JERUSALEM, ISRAEL - FEBRUARY 04:  Palastinians...
JERUSALEM, ISRAEL - FEBRUARY 04: Palastinians pray in the street as Israeli police restrict Palestinian access to Friday Prayers at the old city on February 4, 2011 in Jerusalem, Israel. Fears that the Egyptian uprising might incite riots in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict today prompted Jerusalem police to restrict access to Friday Prayers on the Temple Mount. Following intelligence information that Fatah and Hamas organisations were planning demonstrations in support of and protest at the downfall of the Egyptian regime, the police decided they would only allow worshippers over the age of 50, who had an Israeli ID card, to enter the Temple Mount. (Image credit: Getty Images via @daylife)


While this article series is primarily concerned with explaining militant martyrdom among Palestinian males, it must be noted and was previously alluded to, that harsh conditions existed years prior to the first incident of militant martyrdom. As stated previously, the Palestinian Authority’s martyrdom campaign has explanatory power here. The ES-FT model explains it in the following manner. Palestinians, prior to the martyrdom campaign, where in a positive ego strength state. ES-FT’s suggestion that Palestinians, while exhibiting positive ego strength state in a frustrating environment, would have a tendency toward militancy, but not militant martyrdom. Support for this can be found in the relative lack of martyrdom acts throughout their history prior to the mass martyrdom campaign initiated in 2001, and the subsequent significant rise in attacks. Drawing on the psychoanalytic concept of projection, this author hypothesizes that Palestinians where able to maintain a strong sense of self by projecting their internal and external frustrations onto their oppressors, the Israelis. However, with the launch of the martyrdom campaign, Palestinians were being told that their lives were worthless unless they engaged in militant martyrdom. Previously, their lives had worth if they fought and lived to fight another day. This created a state of emotional dissonance and a psychological re-awakening to inter-group frustrations and abuses. This re-awakening has resulted in a reassessment of their self-identity, self-worth, and self-determination and caused a move toward the negative pole of the positive-negative ego strength continuum. However, the motives for engaging in militant martyrdom may certainly be different for the individual than for the group, as a whole, that promotes it.
Winkates (2006) confirms that there is a distinction of motivation between the militant martyr, himself, and the sponsoring group. He suggests that national interests, in which case suicide bombings might be seen simply as a means to an end, motivate the sponsoring organization. Additionally, he describes the martyr as being spurred on by a combination of psychological, religious, and social motives. Further, the reviewed literature does indeed point directly to psychological distress, including an inhibited sense of self, as a major contributor to the development of militant martyrs. More importantly, it points to psychological victimization by both the Israelis and the Palestinian directly as the source of this distress and subsequent culture of martyrdom.
While the frustration-aggression theory serves as a plausible explanation for militant martyrdom at the societal level, it does not account for the individual. Contrarily, the toll that systemic psychological victimization takes on the individual does serve as an explanation for the individual’s motivation. The proposed ego strength-frustration tendencies (ES-FT) model brings these two arenas together by offering a novel way of framing the on-going Palestinian-Israeli conflict. This new model acknowledges the interaction between internal psychological factors of the individual and environmental shortcomings and predicts the likely consequences for the individual. Other models seemingly ignore the plight of the individual for that of the society.
ES-FT holds both sides of the conflict responsible, while suggesting specific areas for each side to address. It does this by highlighting where the Palestinians and Israelis are falling short in resolving the contributing environmental conditions (e.g., misogynistic practices on the part of the Palestinians and ongoing humiliation of Palestinians on the part of the Israelis). The strength of this model lies in its synergistic view of the social and psychological conditions existing in the Territories. While most prevailing theories have focused on the social, religious, or economic conditions, psychological explanations have been given little weight. Although the psychology of martyrdom has not been totally ignored, when compared to the “bigger concerns” of economics, religion, and education there has been relatively little synthesis of the psychological issues into “big picture” models. This is where the ES-FT model sets itself apart.                 
In the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, such a theory allows both parties a means of reassessing their current actions, current motivations, desired outcomes, and opportunities for collaboration. From a mental health standpoint, this theory warrants the provider with an outline, similar to current treatments for abused persons, for working with individuals belonging to a martyrdom culture. Prior models failed to provide this kind of guidance, leaving mental health professionals without a viable, practical, and consistent means of conceptualizing these individuals. This meant that adequate treatment options were difficult, if not impossible, to construct. ES-FT helps replace the image of a murderous, abhorrent perpetrator of mass atrocities with that of a human being, with human needs and human frailties. With this picture in mind, the provider can focus on the causes of the potential martyr’s frustration and distress, without getting lost in his repugnant actions.
