Yoav Litvin is an Israeli-American doctor of psychology/neuroscience, a writer and photographer.
On October 7, Hamas fighters breached the Gaza prison fence, launching a coordinated attack on at least seven Israeli military installations and more than 20 surrounding residential communities. Over 1000 Israeli citizens, both civilian and military, as well as dozens of foreign nationals, were killed in the attack. Some 240 others were taken captive. Caught off guard and in disarray, the Israeli military responded to the attack in a frenzy, firing indiscriminately on breached localities, slaying Israeli captives alongside Hamas fighters in the process. It took the Israeli forces nearly a day to recapture all lost territory and secure the Gaza perimeter.
Ten weeks on, most of Gaza is now destroyed, nearly 20,000 Palestinians are dead with many more still under the rubble, and the world continues to watch a genocide unfold in real time. Examining these events through a behavioural-neuroscientific lens could offer insights into the Zionist settler colonialist dynamic in general and the particular motivations behind Israel’s current genocidal acts in Gaza, as well as potential paths forward.
Zionism, a European colonial movement, recognised the potential of this dynamic. It syncretised Jewish longing for safety and self-defence with white supremacist, messianic and fascistic ideologies. This synthesis birthed a new, nationalist Jewish identity that equates Jewish safety with the construction of an exclusivist homeland in Palestine through the displacement of the region’s Indigenous populations.
Settler colonial endeavours typically depend on depicting the targeted territory as “uninhabited”, and its existing inhabitants as inhuman barbarians unworthy of any land.
This portrayal allowed Zionists to displace the Indigenous population of Palestine without moral qualms, portraying the establishment of Israel not as the destruction of a people but as the construction of a “villa in the jungle”.
Within the Israeli society grounded in land and resource theft, offensive aggression under the guise of “self-defence” (as in “Israel Defence Force”) has been rewarded and reinforced from the very beginning and consequently became a routine part of life. By reinstating fear and hijacking trauma associated with past and present negative experiences of Jewish people, Zionist leaders ensured the settler population’s continued support for aggressive, expansionist, hegemonic, genocidal policies and shielded their corruption and other criminal endeavours from public scrutiny.