The Road to Psychoanalysis Runs Through Jerusalem

By Lara Sheehi

Banksy graffiti

The seedlings of this essay began to take root at last year’s Division 39 (2015) conference in San Francisco. Sitting in the audience of “Manifesto Fest,” I listened intently to a wonderfully vibrant panel of psychoanalytic manifestos, yet found myself aching to claim a voice that could be heard, a voice that might challenge, incite us to think beyond what I experience as poignant and specific, but still unspoken ideological barriers. I left the panel excited about the new panel medium I had witnessed. I also left in solemn self-reflection about what I felt were my political-ethical obligations and a deeper question as to why and how I betrayed them.

Later, at the same conference, I presented, for the first time, on a panel expressly related to my Arabness. Alongside a fellow Arab woman clinician, we spoke under the title, “Psychoanalyzing while Arab: On Terror and Apparition.” The response to our topic, our papers, and our presence was overwhelmingly positive. Yet, the tension, the anxiety, and the conflict around Palestine was rife. I, again, left the room feeling as though something very meaningful had transpired in that space. And, again, I left with a somber self-reflection about my role and my responsibilities as an Arab woman and Arab psychologist in a post-9/11 United States, at this particular sociopolitical time in the world. I realized that I had both made an intervention and missed out on an instance in which I could have made an intervention.

In this vein, when I was invited to participate in another iteration of “Manifesto Fest,” this time at the Psychology and the Other conference in Cambridge (2015), I committed myself wholeheartedly to recuperate the space for intervention. I view this manifesto, therefore, true to the political nature of the medium itself, and, as an obligation, an ethical imperative. After too many years of silence, I seize the privileges of this manifesto as an amplifier to have our Arab voices, female Arab voices, female Arab psychologist voices, be heard in Psychoanalysis. I seize the privileges as an amplifier to have Palestine be heard in Psychoanalysis.

Not surprisingly, immediate enactments materialized with this articulation. The first enactment came in the “Psychoanalyzing While Arab” panel in which I participated in San Francisco. An older male colleague in the audience claimed that my talk had just expressed a political agenda and how “this is not Psychoanalysis.” It is just a viewpoint, an insidious stance I was taking to further propagate my perverse politics, divorced of psychoanalytic theory or practice. The second enactment was directly related to the manifesto below. Our guidelines for the manifesto, loosely paraphrased, were simple: write a manifesto about/for Psychoanalysis. Show your passion and your soul for Psychoanalysis in the ways that ring most true to you. That’s all. No further guidelines, no parameters, no restrictions. Yet, as soon as I had sent my manifesto to the group, a smoldering tension, which I have come to intuit with any mention of Palestine, abruptly made itself visible. The space that was so welcoming to all my co-panelists’ manifestos, closed upon me. I was explicitly asked to alter the content of my manifesto, as, “this is not psychoanalysis.” I respectfully declined to do so.

The Road to Psychoanalysis Runs Through Jerusalem

Let’s liberate Palestine with Psychoanalysis.

This is the “one-liner” that I so passionately wanted to blurt out when I was last an audience member listening to these wonderful manifestos. We were invited to share our one-sentence-manifestos and every fiber in my being wanted to raise my fist in the air and proclaim, “Liberate Palestine with Psychoanalysis!” Then that thing called the reality principle sunk in and I found myself having fantasies (or memories?) of disapproving stares and exasperated sighs because I had spoken the unspeakable, shattering the victorious psychoanalytic soldier’s celebration for the defeat of the dreaded CBTers.

But, today, I am here to say, this is my reality principle: let’s liberate Palestine with Psychoanalysis.

In her autobiography Living my Life, Emma Goldman who had attended one of Freud’s lectures stated, “His simplicity and earnestness and the brilliance of his mind combined to give one the feeling of being led out of a dark cellar into broad daylight. For the first time I grasped the full significance of sex repression and its effect on human thought and action. He helped me to understand myself, my own needs…” (p. 173). Emma Goldman was, at that time, already a renowned radical feminist and anarchist leader, a revolutionary woman involved in activism that spanned the social justice spectrum—and she quoted Freud. Freud, as a metonymy for psychoanalysis, was firmly and unabashedly sociopolitical in his cultural relevance.Freud, Adler, Abraham, Ferenczi, Reich, the list goes on—they all had sociopolitical and cultural relevance.
We have strayed in Psychoanalysis.

In The Politics of Experience, R.D. Lang states, “We are effectively destroying ourselves with violence masquerading as love.” This is one of the ways in which we fortify the split between the clinic and activism/politics, and move forward in destroying the potential for a revolutionary psychoanalysis, a psychoanalysis far more true to its origins. In the name of “love” we collude with reactionary societal undercurrents, retract from taking ethical stances toward global injustices, disavow our responsibility in offering insight into the workings of political strife, defend against naming blatant oppression. We sit in the audience, afraid of proclaiming, “Liberate Palestine,” and instead survey the room wondering who will oppose us, who will alienate us. We deny an integral element and responsibility of our clinical identities as social activists and advocates in our decidedly sociopolitical work.

