Lara Sheehi and Stephen Sheehi, Psychoanalysis Under Occupation: Practicing Resistance in Palestine (Routledge, 2022).

Jadaliyya (J): What made you write this book? 

Lara Sheehi and Stephen Sheehi (LS & SS): Psychoanalysis Under Occupation emerged out of our engagement in psychoanalytic clinical and academic spaces as a clinician and cultural theorist who have always centered the Palestinian will to live and to resist settler-colonial violence and, what we call in this book, colonial reality-bending. Despite the undeniable ferocity of the settler state over the past decade (and specifically against Palestinians and Lebanese in 2006, 2008, and 2014, among others) and the intensification of the settler project in the illegally occupied territories (including Jerusalem), we continued to be struck by the refusal of so many in our fields and the public at large to recognize the intentionality of the psychological and physical violence committed by the state now known as Israel. This inability to acknowledge basic political and social realities was mirrored in the gaping absence in acknowledging Palestinian and Arab psychoanalytic work in scholarship, theory, and practice throughout Palestine, especially work that eschews positioning the Palestinians only as anonymous helpless victims of a de-identified and contextless “armed conflict.” We call attention to how this non-coincidental and glaring oversight resulted in a myriad of political, professional, and theoretical “disavowals” and “foreclosures” that we have termed psychoanalytic innocence. In this regard, the book, more technically speaking, was a response to a call for “dialogue” between “the two sides,” especially in psychoanalytic spaces, conferences, and exchanges. We highlight how these examples are one more form of extending the Zionist enclosure regime, robbing Palestinians of their subjectivity, and naturalizing settler colonialism in Palestine. In recognizing the psychic violence of “dialogue initiatives”—so many of which have been organized specifically by psychological and psychoanalytic groups—we were drawn into a community of Palestinian clinicians that allowed us to both witness and imagine what a decolonial psychoanalytic practice and theory actually looks like on the ground in Palestine.

J: What particular topics, issues, and literatures does the book address?

LS & SS: Psychoanalysis Under Occupation adopts a two-pronged approach. On the one hand, we read the occupation of Palestine and Israeli apartheid through a psychoanalytic prism, considering the profound psychic violence Zionist settler colonialism intends to inflict upon Palestinians, individually and collectively. In doing so, we lay bare settler-colonial violence as well as validate and normalize the cultural, social, and individual ways that Palestinians reject structural and psychological configurations that would lead to erasure. On the other hand, and perhaps more importantly, we explore how psychoanalytically oriented Palestinian clinicians see their own practice as a form of resistance, collusion, collaboration, and/or metabolization of settler-colonial violence. In this way, alongside Palestinian clinicians, we think through how psychoanalysis can be a mechanism for social and political mobilization that by its very practice seeks to liberate the patient and clinician.

More specifically, the book centers Palestinian mental health clinicians and their will to forge liberatory spaces within their clinics as readily as in their communities. By decentering settler-colonial logics and narratives, the book takes up an indigenous Palestinian psychoanalysis and the varied clinical networks—what we call the psychotherapeutic commons—that have been built. We see these commons as one of many methods of engaging in the communal practice of sumud (stalwartness) and the politics of refusal across Palestine.

J: How does this book connect to and/or depart from your previous work?

LS & SS: Our work has always been interested in colonialism, racism, capitalist modernity, and what would now be called issues of indigeneity. We both have also been lifelong anti-war, social justice, and Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) activists. Despite these commonalities, this book marks a turn in both of our scholarship and methodologies. Namely, the book is our first co-written monograph. While the process of co-writing a book is new to us, perhaps most importantly, what is also new (to the writing process, not to our politics!) is the unbending commitment to a feminist, decolonial methodology that emerged through community building and communal action with decolonial groups, activists, clinicians, and academics in Palestine, in South Africa, and in the United States.

J: Who do you hope will read this book, and what sort of impact would you like it to have?

LS & SS: Anyone interested in the decolonial struggle and how Palestine is central to this process would be an ideal reader. While the book discusses psychoanalysis and clinicians, it has relevance beyond psychology, as it highlights how the psychic violence inflicted by settler-colonial logics is also countered by a greater force: the revolutionary will for liberation and self-determination of oppressed peoples, especially in the settler colony. We hope that the book not only communicates our own militancy in this struggle but, more importantly, unrelentingly represents, uplifts, and amplifies not only a vibrant and long-standing Palestinian clinical scene, but also the real-time making of Palestinian life-worlds.

