Gil Caroz in conversation with Khalil Sbeit

«A combat with the Angel

 of human dullness » 
Khalil Sbeit is a member of the NLS. He is a Palestinian psychoanalyst in Haifa, Israel. In 1948, during the War of Independence of Israel the family of his father was evacuated, together with all the other inhabitants of the village of Ikrit in Galileo, by the Israelian army to a place not far from the border with Lebanon. The residents were lodged in Rameh, another Arabic village further away inland. They were promised they would be able to go back home within 14 days. 66 years later the promised return still hasn’t taken place, despite a highly mediatised legal and political combat, in which the father of Khalil, a popular poet, was involved as one of the leaders. In the meantime, all the houses were destroyed. Only the church, on top of the hill of the Arabic Christian village, still stands.

Gil Caroz : Our theme is “Victim!”. You must be an expert!

Khalil Sbeit: (laughs) That’s what you say. I would rather say it is a problem I know. First of all, I know it from a political context. But the question is to know how this idea of the victim resounds with private life. I am mainly talking about the fiascos I experienced in love life. The question is to know how these personal failures get linked, in general, to the political symptom. Let us put it this way: I was personally introduced to the theme of the victim via the tragedy of my family. This tragedy consists in the loss of our properties, a house, a homeland. The real and cruel act of eviction makes one switch from the status of the subject to the status of the object. Once the act of dispossession has taken place, the question arises to know how one relates to this new reality that appears. I grew up like a Palestinian refugee. My family had few financial resources, we lived in a rural area where the sense social hierarchy was very strong. We had a subordinate status, but on the other hand, being considered as victims, we were idealized. There is jouissance in standing in a position that consists in telling a story that also arouses consideration.

I've been identified to this story for years and I made efforts to repair what had happened. I really took this compensation from a social angle. The point was to fix the world by clinging tosocial ideals. It was as if it were a war between light and darkness, between good and evil. These ideals aren’t completely wrong, but they cover up something, they hide the subjective responsibility. This is different from taking responsibility for the events. What did happen did effectively happen! But my responsibility is at stake on the level of the consequences of this historical event. As far as I am concerned, the position of the victim, imposed on me by my history, could be considered as a barrier to the construction of a new reality. But I have come a long way, and I say so in the light of my analytic experience, and this removed a burden off me. For instance, the easy act of buying a house was a difficult step in my life because, in a way, it confirmed the loss of the house and homeland of my grandparents. Then, I first had to meet this woman who came into my life and said: “You may allow yourself to buy a house.”
G.C.: What you’re saying makes me think of a passage from the interview that David Grossman did with you and your father and that he published in 1992, in his book Present Absent. Your father says there: “Since that day we were deported, I have always rented houses. I haven’t had a house built because I still believe my sons will go back to our homeland.” In this interview you already say that you live in Haifa and that you will not return to Ikrit, even if they allowed you to go back there. You haven’t made your father's dream come true, and I would say that it is a woman that allowed you to go beyond the debt you owed your father. This has to be taken into account because, all things considered, your wife, Rim, is also Palestinian. She could have locked herself up in that victim position as well. But women, as well as psychoanalysis, push you in the direction of desire.
Kh. S.: That is for sure. I also had professional issues about my vocation. I doubted what path to choose for years. I believed that the solution to the suffering in which I was born had to be a collective one. I was wondering whether I should get involved in the social field: to become journalist or politician, in order to remedy injustices. I got involved in a few politicalactivities and I came to the conclusion that things weren’t that simple. Ideals don’t compensate for injustices. Any human experience hides some jouissance included in the subject that is not taken into account by the calculations of political parties, nor by the strategies and tactics of ideological combats.
So, I had to focus on my own symptoms and operate a “division of waters”. For instance, I take the freedom to tell you that before I started my analysis, a Jewish trait was a condition for me to fall in love with a woman, and the failures in this matter made me link the lack of sexual rapport to the family and national novel in which I was born. I had to make a difference between the fact of being a victim of such a severe history and the subjective elements that sustained this position.
G.C.: Should one say that the social and political victim can be situated in the ego and that it had to be separated from the trauma of the human being as such, namely the trauma of the encounter of the signifier and the body?
Kh. S.: Yes, one can put it that way. But that doesn’t stop me from standing against the historical events, which I blame and which I think should never have happened. Just like you say, there is no lack of human suffering, anyway. There is no use making it worse! Moreover, I believe that there is a price to pay when you stand as a victim, it is the price you pay when you lose your subjective responsibility, in regards to what happens to you. With the simple pretext of standing as the object of the jouissance of the Other, one can be lead to do so many things. That didn’t happen to me, but I can understand how one becomes a monster from this starting point. My father once told me: “Once you've been roasted on the fire of the nazis, you can become either a man full of compassion or a monster”. He was talking about the Israelis, but I think he was also talking about himself.
G.C.: Jacques-Alain Miller writes in La ‘Common Decency’ de l’Oumma (1): “the Jews have purloined the land from the Palestinians and they must give it back.” When one reads the entire text, it is striking that this is not a political program. It is more of an indication: to come close to the real, one has to get rid of the stupid side of the identifications that hook on to the jouissance. This relates to what Jacques-Alain Miller calls “the combat against the Angel of human mental dullness.”
Kh. S.: And who is the Angel of this human mental dullness? According to me, the position that results in identifying oneself to the victim, is one possible version of this Angel. The jouissance of the victim, that the Palestinians experience, does not allow them to cope with the trauma in such a way that they could get out of this position which drives to a never ending claim: “the Jews have stolen the land.” Well then! The idea that the whole land should be given back, can’t be a political program nowadays. But if the Palestinians have to understand that they have to go beyond the position of the victim, it also has to be acknowledged that this land has been stolen from them. I believe that from the moment this truth will be acknowledged, something new will be possible in our reality, and we will succeed in escaping from this repetition.
We, Palestinians, claim “we are victims”. This is now over. But there is also a responsibility concerning the present and the future. I can keep crying over the history of my family. I can be willing to go back in time and come to terms with the past. But this past is a real that one has to make up with, and build something new with it. This is how I see it.
(1) Miller J.-A., La « Common Decency » de l’Oumma, Lacan Quotidien, 474, 7 February 2015.

(Translation Abe Geldhof)
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