Monday, July 25, 2011

Peace Now & Serenity When? Trauma & Addiction in Israel & Palestine (Part I)

A while back I posted Kieron Monks’ “East Jerusalem Suffers Heroin Plague”  (July 6, 2011) to Facebook. Monks spotlights burgeoning heroin use in East Jerusalem. Jerusalem, a town divided, is definitely not at peace. Serenity eludes it, and Monks’ article shows how within a substratum of the population of this ancient city, people are suffering in a very particular way. 

The article, on Al-Jazeera’s English-language website, started me thinking about recovery from trauma & addiction in the very specific context of Israel and Palestine: Do the guidelines that suggest how to recover from trauma and addiction even apply in Israel and Palestine? Can there be any recovery in those places? Can a program of recovery from addiction have anything to teach this center of civilizations, this cradle of monotheistic faiths? Could it possibly be a vector for peace? 

Yes, and why not?

The process of recovery from trauma and addiction requires skills and spiritual attitudes that could very well be the key to unlock solutions for Israel and Palestine—in the Divine’s Own time, of course.

Here, then, are my bold, radical proposals: 
* Israel and Palestine are like everywhere else; Israelis and Palestinians are like everyone else. 
Recovery from trauma & addiction in Israel and Palestine is possible. 
Neither side can get better unless the other side does too.
* The principles that aid recovery and help addicts achieve serenity are exactly the same as those that can bring peace to Israel and Palestine.

I am a human rights lawyer and diversity and inclusion consultant. In addition to this training, I have some experience with, but am no expert or spokesperson for any one group or trend in, recovery, harm reduction, self-care, or mediation and conflict resolution. From the foundation of my experiences and education, it is my opinion that recovery has much to offer here, and that recovering addicts in Israel and Palestine in particular, whom many in their individual societies might view as pariahs, may be uniquely placed to find the way forward. From the depths of their pain, a new freedom may emerge.

Can one write about trauma, drug use/misuse/addiction, harm reduction and recovery in Israel and Palestine without discussing politics, the taking or reclaiming of land, the cycles of violence and degradation, fear and vulnerability?

I believe so.

Both Palestinians and Israelis experience violence and insecurity, to different degrees and with different levels of arbitrariness. This violence and insecurity itself generates trauma, fuel for the conflagration that is the disease of addiction (or the bio-psycho-social condition or disorder of drug misuse, if you prefer).

While recognizing that social, political, and economic conditions create fertile conditions for the development of addictions, I suggest that recovery can come first, in any situation, and that recovery from addiction may provide a model or the skills and mental framework necessary to proceed with the difficult negotiations that will make a peaceful settlement between Israelis and Palestinians possible.

How so?

First bold, radical statement (in two parts): Israel and Palestine are like everywhere else; Israelis and Palestinians are like everyone else. 

There are specificities to Israel and Palestine that matter. Yes. But every location, every individual, has important specificities. Israel and Palestine is not the first war or conflict strewn territory that experiences a concomitant rise in drug use. This is a common correlation, beyond the fact that some armed struggles are financed via off-the-books trades, including the sale of drugs, as in Afghanistan or Colombia, Ireland, and Turkey, or that drugs are used to numb the pain of the violence seen or to get fighters to fight beyond human endurance, as in Liberia (a separate, interesting question, is how successful has the US policy of supporting counter-narcotic efforts been?).

Israelis and Palestinians are human beings, like all the rest of us. It is impossible to know whether the numbers are equivalent, but for every pro-Israeli person who sees all Palestinians and their supporters only as hateful and immoral killers, I have no doubt there is a pro-Palestinian person who sees all Israelis and their supporters as hateful and immoral killers. It is one way all are alike. The feelings of fear and judgment, the convictions of self-righteousness and victimhood, all of us can fall prey to these.

So, I repeat: Israelis and Palestinians are human beings, like all the rest of us. Not only do they (and we) all experience the same instinctive drives for security, dignity and ambition, like each of us, each Israeli and Palestinian faces unique, personal challenges.

Our uniqueness is our commonality: In being different, we are all alike. Not only do we all have the same feelings and drives for security, ambition, dignity, when we feel different from those around us and those in “the opposite camp,” we are again all alike.

Every human being thrives, just gets by, or suffers through hir* own:

personal experiences;

personal genes and biological or physical circumstances;

social, political, and economic situations;

psychological frameworks, coping skills, vulnerabilities, including family heritage, narratives (spoken and unspoken), and skills transmitted by parents and others who pass along trauma knowingly and willingly, or unconsciously, along with patterns or justifications for different dysfunctions; and

spiritual, ethical, and emotional resources or traditions that may help us learn to forgive and have compassion for others and for ourselves.

Second bold, radical statement: Recovery from trauma & addiction in Israel and Palestine is possible. 

It is possible there just as it is anywhere else. The path may be long and slow (just as anywhere else), and it will require courage, rigorous honesty, willingness and o pen-mindedness, a challenging measure of compassion for oneself and for others (indeed, just as anywhere else), and a turning away from a near-narcissistic obsession with our own hurts—shifting instead towards helping others—because we can only get better as part of a larger whole and keep what we have by giving it away. These are some of the principles of recovery.

The work is the same everywhere, but the conditions or expressions of the disease varies in each of us.

