Between Israelis and Palestinians, a Lethal Psychological Chasm Grows

In the same way, Palestinian insight into the devouring specters of antisemitic persecution awakened in Jews by the Oct. 7 Hamas terrorist attack appears negligible. Mutual empathy is very hard to find.

“Each side begs for the status of five-star victim,” said Mohammad Darawshe, the director of strategy at the Givat Haviva Center for Shared Society in Jerusalem, which promotes Jewish-Arab dialogue. “If you are stuck in victimhood, you see everyone else as victimizing and dehumanizing.”

The consequence is a psychological chasm so deep that Palestinians are invisible as individuals to Israeli Jews, and vice versa. There are exceptions, of course: Some Israelis and Palestinians have dedicated themselves to bridging that divide. But generally, the narratives of the two sides diverge, burying any perception of shared humanity.

The 1948 Arab-Israeli War, known to Israelis as the War of Independence, is the Nakba, or catastrophe, to Palestinians. Nakba vies with Holocaust as each side invokes “genocide.”

The relentless weaponization of history goes all the way back to biblical times and the divergent fates of the estranged sons of Abraham — Isaac, the patriarch of the Israelites, and Ishmael, a prophet of Islam.

“On Oct. 7, Hamas trampled on every sensitive nerve in the Israeli psyche,” said Itamar Rabinovich, a former Israeli ambassador to the United States. “Hatred, fear and anxiety are now at their most extreme. But in the end there are two peoples coveting the same land, and two sides to the story you have to try to see.”

The demonization knows no bounds. Since the Hamas attack last month, Yoav Gallant, the Israeli defense minister, has spoken of fighting “human animals.” Ismail Haniyeh, the head of the Hamas political bureau, has described Israel as “neo-Nazis supported by colonial forces.” Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, has in turn called Hamas “the new Nazis.”

One Israeli lawmaker, Ofer Cassif, has alluded to “pogroms” against Palestinians to describe the relentless Israeli bombardment of Gaza, a word whose specific historical meaning is the slaughter of Jews and a word that many Israelis have used to describe the killing by Hamas of some 1,200 people last month, according to the Israeli authorities.