscious tendency of the narrators to describe the presentation of these women while in distress in behavioral, rather than emotional, terms. ...
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