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Israel & Judaism through a Fresh Lens
Israel & Judaism through a Fresh Lens

The 5 Stages of Middle East Grief

Why so noisy?

Is your newsfeed still buzzing? Mine is. A week after the UNSC Resolution 2334, the American abstention, and the Kerry speech, there is still plenty of freaking out to be seen. No matter where one is on the political spectrum, there is no shortage of emoting.

In an attempt to raise the light and lower the heat, we’ve discussed these issues on two episodes of our podcast. But zooming out a bit, I’d like to meta-reflect on the discussion itself. I’d like to argue for cooler heads prevailing.

I think when discussing the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, people often get stuck somewhere along Elisabeth Kübler-Ross’ model of the five stages of grief. You’ve heard of this idea, that mourners experience denial, anger, bargaining, depression and eventually acceptance as part of a natural process. Much of the posting I see, and discussions I hear, seem to take place somewhere along that process.

Homer goes through faster than most

Who is grieving?

Zionists and Palestinians have an ideal vision of what the state that lies between the Jordan river and Mediterranean sea should look like. But since they live in that area in roughly equal numbers, those ideal concepts have not become reality.

Letting go of that dream is a cause for genuine pain and grief. And while that may be reasonable and normal, it can often lead to discussions that ignore the actual complicated and deeply problematic realities. Those discussions are often anything but reasonable. Let me explain by cutting and pasting from the wikipedia page about the stages, but substituting the relevant examples.


The Five Stages of Middle East Grief:

Denial – In this stage individuals believe the description of the problem is somehow mistaken, and cling to a false, preferable reality. Examples from across the realm of political opinion include -

  • "There are no Palestinians"
  • "There are hardly any Palestinians, the number is inflated"
  • "Jews and Arabs can peacefully live together in a bi-national state"
  • "The Jews aren’t a nation"
  • "Israel is a colonial occupier"

Anger – When the individual recognizes that denial cannot continue, they become frustrated, especially at proximate individuals. Examples from across the realm of political opinion include -

  • "Kerry/Obama hates Jews and Israel"
  • "Netanyahu is a dirt bag"
  • "The media is run by Jews"
  • "The media is run by anti-semites"
  • "The UN stinks and is dysfunctional" (well, to be fair, that one is for sure true)
  • "This UNSC resolution is the worst thing to happen to Jews/Israel"
  • "The right are racists"
  • "No, the leftists are the real racists"
  • "Zionism is racism"

Bargaining – The third stage involves the hope that the individual can avoid a cause of grief. People facing... trauma can bargain or seek compromise. Examples from across the realm of political opinion include -

  • "Let’s have a bi-national state!"
  • "Can’t they move to another Arab country?"
  • "If Israel stops building settlements, then maybe a peace process can move forward"
  • "We are open to negotiations at any time"
  • "If we acknowledge Israel is a state, do we still have to admit that its Jewish?"

Depression – During the fourth stage, the individual despairs at the intractability of a toxic status quo. In this state, the individual may become silent, refuses to be idealistic and .take part in building a healthy future for their state. Examples from across the realm of political opinion include -

  • "This is never going to change"
  • "This conflict will last forever"
  • "A pox on both their houses"
  • "The only sensible option is pessimism"

Acceptance – In this last stage, individuals embrace reality and understand that the status quo will remain unchanged for the foreseeable future. It typically comes with a calm, grounded, perspective for the individual, and a stable condition of emotions. Examples from across the realm of political opinion include -

  • "We have to try to keep from violence and wait for a paradigm change."
  • "The fact that conditions for improvement don’t exist in the near future doesn't mean that success won’t be achieved long term."
  • "We, and other movements, have beaten greater odds in the past."
  • "Optimism is warranted and helpful."
  • "People of good will can disagree on solutions. I’ll explain when I agree or disagree calmly and respectfully."
  • "People suggesting solutions that I think are dumb aren’t the problem. The problem is the problem. Namely, 10 to 12 million people living on a piece of land the size of New Jersey, and each wanting a state on the whole area."
  • "I don’t know what will happen exactly, but if we want our best case outcome to come true, we can work on making it happen."


Whether any of these individual examples are true or false isn’t relevant to my case. What I’m concerned with is whether or not the conversations that include them are helpful and/or enlightening.

Like I said, more light less heat.


Ehud Olmert never recieved a response from Mahmoud Abbas to his proposal.  

Note: Many thanks to my excellent class at Midreshet Emunah V'Omanut for helping me develop these ideas. 

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