_*_Radical Psychology_*_

Spring 2001, Vol. 2, Issue 1.

Toward a Fractal Metaphor for Liberation of Palestinian Women

Moshe S. Landsman
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"The righting of the women means the righting of the race."

- Jess Oppenheim


For those of us whose daily bread is social change, there is often a feeling that in cases of social injustice it seems impossible to discover the results of the intervention, let alone to proactively plan intervention to further social justice. In an attempt to understand the process of social change, the activist often feels caught in a circular web of cause and effect. Recent developments in chaos theory (Barton, 1994) may point the way to deeper understanding of complexities in social intervention and give solace to the souls of social justice workers wondering if their intervention has positive effect, or any effect at all.

During the past decade it has been my privilege to be in contact with several Palestinian women who have taken part in the struggle for their own liberation, the liberation of their sisters and the liberation of Palestinians in general. During the first years the contacts were collegial, mostly in a consultative capacity (Landsman, in press). However, lately some Palestinian women have come to me for counseling, exposing new insights, questions and perils in counseling women whose life may be in danger. It never ceases to amaze me at the willingness of these women to discuss their deepest concerns with a Jewish Israeli of American Origin, and male to boot.

Needless to say, such situations often leave one wondering if anything s/he is doing is of any help, what the consequences may be in the long run, and whether the jungle is merely leading us around in circles. Such situations often cause me to grasp at an ontology that can hopefully provide a map and a light. This article is an attempt to develop an ontological metaphor for my experiences that will go some distance in that direction.

In this article I first discuss chaos theory and detail its metaphorical relevance to social activism in a cross-cultural context. Next, I delineate developmental stages in the liberation of Palestinian women that are parallel to the liberation process of the larger Palestinian society. The liberation process is divided into four stages. I will proceed to describe each stage as it applies to Palestinian women, then to the Palestinian population under occupation or living as Israeli citizens. These parallel developments suggest a fractal metaphor because of the suspicion that the patterns discerned are embedded in each other and therefore an expansion of this metaphor upward and downward may yield some interesting insights, which are, at this stage, speculations. Next I shall point to possibilities for moving from a lower stage to the one above. Finally I shall bring examples from experiences of the last decade of work with Palestinian women.

The basis of this narrative is neither empirical nor theoretical. It may be called an ecological case study, by which I mean that I shall bring observations before the reader along with an attempt to understand them with their larger implications. It is somewhat similar to a clinical tale. The reader will judge the reliability and validity of the metaphor in light if his/her own experience rather than by statistical - or logical - interpretations.

Chaos, Complexity, and the Fractal Metaphor

As in most paradigm shifts (Kuhn, 1970), one can argue endlessly over credit for discovery of chaos theory, and perhaps Kuhn's aforecited work is itself a philosophical or social exemplar of chaos theory. It may be easiest here to begin this discussion with physicist Mitchell Feigenbaum's pioneering work on turbulence in the mid-1970's (Horgan, 1996). It is impossible to explain the transition from normal flow to turbulent flow with linear equations. However, non-linear equations with a random variable, where the answer is funneled into the next equation (a process called iteration), were able to model the onset of turbulence (Barton, 1994). Since that time, non-linearity and a host of other complex phenomena have been a pervasive force in mathematics and the natural sciences.

One would think that the social sciences would be fertile ground for chaos theory. It is natural to conceptualize society in terms of embedded systems, and human social change has long bewildered those experiencing it as well as those observing it. Nevertheless, application of chaos models to social change is only lately the case (Melis, 1999). In order to be as brief as possible, I will mention only the following points where chaos theory and its near relatives may contribute to the social sciences. The curious reader will find more detailed information in Abraham et al (1990), whereas the less mathematically ambitious reader is referred to a science writer's conception of chaos theory in Gleick's (1988) landmark work. Although a rightfully exhaustive discussion of applications of chaos theory to the social sciences would take several volumes, a short summary here may wet the appetite, whereas I shall concentrate upon the fractal metaphor that is relevant to the liberation discourse in this article.

1. Non-Linearity: The importance of non-linear equations is that, first, they often have more than one solution, and second, iterating random numbers into the equations many times will generate a visible pattern of non-random solutions. The meaning for the social change is that one must be aware of the possibility that the result of an intervention may only fit into a larger pattern of "more of the same". This will especially occur when the intervention is short-term and than will be incorporated into the former pattern as a random variable. It behooves the social activist to ascertain the larger patterns of behavior in order to evaluate the results of his or her efforts.1. Non-linearity also has its upside. If one can achieve a fundamental change in the pattern of social processes, interference from the outside will not weaken the new pattern, but will only be incorporated into the new one as a random occurrence.

2. Self-Organization: Barton (1994) explains that self-organization "denotes a process by which a structure or pattern emerges in an open system without specifications from the outside environment " (p. 7). Upon receiving enough energy, the system may become unstable and give rise to one of a variety of complex patterns. Barton contends that characteristics of self-organization applicable to social systems include: a) stable states that can change suddenly when a parameter crosses a critical threshold, b) cyclical state changes, c) the structural coupling of component processes, d) complex patterns of behavioral organization, e) localized instabilities that can cause local variations in the system, f) one unit can cause another to harmonically oscillate, and g) social behavior may be modeled by a series of nonlinear equations.