J: What other projects are you working on now?

LS & SS: Since we are committed to anti-extractive research, our shared interest in the liberation of Palestine and decolonial psychoanalysis continues in a number of scholarly and activist projects in settler colonies known as the United States, South Africa and, of course, Palestine. Individually, in the meantime, Stephen is pursuing two research projects: The People’s History of the Maronites and, more relevant to this book, The Decolonial Now: What Arabs Teach Us About Decoloniality. In this latter project, he examines the ways activists and militants, whether in Palestine, Egypt, Sudan, Tunisia, or Lebanon, build on, expand, and enact anti-colonial and revolutionary principles taught to us by our militant elders and ancestors, despite the crushing counter-revolutions of reactionary regimes.

Lara is working on a book that takes up a radical approach to psychoanalytic technique, tentatively titled Toward an Anti-Oppressive Psychoanalytic Praxis. Against the backdrop of the global sociopolitical climate, she makes the case that it is even more urgent that psychoanalytic practitioners reimagine clinical practice that reflects an ethical commitment to liberation struggles and eradicating all oppression. In considering Frantz Fanon and the work of decolonial psychologists (particularly from South Africa), she considers how non-normative psychoanalytic technique is crucial to resist the hegemony of Eurocentric practice that works in service of white supremacy and capitalist exploitation. The research pays special attention to racial traumas, how we even conceive of ability/debility, and how clinicians can be, to parse Althusser, ideological-state psychologists.

J: Who are the clinicians in your book and what is the most important thing to know about them? 

LS & SS: The Palestinian clinicians featured in the book hail from all parts of Palestine (Jerusalem, Haifa, Shefa Amr, Nazareth, Ramallah, and Bethlehem, to mention a few places) and work in their practices with an array of mental health, political, and social issues, many of which are shared and a few particular to their locality. What they and their patients experience, in one form or another, are explicit and subtle pressures of what we have called “colonial extractive introjections.” That is, psychotherapy and psychoanalysis often target “healthy” reactions and behaviors of Palestinians to fundamentally abnormal, systemic social and political conditions. Despite this, Palestinian clinicians consistently defy these pressures and work toward social, political, and psychological attunement with their patients, their colleagues, and themselves. They do this by recognizing apartheid and settler colonialism as a violent structure and by working towards, in Fanon’s words, disalienation, and “conscientization”, in Martìn-Baro’s words. Both these processes work to enact a full sense of themselves the clinical space and on the street. Therefore, Palestinian clinical practice is in a constant battle to work to personal and collective disalienation and self-realization under and against settler colonialism.

Perhaps more simply put, we show how Palestinian clinicians depathologize the will to live, the will to be liberated, and the will to return to one’s own ancestral homeland; namely, the will to live as a Palestinian. Part of the depathologization is understanding Palestinians as willful subjects, following Sara Ahmed, as well as to understand ways in which Palestinians are invited and often conscripted to collaborate with certain forms of humanism that psychoanalysis presents as universal and apolitical, or beyond politics. In this regard, Palestinian clinicians show us how they can “hold” both the ever-present and intentionally debilitating violence of the settler project, as Jasbir Puar has shown, for example, but also “livability,” as Nadera Shalhoub-Kevorkian has taught us. This willfulness undergirds Palestinian daily life, struggle, suffering, happiness, and being. In Psychoanalysis Under Occupation, we witness how the affirmation of Palestinian selfhood and experiences through clinical practice and theory functions to stave off colonial extractive introjections and disrupt the logics of settler colonialism under which Palestinian clinicians live and practice.

Finally, though some, including the most well-intended NGOs, might have us approach Palestinian clinical practice as disaggregated, and Israeli settler colonial logic works to have us understand Palestine as fragmented, Palestinian clinicians throughout historic Palestine teach us something quite different: how Palestinian clinicians reflect particular material and social realities that tend to be disavowed by settler colonial power and its accomplices. The networks of clinicians and Palestinian-run clinics and centers together result not only in sharing and producing an indigenous-based knowledge, but also disrupt claims to settler colonial legitimacy and sovereignty by defying the settler colonial enclosure regime. In other words, the network of clinical practices, their relationship with one another, their own life experiences, choices, histories, and trajectories, demonstrate that Palestine is not historic or a future entity but rather is real and present from the River to the Sea.


