‘I’m permanently pissed off’- just one feature of a Gaza malaise

Jun 23, 2024
A hand holds up a white sign reading no war, with the Israeli flag as the backdrop, signalling a plea for peace within a national context.

In response to the question, ‘Do you despair over the slaughters in Gaza’, a close friend responded, ‘When I hear the news, I’m angry and permanently pissed off. I also recognise that anger can lead to despair.’

Her personal reaction mirrors a national malaise, a Gaza frustration coupled to powerlessness which like a Covid pandemic seems to be spreading across the country. Citizens, even those previously expressing no interest in politics, say ‘I don’t know what to do’, ‘I can’t watch this anymore’, ‘the killing affects me but people with power don’t seem to care.’

If anger becomes despair characterised by feelings of powerlessness, mental health is threatened. Uncertainty does not help. Slaughter seems likely to continue. Significant commentator Chris Hedges judges Israel to have been ‘ poisoned by the ‘psychosis’ of permanent war’ (P&I of June 18)

Sinking into despair is affected by two conditions. First the distasteful experience of watching nightly news of more killing of Palestinians, each account preceded by a newsreader warning, ‘viewers may find the following pictures disturbing.’ Fast track to the next item which incudes an Israeli spokesperson, usually the implausible Admiral Hagari, claiming that figures of Palestinian casualties are exaggerated.

Utterances from this propagandist operator illustrate the second cause of despair. It occurs when citizens observe that politicians and journalists with power to influence a government’s attitudes regarding the human rights of Palestinians, appear indifferent to public concerns.

On a continuum of feelings from anger to despair to the possibility of depression, individuals display different reactions, albeit each with a common theme of powerlessness placing mental health at risk.

People who retain an agency to act, join protest rallies, write articles, send letters to newspapers, even phone politicians’ offices. My pissed off friend also knows that if angry protests fall on deaf ears, powerlessness sets in and erodes confidence. At which point, even she might join the thousands, possibly millions of others unsure what to do with sadness and frustration.

Politicians’ denial or inaction feeds the malaise. Margaret Reynolds (P&I of June 18) has decried the Federal parliament’s failure to even debate the war over Gaza. Blind to history, deaf to humanity, members of the Federal opposition swallow the Sky News Murdoch press Israeli line that Hamas must be eliminated and in consequence they say nothing critical about Israeli barbarities.

Complementing Liberal and National politicians’ attitudes comes toxic commentary from Zionist supporters who accept the Israeli occupation, the siege of Gaza, settler stealing of Palestinian land and settlers’ latest brutalities on the West Bank.

A Labor government denies genocide, refuses to support South Africa before the ICJ and is reluctant to recognise Palestine as a state, even though they said they’d do so.

Mismatch between public outrage and perceptions of official indifference feeds the Gaza malaise, but several gutsy Federal politicians do recognise and respect public feelings.

In response to Australian academics’ well publicised letter to the Prime Minister which argued that Israel had become a ‘grotesque state’, Greens and Teals MPs expressed support for writing the letter and for its contents. Labor members, perhaps disciplined to silence, said nothing.

Reference to a general malaise drifting into an onset of depression needs explanation. Psychiatric diagnoses of depression usually refer to a search for signs of an individual’s persistent feelings of emptiness and sadness, of repeated distress at feeling powerless, at perceiving events as beyond control.

The Gaza malaise can’t be termed clinical depression, let alone judged mild, moderate or severe, yet a sense of despair seems widespread, more a cultural, political phenomenon than a psychological disposition let alone an individual shortcoming.

If depression develops, physicians advise that forms of help are available. Citizens can phone Lifeline, speak to a counsellor, join a support group or seek medication from a GP. If the condition becomes severe, a psychiatrist may judge that a patient needs last resort but allegedly successful electroconvulsive therapy.

In a search for efforts to change politicians’ attitudes towards Israeli policies, to cease the ‘Hamas, Hamas’ explanation, to foster humanity towards Palestinians, electric shock treatment may not be suitable, but could be worth a try.

If cruel and genocidal actions were classified as evidence of a political mood disorder requiring urgent treatment, electrical convulsions could surely be applied to Prime Minister Netanyahu and the right wing zealots in his Cabinet.

Closer to home, to discourage Opposition leaders from collusion with Israel’s determination to eliminate Palestinians, giving them a therapeutic jolt from a usually reliable source could be timely and justified.

At least, this imaginative electric intervention could reassure citizens experiencing the Gaza malaise that something was being done. In addition, my friend might not be permanently pissed off.

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