An Interfaith Psychiatrist Prescription for Middle East Peace

A cease fire is welcome, but a far cry from what we want to achieve—lasting Middle East peace.

Pol Solé/AdobeStock

Pol Solé/AdobeStock


FIRST MAN: We should defend ourselves. An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth.

TEVYE: Very good. And that way, the whole world will be blind and toothless.

- From 1970 script of the play “Fiddler on the Roof” and often attributed to Mohandas Gandhi

“The three ingredients for healing relational wounds are safety, truth, and reconciliation, and in that order.” - Alisha Moreland-Capuia, MD

Achieving peace in the Middle East is a monumental task that seems to be ever evasive, daunting, and out of reach. A cease fire is welcome, but a far cry from what we want to achieve—lasting Middle East peace. The violence is also spilling over into increased conflict between groups in the United States. Muslims and Jews are subject to worrisome degrees of Islamophobia and Anti-Semitism. The Palestinian-Israeli conflict is an extremely complex tangle of issues to resolve, but a solution is possible, and imperative.

Both sides and their supporters need to abandon ultimately futile and self-defeating acts of violence and retaliation. Instead, they must embrace a more comprehensive and humble vision that takes into consideration the historical, geographic, religious, and cultural context of two cousin tribes that have wounded each other over generations. It is like a longstanding family conflict in which family members stop talking to one another and replace talking with hatred, necessitating therapeutic family interventions. Despite the reservations that some psychiatrists have on entering the social conflict sphere, these are, in fact, areas of psychiatric expertise.

As psychiatrists we know group dynamics. We know our tendency to scapegoat “the other”. We know how the powerful can divide and conquer less powerful groups. We know how to analyze leaders. We know the temporary but necessary pain of revealing and processing the truth. We know from Abraham Maslow, PhD’s pyramid of psychological needs that safety and security must be fulfilled before higher levels needs can be completed. We know that often deeper levels of traumatic causation need to be processed and dealt with before healing can meaningfully occur.

This is not a naive proposal by any means, though it may seem so to some. Inevitably, many will disagree with any Middle East analysis. Rather, it is a plea for change because doing the same thing over and over again, expecting different results, is the very definition of insanity. Constantly suspecting each other’s motives has not moved this protracted struggle even an inch out of square zero. As good as prior endeavors were—that is, things could have gotten even worse—they have not been nearly enough.

There are many intricate political and psychosocial dynamics that come into play to make this mission look impossible; however, fighting parties in other parts of the world have managed, for the sake of their children, to reach some kind of compromise that benefits all involved. Children in the blessed land should not continue to pay the price of our ignorance, false pride, and generational bigotry.

As Muslim, Jewish, Christian, Hindu, and Sikh psychiatrists, in a bio-psycho-social-spiritual model we sense this is a moral and spiritual crisis. We support peace among nations, safe and secure homelands, and opportunities for all. This is not at its essence a fight between Muslims and Jews, or between Arabs and Israelis. This is an ideological and practical war that often intentionally feeds cultish misinformation, especially via the internet, which artificially arouses emotions, leading to relieving emotional tension by ever-increasing violence. Peace-loving civilians lose their lives, while extremist groups and fear mongers run rampant.

Unfortunately, the media usually chooses to focus on the negative events occurring in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, and ignores equally dispiriting, yet equally important, inter-ethnic tragedies taking place in places like Kashmir, Myanmar, China, Syria, Yemen, Iraq, and elsewhere around the globe. This disproportionate attention to one particular locale in the Middle East only enflames matters more. It leads the public to believe that this is a unique situation, when it is a tendency of human nature that needs to be overcome everywhere. Despite our paradoxically doing so in this paper, we include other examples and intend to address them more in the future.

Perhaps we can learn and apply a few lessons from countries like South Africa, Rwanda, and Bosnia, where warring tribes have seemingly learned to live together. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission was especially effective in helping to bring South Africa out of apartheid without a bloodbath. 

Big problems get resolved only when broken down into small pieces. The use of dialogue can—and should—start in our households, small intra- and inter-faith circles, and cultural communities. A group of international and interfaith psychiatric caregivers have come together to create a community of care and have produced two requested, well-reviewed books that can be used as tools towards healing: Islamophobia and Psychiatry,1 followed by Anti-Semitism and Psychiatry.2 In the works are books on Christianity and Psychiatry, and Hinduism and Psychiatry.