Excerpt from the book (from Chapter 3, pp. 142-145)

Dialogue as Extractive Introjection

Rana Nashashibi, in a moving sentiment, highlighted for us, “I was in dialogue [groups after Oslo] to such a degree to some point, that I ended up feeling like a masochist. You end up feeling like an instrument, an empty block that the other is reflecting onto, dumping onto us, to free their conscience. I stopped at the end of the 90s. No matter what, dialogue will not change reality.”

Rana reiterates the sentiment that we heard a number of times, not the least of which was at the restaurant in Haifa. Dialogue serves to yaghasil al-damir (wash the conscience) for the settler. If the right of return and land-back to Palestinians, statehood, national dignity, and repair were the goal, certainly taghsil al-damir for Israelis may be a fair exchange. Instead, Nashashibi unambiguously articulates something that we have expounded on in this chapter: the splitting that dialogue demands (i.e., a self-effacing identification with the aggressor) facilitates an extractive and violent process of introjections.

Rana tells us she felt like a masochist. The effect she is describing is part of the psychological dynamics of extraction, submitting herself to violence in order to elevate the suffering Israeli. Both Rana’s experience (being required to be a “masochist” and an “empty block”) and other clinicians’ observations (regarding the “symptom as sumud”) alert us that the fantasy of “mutual recognition” is not only a psychic extension of occupation, but it facilitates a theft—theft as a process which lays at the foundation of settler-colonial systems. Like our friends at the restaurant in Haifa (who feel they are empty after every dialogue) and our friends in Ramallah, Rana detects that she is required to both accept the Israeli introjection and also that this introjection is extractive. What is being “extracted” in this introjection is the very right to psychological, political, and material defenses (what Ussama [a Palestinian clinician in Ramallah] specifically names when he says sumud), but also the discrete willfulness of the autonomous indigenous self.

The Palestinian is extracted from the masochistic “good Arab.” Christopher Bollas calls this an “extractive introjection.” Starting with Kleinian theory, Bollas explains that projective identification occurs within the process of splitting and “compels another to ‘carry’ an unwanted part of himself.” In The Shadow of the Object, he states that “Kleinian psychoanalysts, in particular, have focused on one way in which a person may rid himself of a particular element of psychic life,” that is, introjections. “In studying human relations, whenever we note that one person compels another to ‘carry’ an unwanted portion of himself, then we speak of ‘projective identification’.” He continues to tell us that “‘extractive introjection’ occurs when one-person steals…an element of another individual’s psychic life.”

Bollas is brief but clear in defining this. “Such an intersubjective violence takes place when the violator…automatically assumes that the violated…has no internal experience of the psychic element that [the violator] represents.” This is clear in the analysis that assumes Palestinians, like the colonized in general, have no complex or nuanced internal world. Indeed, the logic of dialogue shares the logic of settler colonialism because it operates on the assumption that a willful Palestinian (one who demands return, their land, their dignity, and their liberation) is engaging in paranoid schizoid functioning, which is evidence of psychic struggle.

Rana is naming the violence of settler colonialism, distilled into the dialogue-space. She and her identity are being replaced. Her identity, like her land, is stolen. But more than this, the pain of the Palestinians is stolen by the Israelis who claim it as their own. They are the aggrieved. In Bollas’ words, “this means not only a loss of content, function, and process, but also a loss of one’s sense of one’s own person. A loss of this nature constitutes a deconstruction of one’s history; the loss of one’s personal history is a catastrophe, from which there may be no recovery.”

When our clinician friends are asked to befriend the “good Israeli” and parse them from the “bad solider” or when they are asked to prioritize the vulnerability of “good Israelis,” the right to anger, to defiance, and to self-dignity is being extracted. But extractive introjections are not just about invalidation. Rather, dialogue initiatives replicate settler-colonial processes themselves in that they affectively replace the native with the settler, as well.

The extractive introjection that transpires through dialogue facilitates the settler to “steal” the constitutive organizing feature of Palestinian psychic and material reality, namely, that they are the indigenous inhabitants of Palestine who have been subjected to sustained violence and disenfranchisement by their “partner in dialogue.” The extractive introjection steals the psychic, historical, and material experiences of the Palestinians, which serve to protect and define a besieged ego. But also, the Israeli occupies the space of the aggrieved. The Zionist settler, under the pretense of being an “equal” (not a conqueror), “invades” the Palestinian’s “psychic territory” not only in order to “deposit an unwanted part of himself, as in projective identification, but in some respect, he also takes something.”

