By David Siegel, M.D.
Aphasia is defined as the inability to express oneself properly through speech and/or writing (Broca’s or expressive aphasia) or the loss of verbal and/or reading comprehension (Wernicke’s or receptive aphasia). The most common cause of aphasia is stroke, but it also can be the consequence of brain infection, traumatic brain injury or brain cancer.
When it comes to Israel and its Middle Eastern neighbors, particularly the Palestinians, I have identified a new disorder: voluntary receptive aphasia. This does not appear to be due to brain injury or to have an anatomical basis but rather to the voluntary denial of the meaning of spoken or written words.
For example, if one says that Israel is at war with Hamas who governs Gaza, it appears that the there is no comprehension of the usual meaning of the word “war.” Rather, in the brains of people afflicted with this disorder, war is translated into an innocent phenomenon where Israel should allow the group (Hamas), that swears to destroy Israel, free access to goods, regardless of their content, and is expected to release members of Hamas who are both sworn to Israel’s destruction and to kill Jews.
Further, there seems to be a lack of comprehension of the intent of tens of thousands of rockets fired at Israeli noncombatants or the building of tunnels from which terrorists can murder the same noncombatants.
That the hundreds of thousands of tons of concrete used to build these tunnels could have been used to build bomb shelters, schools, homes and hospitals to protect and serve Gazans also seems to elude those with this syndrome. The consequence of the use of Gaza hospitals, schools and civilian areas to store and launch rockets also eludes those with voluntary receptive aphasia, as does the contribution of this and the use of civilian shields (as directed by Hamas) to the disproportionate death totals between Israelis and Palestinians.
There is an interesting historical aspect to Middle Eastern voluntary receptive aphasia that has to do with memory loss. So, for example, when one asks for one instance in human history where a country has dealt as humanely as Israel with a wartime enemy sworn to its destruction (certainly not the British Royal Air Force and the U.S. Army Air Force, who fire-bombed Dresden, Germany, in the waning months of World War II, resulting in the deaths of approximately 25,000 people, the vast majority civilians), allowing the importation of tons of food and medical supplies daily, as well as the treatment of Palestinians in Israeli medical facilities, this selective historical memory deficit manifests.
Historical voluntary receptive aphasia also comes to play when one discusses the history of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. There are those who believe that Israel was compensation for the Holocaust. For example, Helen Thomas of the Hearst newspapers, a 50-year White House correspondent, stated that Jews should “Go home (from Israel) … to Poland, Germany … and America and everywhere else.”
In essence, she said that Jewish Israelis are recent arrivals; primarily the descendants of Holocaust survivors. Jews have lived continuously in the Middle East for more than three millennia and, prior to the partition in 1947, Jews were a majority in the area designated for Israel by the United Nations. (At the time, the U.N. estimated 538,000 Jews and 397,000 Arabs.)
In Jerusalem, according to Turkish censuses, Jews have been the plurality since the mid-19th century and the majority since the 1920s.
A high proportion of current Israeli Jews trace their recent ancestry to the 800,000 Mizrahi Jews, born in the Middle East, who, after WWII, fled the Arab and Muslim world or were expelled for being Jewish. The number of Jews forced to leave Arab countries exceeds the number of Palestinian Arabs who left Israel.
The response to this information by those afflicted with Middle Eastern voluntary receptive aphasia is similar to other forms of receptive aphasia where repetition of information makes no difference in terms of comprehension.
Unlike some of their supporters, members of Hamas do not appear to suffer from voluntary receptive aphasia. They know very well the meaning of their words. From Article Seven of the Hamas Charter: “The Day of Judgement (sic) will not come about until Moslems fight the Jews (killing the Jews), when the Jew will hide behind stones and trees. The stones and trees will say O Moslems, O Abdulla, there is a Jew behind me, come and kill him.”
Hamas leader Mahmoud Al-Zahhar stated, “Our plan for this stage is to liberate every inch of Palestinian land, and to establish a state on it. Our ultimate plan is (to have) Palestine in its entirety. I say this loud and clear so that nobody will accuse me of employing political tactics. We will not recognize the Israeli enemy.”
Despite the content of these messages, apologists for Hamas fail to comprehend their meaning and advocate for Israel to “negotiate” with Hamas.
As a clinician and medical scientist, I would like to suggest a treatment for this disorder, but I am unable. Like other illnesses with a strong behavioral component, i.e., smoking and obesity, treatment will need to be multi-factorial and innovative. It may be up to future generations to find a cure for the Middle Eastern variant of voluntary receptive aphasia.
— David Siegel, M.D., is a Davis resident. He is a member of the Association of Professors of Medicine and a Fellow of the American College of Physicians and the American Heart Association.