Are you recovering from physical or emotional abuse by a parent? sexual abuse or assault as an adult or as a child? deprivation and under-earning? love or sex addiction? gambling addiction? drug or alcohol addiction? obsessive or compulsive worry about the future (anxiety) or rehashing of failures and harms of the past (depression)?

The work to get over these difficulties and the ways in which we may “act out” on unexpressed feelings and unresolved conflicts is very similar. Each of us may find a different path that works for us, but the principles at work are the same.

You are not alone. You need not suffer alone. You need not struggle alone. Others have worked through these issues and can help you get better. In fact, they get better when they have someone to help. It is like healing the past, standing up for someone else who is walking the difficult path of recovery, as others have stood up for us, helping us along our journeys.

Third bold, radical statement: neither side can get better unless the other side does too.

One of Monks’ many points in the article was that despite a context of little to no security or economic prospects for the stateless Palestinians living in East Jerusalem, activists are doing their best to provide services for and to treat those who are struggling with heroin addiction. 

Another point it made, though you would be forgiven for missing it, was the interconnectedness of the Palestinian heroin users’ plight to that of heroin users in Israel. Not because of the fact that occupation brings trauma, and trauma triggers unhealthy coping mechanisms, (that was a large part of the article—not a point you could miss), but rather that there are co-occurring epidemics, one in Israel, and one in Palestine: 
Palestine is suffering from proximity to Israeli society that is suffering its own epidemic. The Israeli anti-drug authority estimated there are over 300,000 addicts in the country, including 70,000 teenagers, in a market worth around US $2 billion a year.
I would argue the problem is not one of “proximity”—it is not as though the drugs or drug use were a contagious bug wafting on a gentle breeze, penetrating Jerusalem’s stone fortress castles, or navigating its charming, winding alleys.

These two societies are interconnected, whether they like it or not. Even more importantly, all humanity is interconnected. The fantasy of separateness (even with a wall) is just that: a fantasy (more likely a nightmare).

Every crisis is also an opportunity. In Palestine and Israel, this scourge of heroin addiction offers an opportunity to unite across a difference. This very real public health problem requires solutions here and now. Lives are at stake. We may have to look for solutions outside the box. Now.

Yet we cannot solve the problem in one area without solving the problem in the other. This is a perfect example of how because we are all human, if you, my brother, have a problem, I too have a problem. These neighbors have the same problem. They are interconnected, and the solution is interconnected. 

It may be truly radical for them to start thinking of each other as brothers. Cousins who hate each other, they can barely handle, but brothers? That might be pushing them too far!

(I kid; they’ll deal. I hope.)

Fourth bold, radical statement: The principles that aid recovery and help addicts achieve serenity are exactly the same as those that can bring peace to Israel and Palestine.

What are these principles? Honesty. Open-mindedness. Willingness. Humility. A re-ordering of attitudes and outlooks that comes from a searching and fearless self-examination, taking responsibility for our part in things, right-sizing our perspectives away from hyperbole, away from always seeing ourselves as victims and never looking at what we contribute to a problem or could contribute to a solution. A recognition of and shift of one’s attention to the things we have in common, away from the things that make us different from others, and in particular those we think are out to get us. Another shift of perspective, from what others do that is wrong to what it is they do that is right. We seek freedom from the cycles of gripe and grudge. We are committed to and practice (we are not perfect!) forgiveness and compassion, patience and forbearance, charity and service.

All this may sound grandly selfless, but in the end it can rightly be viewed as selfish, selfish in a good way: helping you helps me, so I have incentive to help you, if I want to stay free of the hell of active addiction. And most who have struggled through one form of addiction or other, like the heroin addicts in East Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, will go to any lengths to maintain the freedom and happiness, the sense of usefulness they get in their recovery grounded in abstinence from the drugs and behaviors that brought them such suffering.

Recovery can be a path to understanding and moving forward for another reason: Each addict who goes through the pain of addiction, the trauma or enslavement to a drug or process addiction, and comes out the others side, shares a kinship with all others who have been through the same or are still struggling. We are survivors of the same shipwreck, as some have said, and a feeling of fellowship can grow up among us because of this very thing. Unlike those putative shipwreck survivors who walk away from the wreckage, the risk for us stays with us, so the fellowship stays alive (and indeed, we need it to stay alive as well). This fellowship is a beautiful thing.

Who could imagine that the terrible suffering of a Palestinian heroin user in East Jerusalem actually could make him a brother to the heroin user in Tel Aviv? Since addicts help each other out as part of recovery (helping others helps us, remember?), this could be the foundation of a new relationship. Imagine: a new way of relating as Palestinians and Israelis, as Arabs and Jews.

I can imagine it. Can you?

It won’t erase everything else, but it is a beginning.

And while that beginning, the change it promises, and challenging the enslavement of addiction is not easy, if we keep our eyes on the prize and hold on, the change is possible.

[Coming Soon, Part II: “Everything Else” — the struggle for freedom from trauma and addiction continues, in the specific social, political, and economic context.] 

* “hir” is a gender-neutral pronoun increasingly being used to avoid using the plural “they” that some people employ in order not to say “him” or “her” when they want to be gender-neutral but still refer to a singular person. For more information, see:,, and


  1. Some would say that you must seek and find a Power Greater (Akbar) than yourself in order to recover.

  2. An article in the NYT presents some perspective on who may become an addict...


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