The ES-FT framework proposed by this author offers several advantages over frustration-aggression theory alone. First, it allows for a more complete understanding of the psychological impact of the conditions within the Palestinian Territories that have given rise to militant martyrdom. With this new understanding, mental health professionals can devise treatments at the individual and group level to help resolve some of the psychological ailments faced after enduring systemic victimization. A second advantage is that, while frustration-aggression theory implies the need to address the issue at a societal level, ES-FT opens the door for treating individuals. This is of particular importance because of the difficulty of developing large-scale treatments. Further, if the frustration is caused by an external group, such as a nation believing it is acting in its own best interest, it may prove more effective to focus on individuals than attempting to convince the frustrator to act contrary to their self-interest.
Research has shown that educating traditionally uneducated populations, including those in authoritarian environments, leads to more abstract, flexible, and independent thinking (Burdman, 2003). This could prove useful in counteracting the indoctrination of a culture of active martyrdom. Further, systematic psychological de-conditioning programs could be used to counteract the obvious conditioning of individuals from oppressive, frustrating environments.
Taking the Palestinian conflict as an example, recent research indicates that 73 percent of 6 to 11-year olds suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD (Burdman, 2003). This is a staggering statistic and has profound implications. According to Burdman, "traumatic experiences lead to increased neuroticism, high risk-taking behavior and low self-esteem which ... could be a contributing factor to self-destructive behaviors, including suicide missions" (p. 114). The violence must be stopped and treatment on an individual and societal level must begin. Mental health providers must take an active role in the developing of appropriate treatment programs.
Finally, all nations must be willing to evaluate their own policies and interactions around the world. They must be willing to ascertain what role they are playing or have played that has led to a cultivation of a culture of militant martyrdom in various places across the world. They must remember the history of the world to promote tolerance and peace in the present and future. ES-FT can help facilitate this change by altering the mainstream conceptualizations of what is happening in Palestine, which may be generalizing abilities, and offering clinical treatment and prevention recommendations.
The issue of martyrdom is a complicated one and its implications can be extremely troubling. The most profound and devastating implications of martyrdom can be found in militant ­martyrdom. Such implications will prove and have already proven difficult to address, as they know no geopolitical, cultural, religious, or socio-economical boundaries as indicated by the September 11 attacks on the United States and the long line of preceding and following suicide ­killings around the world.
To effectively eliminate these activities will take exceptional effort, time, and de-programming. The ES-FT model may not be sufficient in identifying the many factors that impact the development of martyrdom cultures. However, it provides a new way of approaching the subject. Whatever the costs, the cycle of violence must be broken. Society must find a means other than violence to bring about lasting change. Issues of poverty and lack of education must be addressed. In particular, fundamentalist environments that are oppressive must learn tolerance and allow for dissention. As Burdman (2003), citing a Palestinian psychiatrist, writes regarding the participation of Palestinian children in the 1988 intifada in the Palestinian-Israeli disputed areas,
Children were rebelling not only against the 'invading Israeli army,' but also by displacing onto the Israelis their unacceptable expression of anger at adverse circumstances of their lives (the behavior of angry exhausted fathers, teachers who were strict disciplinarians, and in Gaza, an Islamic culture whose traditions and divine rules demand absolute compliance). In effect, it may be that they were rebelling against all forms of imposed authority, including that of family and teacher, but displacing their buried anger onto socially legitimate foci, namely the occupying force. (p. 109)

This is of extreme importance to countries who find themselves the focus of martyrdom-groups as it provides for a deeper understanding of the attackers' motivation.
An exploration of the psychosocial conditions among wealthy, better-educated Palestinians is an area for additional research. According to Moghadam (2003), many martyrs come from wealthy families. It will be interesting to see how the ego strength-frustration tendencies model applies to this demographic. An initial hypothesis is that they experience similar, albeit different, levels of frustration and psychological victimization. Based on this assumption, ES-FT predicts there will be a tendency toward militant martyrdom for this demographic as well.
Also of interest is the ES-FT model’s utility in explaining militant martyrdom in other areas of the world. If, use of the ES-FT model proves fruitful in this effort, it will allow many of the same benefits it brings to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Finally, future research should look at this model’s ability to accurately describe and predict the development of whole cultures of militant martyrdom. The ability to predict such a development will provide an invaluable avenue for preventive interventions.

This article is authored by Jerry D. Smith Jr., Psy.D., Clinical Psychologist and CEO at Breakthrough Psychological Solutions, PLLC.

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