How to solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, according to psychology research

Palestinians and Israelis clash during demonstrations on Jerusalem Day, 2018. (photo: Olivier Fitoussi)
Both Israelis and Palestinians are in competition over the victim role. A new study may have the key to breaking the impasse.

By Netta Ahituv | Haaretz |  Dec 14, 2019

‘The suffering we have undergone remains with us longer than the suffering we caused.’
— Prof. Nurit Shnabel, Tel Aviv University psychology department

To be the victim in a conflict is no less significant in terms of impact than being the victor, according to a recent study conducted at Tel Aviv University. Indeed, for many people it is the main goal – whether the conflict is an argument between two private individuals or a national dispute.

“It’s a human trait,” explains Prof. Nurit Shnabel of the university’s psychology department, who led the study. “The suffering we have undergone remains with us longer than the suffering we caused. Even if I understand at the rational level that my side can be perceived as victim and aggressor at the same time – emotionally it’s different. I can’t feel them both simultaneously. And it’s easier to be the victim.”

An experiment conducted by Shnabel and her colleagues sought to reveal some of the general principles that characterize the dynamics of the relationship between aggressors and victims. The participants, who were divided into pairs, were each given an identical amount of money – a “resource,” in the language of the study – that each person was requested to distribute in private, between himself and his partner (without the partner knowing how much the other person gave himself), as they saw fit.

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