Rana felt the effect of extractive introjections when she realized that she was being asked, time and again, to be a masochist. Clinicians in Haifa and Ramallah felt the effect of extractive introjections when they referred to taghsil al-damir or felt vacated and empty after leaving a discussion with their Israeli counterparts. Jabr feels that the Israelis suck all the air out in the room, leaving Palestinians to choke. The veteran leftwing clinician understands the effect of extractive introjection when the friendship with the “Good Israeli” is answered with how vulnerable they, Israelis, are in the face of right-wing Zionists. The extractive introjections occur in dialogue because the Palestinian “carries” both the individual and the collective responsibility for their culpability of existence, their resistance, and their desire.

We must not look far to hear Israelis themselves illustrate the process, most famously, for example, by Golda Meir. When confronted by the prospect of “peace,” she states that peace “will be harder for us to forgive them (Palestinians) for having forced us to kill their sons.” For “dialogue” to “work,” it is the Palestinians who must realize that they made the Israelis shoot, made them torture, and made the besieged, native Israeli sabra suffer at the hands of the generic Arab. The fantasy of the psychoanalytic innocence of dialogue imagines a world where the reality principle bends: where Palestinians are victimizers and Israeli Jews are the native; where a “good Arab” is guilty but contrite, and Israeli Jews have the benevolence to forgive them for living in Palestine among bad Palestinian insurgents.

Sumud and Refusing to be an Object of Peace 

We have marked in this chapter the ways in which psychoanalysis collaborates with systems of power, in this case, Zionist settler colonialism in Palestine, by intervening with dialogue initiatives that are misattuned to the violence that structures settler colonialism and occupation. We have seen how theories of dialogue produce “good Arabs” in the hope of expelling “bad Palestinians.” In the process, psychoanalysis, especially through dialogue initiatives, extends the closure system of Israeli apartheid in seeking to dismember the Palestinian individual and healthy subject, cleaving them from their community (and their land). We do not doubt or minimize the power of colonial introjects as instituted by dialogue initiatives or the ways in which Israel seeks to conscript consensual partners in its domination of Palestine and Palestinians. Considering the work of Shalhoub-Kevorkian, Giacaman, Said Shehadeh, Puar, and Barber, we acknowledge the varying degree of successes of Israel in creating “broken Palestinians.”

We have shown not only how the misappropriation of the Kleinian concept of “splitting” replicates the logic of settler colonialism, but also that dialogue, in fact, maneuvers the Palestinian into paranoid-schizoid functioning that facilitates extractive introjections that seek to permit the occupation of the Palestinian psychic position by the Israeli partner in dialogue.

Neither this chapter nor the scope of the book allows us to flesh out the many facets of the “politics of Palestinian refusal” to the degree to which it is relevant, especially in the context of settler colonialism in Palestine. If dialogue seeks to negate Palestinian desire, willfulness and autonomous selfhood, Palestinian refusal, the affirmative willful disobedience to succumb is an assertion of psychological and public health. It enacts a subjective desire for self-affirmation, reality testing, and identification with one’s healthy cathected internal objects (whether that be social, communal, or familial), which are all expressed in the desire for dignity in refusing to collaborate and accept the colonial introjection.

We have seen in this chapter how psychoanalytic innocence at the heart of dialogue initiatives pathologizes the politics of refusal—that is, the insistence of saying “no” to dialogue, no to nonviolence, and no to settler-colonial fantasy. The remainder of this chapter will focus on how Palestinians refuse dialogue but, more importantly, refuse to reject the reality principle. It must be said that, despite the logic of the settler-colonial state and despite the international campaign to foster “dialogue” that creates equal “individuals” under colonial sovereignty, Palestinian clinicians, by and large, have rejected the wager offered by psychoanalytic innocence to enter into settler-colonial humanity at the expense of dismembering their communities and allowing their internal worlds to be robbed, as had their land and national independence.

Zionist settler colonialism, for all of this violence, has failed to manifest its own myths and project them into the psyche of the Palestinians; that is, no political machinations or extortions have succeeded in making Israelis appear as anything other than the occupier, oppressor, and settler.