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Can Psychedelics Promote Peace-building Between Israelis and Palestinians?

June 8, 2021
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A recent study shows promising results. 


“Peace cannot be kept by force; it can only be achieved by understanding.”
~ Albert Einstein
 

The Israeli – Palestinian conflict has escalated and the whole world is watching - including psychedelic researchers.

 

They are working to uncover the potential of psychedelic plant medicines, such as the ancient Amazonian brew Ayahuasca to help nations and the global collective move towards peace, harmony, and political liberation.

 

The bulk of psychedelic research is focused entirely on personal experiences, with subjects reporting mystical and ego-dissolution experiences, emotional breakthroughs, psychological processing of traumatic events, metacognitive awareness, embodied experiences, and a strong sense of peace, unity, and social connection.

 

But a new study investigating intersubjective and intercultural relational processes (specifically embedded in conflict) of participants during an ayahuasca ceremony, reveals the medicine’s potential to contribute to peace-building.

 

The study involved 31 in-depth interviews of Palestinians and Israelis experiences drinking ayahuasca together in ceremony, with the question if the experience could shift the awareness and attitudes related to the relations between the two groups entrenched in sociopolitical and historical conflict.

 

The Israeli – Palestinian conflict is rooted in competition over resources and political and territorial control, with many studies identifying the importance of role identities and collective identities in preserving conflict and denying the legitimacy of ‘the Other’.

 

Inspiration for the study came from research demonstrating the ritualistic ingestion of psychedelics in many indigenous and mestizo cultures for not only individual treatment, but also for socially constructive purposes which supported intercultural and interethnic exchange and strong social cohesion.

 

Psychedelics have been shown to catalyze personal revelations and shifts in identities in the way we relate to not only ourselves, but also others and a larger reality, contributing to their potential to create a space for the celebration of ‘shared humanity’ and to challenge narratives about ‘the Other’.  Additionally, psychedelics have been shown to address and heal the core root of trauma, including intergenerational and ancestral trauma. 


The results of the study were incredible, with three main themes emerging. 


Unity-Based Connection

 

During the ceremonies, a common event occurring to individuals or to the group involved moment of ‘unity’, ‘oneness’, or a strong sense of ‘togetherness,’ whereby participants were able to relate to each other based on shared ‘universal similarities’ and ‘sense of humanity’, beyond collective identities (Israeli, Palestinian, Jewish, Muslim, etc.)

One interviewed Jewish Israeli woman reported “We really experience this place in which the connection is not Israel-Palestinian, it is human, the human tribe.”

 

Recognition and Difference-Based Connection

 

Another common event occurred where strong connections were made to another culture based on ‘non-universal’ local identities.  These events were often characterized by feelings of awe and reverence, during an expression of ‘the Other’ culture through music or prayer.

 

It was found that when political and conflict reality made its way into moments of recognition, subjects reported feeling of relief and awe, both in so that consciously or unconsciously excluded material was now included, and that there was a need to accommodate the novel information into current mental frameworks. For example, the active participation of Arab-Palestinians in the ceremony often resulted in the recognition by Jewish-Israeli participants of the power imbalance in their political conflict, leading to inclusion and connection with ‘the Other’.

 

The ceremony provided space for participants to express their identities and background through music and prayer, in which intercultural and interfaith exchange occurred and was intensified by ayahuasca. The result was a strong recognition and appreciation of the spiritual qualities of the other culture.

 

A Jewish-Israeli non-binary subject noted that  “[The song touched me] in the place where there is fear to hear, the old pattern that says ‘oh they are singing in Arabic that’s frightening.’- that’s healing! So then you say “Wow, who did this to me, who took away my ability to enjoy that healing all these years.”

 

Interestingly, many of the participants described the importance of listening to the other’s language and learning to enjoy it, with some describing that each language has its own ‘frequency’ or ‘vibration’ which created different visual effects.

 

 “Suddenly you hear the language you most hated, maybe the only language you really hated, and suddenly it is sending you into love and light, and that's the way it always is. Whatever the song, whatever the words, you melt- that's it that's our peace, to sit and listen to a song in Arabic, that's peace.” - Jewish-Israeli man

  

Conflict-Related Revelations

 

The third common experience observed in the study was where subjects revisited autobiographical/personal or historical/collective traumatic events related to the current conflict, usually through visions and imagery. In many instances, the interviewees reported that the presence of ‘the Other’ in the ceremony and the location of the ceremony are what triggered these memories and mental processes. These revelations tended to emphasize the historical and political identities related to the conflict.

 

An Arab-Palestinian man from Israel, who was put through the Jewish-Israeli education system, reported a vision in which he identifies as “one of the most transformative moments in his life.” He details this experience here:

 

“An interesting moment was the first ceremony in [a Jewish city in Northern Israel] in an Arab house with a [Jewish] religious family living in it (in Israel many homes once belonged to Arab families who were forced to flee during the 1948 war. Israelis, most often Jews, live in them these days)… I went outside [and sat under a vine tree which reminded me of my grandfather’s house] and suddenly I had a very strong vision. I see – there was a balcony- and these are houses like my grandfather’s in the village, old Arab houses. And there it hit me. It hit me and I began to see, I saw the [former] owners – an old man like my grandfather and an old woman like my grandmother with a scarf on her head, I started to interview them, we started a dialogue. And that talk, today I describe it as it washed out all the brainwashing I had gone through as a teenager, all of the Israeli school, and the youth movements … I connected to being Arab, and it was a serious shock for me … [They were] old, with traditional Arab clothes, head scarfs and all that. They were good people, they caressed with their words. The woman mainly spoke. She said “I know you went to an Israeli school, that you hate everything to do with Arabs and Arab things, and you have anger and this and that. But the story is different. You heard one side but you haven’t heard our side. You are in our house now, and we are not here. We were evicted … and that’s when all the things began to evaporate. But it didn’t take me to the other side, didn’t make me hate the other side.

Another interviewee, an Arab-Palestinian man from the West-Bank, also reported a perspective shift:

 “I had this weird experience of being in the body of an Israeli soldier. It was like seconds of experience – the whole experience was the eye coming down to look for shooting and as the trigger is pulled, that’s it, there is no seeing after…..I could feel him after, this is painful, this is not an easy life after.”

The ability to see ‘the Other’ in a new light, one from understanding, compassion, and empathy, as well as the greater context and influences over one’s own perceptions, proved to be a core theme during the ayahuasca ceremonies.

The revisiting of not only personal, but intergenerational and historical trauma, exemplifies the potential of psychedelics to help break the patterns of generational genocides and conflicts. 

 

The results of this study show incredible promise. Perhaps it’s time for our leaders to step up; to take a deep look inside and help the collective consciousness evolve to a place of love, peace, and freedom, rather than remain in fear, scarcity, and a desire to control. 

As the Dalai Lama has said “The creation of a more peaceful and happier society has to begin from the level of the individual, and from there it can expand to one’s family, to one’s neighborhood, to one’s community, and so on.”

 

Source:  Roseman, L. et al. Relational Processes in Ayahuasca Groups of Palestinians and Israelis. Front. Pharmacol., 19 May 2021 | https://doi.org/10.3389/fphar.2021.607529


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