I am owning my momentary disavowal today; I am reclaiming our origins; I am refusing the collusion and the violence deployed in the name of love. Let’s liberate Palestine with Psychoanalysis.

Some will inevitably say this is a tall order; some will say it’s impossible; others will say, “what does psychoanalysis have to do with Palestine?” Still others will proclaim, keep politics out, keep this, anything but this, keep it separated, it’s not our place, your place, my place, not our space, not our method, not our cause, not our struggle. This is social commentary, not Psychoanalysis. This is a political agenda, not psychoanalysis. And isn’t liberation an assumption, assuming there is something to actually be liberated? Palestine surely is not one of those things. Surely The Wall can’t be torn down by Psychoanalysis. And in this, you’re wrong, the road does most certainly not run through Jerusalem.

But, today, I protest: it does.

We’ve used psychoanalysis to unpack, decode, deconstruct, reconstruct: gender, sexuality, class, race, even neoliberalism. Yet, somehow the space mysteriously becomes unanalyzable with the whisper of Palestine. The linking of psychoanalysis to this four-letter-word has the potential to transform us into self-policing, discomfort-avoiding, stance-aversive key players.

And key players we are with psychoanalysis.

Because with psychoanalysis we can speak not only to doer-and-done-to a la Benjamin, but also about the normative unconscious a la Layton, identification with the aggressor a la Ferenczi, replication of trauma and the psychology of oppression and so much more. We can speak to the intrapsychics of power, the perversions of domination and submission, the defensive constellations of splitting, projection, projective identification, disavowal. And we can even offer potentials of moving beyond. We can talk and teach and intervene of “Third Spaces,” of enactment-breaking techniques.

Liberate Palestine through Psychoanalysis precisely because the theory has the means to uncover the psychic and ideological blinders that prevent co-created spaces and new possibilities. This is an invitation to explore how psychoanalysis offers techniques, methods, and tools for self-exploration, personal responsibility and acknowledgement of the subjectivity of the other. A subjectivity that is non-equivocal but structured by asymmetries in power relations that we all partake in and perpetuate. As in the clinic, we can own the depth and prowess of Psychoanalysis and begin to extricate ourselves from the ideological boxes and meta-boxes that entrap.

Let’s leave the entrapment to others, perhaps those CBTers that so passionately believe the answer lies on the surface. With psychoanalysis we can go deeper. We can dig further. We can catapult beyond that obsolete Wall.

We can liberate Palestine with Psychoanalysis.


  1. Dr Sheehi, You are a brave and noble soul! Thank you for “coming out” and speaking
    to the incongruity that so many of us sense, but fearfully allow to be suppressed.
    I stand just beyond the checkpoint of intimidation. Rabbi Tirzah Firestone, Ph.D.

  2. To undertake the challenge of liberation through psychoanalysis seems necessary and right, whether it is the liberation of Palestinians or Israelis or the benighted citizens of the USA. Just how psyA can liberate Palestine itself would seem to depend on us (i.e., the humans, and among them, particularly, the psychoanalysts). Or we can be part of the liberation.
    This weekend I set myself the task of watching two 2016 movies I’d borrowed from Netflix: Colliding Dreams and Rabin: The Last Day. I think my goal was to understand better the internal life of the Israeli state and people and of the fraught histories and interactions of the Zionisms identified in the course of the past 150 years there. Although some very intelligent and experienced Palestinians had voices in the former film, a superb talking heads documentary, both films helped me understand better how intergenerational traumas and passionately held core beliefs shaped into urgent dramatic crises of personalities and the state had precipitated the brutally destructive and imprisoning endgame that Israelis and Palestinians live within today. Or so it seemed to me.
    I’m sure there are many more varieties of each demographic than were encompassed in the samples documented in these films, and any analyses I can make here would be reductive and ignorant, as I have never lived or set foot in either’s territories. But I can appreciate that opportunities for psychoanalysis to liberate people, leaders, and nations from unfortunate lockdowns inside of haplessly reiterated scenarios might be possible, gradually, and decisively, contributing to whatever may lead toward a sea-change in the stalemated ideological imperatives that may have dominated the discourses — or been disallowed from polite society, science, and psychoanalysis.

  3. I am so moved by your writing, your courage, your mind, Lara! What a beautiful piece. You’ve inspired me to keep questioning why we hide our voices from the world, and to keep working toward liberating myself and the psychoanalytic community from these superficial walls that keep us in a disconnected, disavowed, painful, fragmented state. This IS what psychoanalysis is capable of!

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