After reading the comments on the PCCA-website, recently, on the Cyprus conference, June 2010, “Repeating, Reflecting, Moving on: Germans, Jews, Israelis, Palestinians and Others today”, I found myself reflecting on them and not getting away from it. Therefore, encouraged by Veronica Grueneisen, to whom I talked about it occasionally, I would like to add some of my ideas about the development of this conference. Also Angelika Zitzelberger-Schlez, who I met by chance in the same time here in Berlin and being so much involved, asked her for her opinion, encouraged me to do so, she hoped for more discussion, but had a different view of the things than the one I pronounced.
First of all, in order to make clear, what I am writing about, I will describe, what I mean with “Central Event”. It is an event that occurred during the System Event, during an intergroup meeting between the German group and a delegation of the Israeli group on initiative of the German group.
Wolfgang M. Roth, in his newsletter- contribution, calls it “the central experience”, Miri Tsadok says that …”a terrifying drama of attack was reenacted….” and Gisela Zemsch writes about a “specific situation” and says:….” what had been a slight, but not serious uncertainty and concern, but nevertheless friendly and polite encounter switched into an aggressive, disturbed, mismatched and confused group situation”.
I call it the “central event” because for me, there are signs of enactment, signs of an unconscious group fantasy, that exerts its gyroscopic function (J. Sandler).
I indeed have another idea about this “central event”, than my colleagues, and I also remember it somehow different from the three publishing participants. Probably there is always a subjective part in the way one looks at and understands such an event.
I will start much earlier than with the System event groups, namely with the first large study group of the conference where the actual political events, the Israelis stopping the boats that had left from Cyprus to bring provisions to the Gaza, killing eight people, had happened just the day before. Mira Erlich-Ginor, the Israeli conference co-director, expressed her shame and also her fear for her home country. Already in this large study group, there was a heavy denial – Mira had pointed out that somebody was missing, there was an empty chair, and also, that at least one person in the room knew about it, and some of us would not see an empty chair, would say no, nobody is missing, and the one person did not say anything. Mira talked about the possibility to be driven crazy, if you notice something true and say it and nobody will take it up as true, or even everybody negates it. The missing person was the German man, who later on made the remark that is taken up by the three colleagues as cited above. He fell ill and had to go to the doctor and be medicated in order to be able to continue to be present in the conference.
The other person falling ill was a staff member, the Palestinian staff member Adib Jarrar, who could not stay with the conference except for the opening plenary and had to be treated in hospital.
We nearly did not talk about these events.
We also did not really talk about the fact, that we were many, many Germans, much less Iraelis, some Palestinians, though none from the Gaza or Westbank, but all living in Israel and/or owners of an Israeli passport, and very few Others.
Most of the Palestinians were really young people, whereas in the other national groups there were not so many youngsters.
When we divided in the System Event in National groups, there was the denial again: the idea was, that it was shaped in the conference that way, misunderstanding an announcement of the staff on the message board.
Now my impressions of the System Event:
I felt the German group as being very chaotic, disorganized, splitting into two groups in the beginning (the consultants helped us not to stay split), and being unable to come to terms with any structure whatsoever. I felt despair with my group, I became very impatient, and in the same time I did not want to give up the group, as I felt, it was my people. I found for myself the way to go, with permission of the group, to visit the other groups and the staff as an observer, and this became a very interesting journey.
The Israeli group, I felt, was in a depressive, nearly paralyzed mood, another version of being stuck than the German group. The Others were nearly not there, I think, some of them joined the Israelis and there were only a few left, they were somewhere, but not in their place, when I looked for them. Only the Palestinians, a vivid young group, discussed with enthusiasm a staff message, they spoke in their language and stayed with it, while I visited, politely asking whether it disturbed me, it did not, I said, it sounded like music in my ears. They were discussing the staff message, I could follow so far, because they cited the message in English.
I visited the staff just after the German participant who acted as a plenipotentiary had left, and the staff discussed about his visit, seeing some more liveliness and hope expressed by his visit, having the idea that the German group became more alive.
I came back to my group, the German group, just in time for the intergroup-meeting with the Israeli delegates.
That means, I believe, that I was a little bit “outside” in a way, I was on my own and I felt more or less o.k. with it.
While I wrote this text, I asked some of my German colleagues to help me remember what happened then, because all that I remembered of the beginning of the intergroup meeting, was the tense atmosphere and this overall feeling of being stuck; my colleagues (Thea Wittmann and Alfred Bringmann answered to my question) also did not remember much more of this part. But it became clear that there was no preparation made to talk about the Armenian genocide, and that this talk came quite at the end of the meeting.
Now, when this “central event” occurred, that is, when the German colleague began to speak about the Armenian genocide, I heard him as if he wanted to open a space to think together, maybe about collective cruelties; about the situation in which these cruelties occur; in a way, as if he had maybe a hypothesis in his mind.
I realize of course, that this might be also a projection of my own ideas or hope. And I suppose, that the ideas of Gisela Zemsch, Miri Tsadok and Martin Roth about the German colleague’s intentions are also influenced by their own very personal way of understanding the situation.
I did not hear his remark as a reproach, and also not as an interrogation. For my ears, the German colleague tried to think in a very tense situation.
It was then as if finally the tension existing between the two groups (may be between all the groups) had found an aim, a reason to explode and this explosion went on without any chance to be stopped, like a chain reaction. In my view, the “central event” was an enactment, in which the perpetrator-victim relationship was reinstalled. There was not the slightest moment of possibility to reflect, it was a lot of immediate reaction and impulsiveness.
Maybe the unconscious fantasy was, that, when desire to meet and sexuality arouse in the group, it would be destructive instead of fertile and that there was no way to escape from this.
As far as I remember and recall by reading now, also the German colleague’s excuse (he had said something like “if you felt attacked by me, I am very sorry about this, I really didn’t mean to attack”) has not been heard. However, this excuse was later on, I think, in the following large study group or, maybe in the closing plenary system event.