A biblical commandment tells Jews to remember what the Amalek desert tribe did to the Israelites when Amalek attacked them for no rational reason—the Jews held no territory, and Amalek had no real grievances against them. The rabbis explain this biblical commandment on the grounds that it reminds us all how blind hatred needs no rationale. In modern terms, it is pointless to seek "root causes." The world contains pure evil and not just misunderstood people whose feelings and self-esteem have been pricked.

In recent years a small but growing literature has attempted to analyze the Middle East conflict and derive new approaches to settling it based on psychoanalysis, including Ofer Grosbard's Israel on the Couch: The Psychology of the Peace Process.[1] Falk returns to the same well. Would that such people recalled the commandment about Amalek. Falk and other post-modernists have a problem understanding that conflicts like the Arab-Israeli one generally are rooted in real differences and have little or nothing at all to do with personal psychology.

Falk calls himself a "political psychologist" and "psychohistorian" and has been associated with the Hebrew University School of Medicine.[2] Although he has written serious articles about the psychology of racism and anti-Semitism,[3] his attempt to offer a psychological analysis of Osama bin Laden,[4] a patient we assume never graced Falk's sofa, is less serious as are his "psycho-biographies" of Theodore Herzl, Napoleon, and Moshe Dayan.[5] Evidently Falk has no need actually to meet a subject of his analysis. He continues in the same vein in Fratricide in the Holy Land with its pop-psychology evaluations of Ariel Sharon and Yasir Arafat.

Falk's fundamental assumption is that there could not possibly be any rational basis for the violence in the Middle East conflict, and so one needs to go hunting for understanding by applying pop psychology to it. In some places, he attributes the conflict to the individual psychic disorders of political leaders, for instance, Menachem Begin's obsessions with security and the Holocaust. The psychic roots of the conflict began in World War I, insists Falk.

The book also has a political agenda. Falk sympathizes with the post-Zionist outlook, with references aplenty to Uri Avnery, Ilan Pappé, Baruch Kimmerling, Michael Lerner, and Benny Morris, whom he praises as "more open-minded." In this spirit, Falk offers moral relativism in which only in the Israeli view are suicide bombers murderers while to others, they are martyrs. And where Israel's very creation was more a naqba (Arabic: catastrophe) than a reason for celebration. Falk reduces the entire conflict to a Semitic rashomon (his term for the conflict). Suicide bombing he innocuously deems is an "unconscious fusion with one's mother." The conflict stems from pathological psychic need to have enemies.

While everything is relative, the two things Falk is quite sure about is that the whole mess stems from: 1) the fact that the Jews "denied the existence of Arabs in Palestine" (although Falk does not name any Jew who ever did this); and 2) the Zionists were and are so insensitive to delicate Arab feelings. Falk sees Zionism itself as a great anachronism, a form of group narcissism, trying to reverse the course of history.

Evidence collecting is not Falk's strong card. He opines at length on supposed anti-Oriental snootiness in Israel, never offering a single datum. Numbers and empiricism do not interest him.

[1] "Brief Reviews," Middle East Quarterly, Summer 2004, pp. 87-8.
[2] Avner Falk's Home Page, accessed Nov. 2, 2006.
[3] See, for example, Avner Falk, "Collective Psychological Processes in Anti-Semitism," Jewish Political Studies Review, Spring 2006.
[4] Avner Falk, "Osama bin Laden: A Psychobiographical Study," Mind and Human Interaction, vol. 12, 2001, p. 161-72.
[5] Moshe Dayan, haIsh vehaAgadah: Biographia Psychoanalytit (Jerusalem: Ma'ariv Library, 1985); Napoleon Bonaparte: A Psychobiography (Charlottesville, Va.: Pitchstone Publishing, 2006); Herzl, King of the Jews: A Psychoanalytic Biography of Theodor Herzl (Lanham, Md.: University Press of America, 1993).