From these sources, here are some ideal prescriptions to start with:

- Dignity for all, established by working together respectfully for a common end

- Humiliation for none, which means hearing each other out

- Apologies by all, as saying “I’m sorry” and meaning it begins the healing of many wounds

- Gifts to the others, such as sharing assets and promoting each other’s strengths

- Neutral peace-maker(s), or the calling in of trusted third parties, which may ideally need to include mental health experts

- Teaching tolerance to children, both by parents and educators

- Addressing intergenerational trauma, which includes that affecting political decision-makers

Also, as psychiatrists, we know very well that an illness cannot be cured unless we address its root causes, and similarly we have the moral obligation to call for the immediate dismantling of bigoted and violent ideologies, dictatorships, and all structures and systems that support them. They are so damaging to the body, mind, heart, soul, and spirit of so many of the people.

These are simple, though not simplistic, aspirational goals. They are meant as an antidote to the common lament about how complex these situations are, so often leading to excuses about what cannot be done and what cannot be tried. Prayer and mourning must be supplemented with action.

We need a few small steps in addition to this manifesto. Some that could be taken by SPIRIT and like-minded groups include: joint business projects, a student exchange, common textbooks (especially in the early grades), shared vacation spots, media consultation, and joint research. We must look towards innovative and out-of-the-box solutions.

Members of SPIRIT are available for consultation and discussion. We welcome other like- hearted psychiatrists of any religious background, as well as those who are agnostic or atheist, to join our SPIRIT.

Dr Reda is practicing psychiatrist in Providence Healthcare System, Portland, OR. He has provided psychiatric and humanistic care to trauma survivors around the world. Dr Moffic is an award-winning psychiatrist who has specialized in the cultural and ethical aspects of psychiatry. He has recently been leading Tikkun Olam advocacy movements on climate instability, burnout, Islamophobia, and anti-Semitism for a better world. He serves on the Editorial Board of Psychiatric TimesTM. Dr McLean is Clinical Professor and Chair of Psychiatry and Behavioral Science at the University of North Dakota School of Medicine and Health Sciences. Dr Peteet is an associate professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and a Fellowship Site Director for Brigham and Women's Hospital. Dr Seeman is Professor Emerita, Department of Psychiatry, University of Toronto, Toronto, Ontario, Canada. Dr Gogineni is a Professor of Psychiatry at Cooper Medical School of Rowan University. He is active in several national and regional organizations and published and presented on International Medical graduates, culture, religion, family psychiatry, gender issues, etc. Dr Baileyserves as Assistant Dean of Clinical Education at Charles R. Drew University and Chief Medical Officer of Kedren Health Systems Inc. Dr Malhi is Medical Director of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry Clinic and Multidisciplinary Autism Program at ChristianaCare, Delaware. Dr Packer is an assistant clinical professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, New York, NY. Dr Gorman is a psychiatrist, the author of more than 300 peer reviewed papers, founder of Critica, and board member of the Social venture Fund for Arab Jewish Equality in Israel. Dr Levine is Professor Emeritus in Psychiatry at the University of California at San Diego, as well as the author of more than 100 professional articles and 6 books. Dr Gal is interested in exploring the intersection between childhood political trauma with immigration stress. She has been recently offered a full-time research appointment as a Visiting Researcher at Harvard University, in Cambridge, Boston. Dr Hankir is a doctor working in frontline psychiatry for the National Health Service at South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust in the UK. Dr Awaad is a Clinical Associate Professor of psychiatry at the Stanford University School of Medicine where she is the Director of the Stanford Muslim Mental Health & Islamic Psychology Lab, and the Director of its community organization: She also serves as the Associate Division Chief for Public Mental Health and Population Sciences as well as the Section Chief of Diversity and Cultural Mental Health in the Department of Psychiatry and Stanford.


1. Moffic HS, Peteet J, Hankir A, Awaad R. Islamophobia and Psychiatry: Recognition, Prevention, and Treatment. Springer; 2019.

2. Moffic HS, Peteet J, Hankir A, Seeman, M. Anti-Semitism and Psychiatry: Recognition, Prevention, and Interventions. Springer; 2020.

Related Videos
Dune Part 2
new year
© 2024 MJH Life Sciences

All rights reserved.