Implications for the social activist from self-organization are mind-boggling, and luckily beyond the scope of this article. One insufficient example is the well-known reduction of crime in New York by putting enough police on the streets and reacting to crime in real time. In my opinion, this is an example of sudden change when the energy put into the system reaches a critical threshold. The important thing to remember here is that although a change may be achieved, however impressively sudden and complete, it may just as suddenly begin to oscillate. Therefore, the activist must also take measures to stabilize the change.

3. Complexity: The physicist Murray Gell-Mann contends that complexity in the universe is the natural outcome of its probabilistic nature (Gell-Mann, 1999). This contention means that on a large scale, absolute prediction of events is impossible and that a seemingly insignificant event can result in meaningful change, catastrophic or opportune. This phenomenon has been coined "the butterfly effect" (Lorenz, 1963), where the flapping of a butterfly's wings in Brazil could the trigger floods in Europe long after. In complexity theory, events can be predicted in a probabilistic sense only, and direct cause-and-effect has little meaning. The obvious implication for social activists is that one never knows what to predict from the intervention. On the one hand, activists should be encouraged by the possibility that courageous acts today may cause immediate despair but may change the world at a later date. On the other hand, activists should be aware of possible unwanted effects from the intervention, and though not predictable, they may be discovered and corrected.

4. The Fractal Metaphor: Mathematician Benoit Mandelbrot invented fractals, objects having fractional dimensionality, which means that they are fuzzier than a line but not quite a plane (Horgan, 1996). The pattern I described above, where the answer of a random non-linear equation is iterated into the next equation creates what is called a Mandelbrot set, and the borders of the set are fractal. The most important characteristic of a fractal for the purposes of our metaphor is that the patterns on the border of the image generated in the Mandelbrot set recur at different levels; that is, one can see the same pattern recurring as one magnifies the image to see finer detail.

Implications of the Fractal Metaphor for Liberation Discourse

The fractal characteristics of Mandelbrot set have at least a metaphorical potential for enhancing conceptualization of multilevel social processes. Among them are the following:

1. The level of intervention is not as important as the strategy. Since structural and functional changes will eventually interact and cause changes on other levels of the process, the interventor [1] may begin at the level that is simply the most convenient (see Vrobel, 1999).

2. As hinted above, the strategy of intervention, which enhances multilevel change, is one that fosters awareness of parallel processes above and below the level of intervention and attempts to address them as well. If they cannot be addressed at this particular point in the process, they should at least be monitored, as changes at one level can teach us lessons at another.

3. Not only are changes at one level portentous for another, but any phenomenon occurring at one level of intervention gives up potentially valuable information for understanding another. Therefore, when the interventor reaches an obstruction at the present level of intervention, observation of processes at other levels may often uncover ways of dealing with the obstruction.

4. The fact that fractals are borderline phenomena may foster conceptualization of strategies for social change. Non-fractal changes in the terrain may be an indication that we have achieved meaningful social change. On the other hand, meeting the same fractal terrain may tell us we are not out of the woods, and may be going around in circles.

In the following discussion of stages of liberation, the fractal metaphor plays a significant part in both understanding the process and in planning intervention strategies.

The Stages of Liberation of Palestinian Women

Stage 1: Subjugation: In this stage the woman is under the physical and legal power of the man. She has little recourse to redress since her relatives, as well as the law, are on the side of the man. Support for her welfare comes from two sources. The first of these is pragmatic benevolence, where the happy woman means a productive wife, efficient mother, or a hard-working daughter. It is pragmatic to keep a woman happy in order to increase her yield. The second is the noble male code of honor, which in many subjugating societies gives points to the man who takes care of his animals, slaves and subjects.

After the 1948 war between Israel and its Arab neighbors, the Palestinians within the borders of the new Israeli state were subjected to martial law, which is a democracy's way of instituting subjugation under the guise of emergency containment. These "emergency" measures were carried on well into the 1960's and were completely repealed only at about the time of the six-day war. During that period, the security police infiltrated Palestinian villages and instituted rule by fear and suspicion. One infamous incident illustrates my conceptualization of this period. A curfew was called at a Palestinian village. At the end of the day many residents who did not hear about the curfew returned from the fields and soldiers opened fire on them, killing many and wounding more. The perpetrators were later put on trial, the result of that was a renowned court ruling that requires a soldier to disobey any clearly illegal order. Thus the Palestinians were somewhat protected by a nobleman's code.

Although it may seem that moving from this stage to the next is almost impossible, there are several options. First, in the Palestinian experience, The subjugation is performed by a western democracy. I believe that subjugation by a democracy is an inherently unstable situation that tends to create its own momentum for change. Subjugation will sooner or later break down the defenses set up by the anti-democratic relationship, causing them to crumble from within. If the democracy wishes to continue to exist, it must come to some compromise.

Another resort is appeal to outside - usually international - aid. Often the powers that be will attempt to block the international appeal, and are sometimes successful. Nevertheless, the international community has been instrumental in successfully addressing and redressing the worst products of the subjugation stage.

Often appeals to the aforementioned pragmatic benevolence or nobleman's code can facilitate movement from the subjugation stage to the next stage. If oppression becomes so crass that it transgresses these protective institutions, using them can often gain some rights at both the family and formal-legal levels.

I first met a woman I'll call Ismahan [2] in an arts and crafts group in Gaza. She was one of the first cadre of women organized by Shadia El-Sarraj of the Gaza Community Mental Health Programme (GCMHP). Shadia is an accountant by profession and a social activist by calling. Impressed by the suffering of women In Gaza, she carried out a survey of women married to political prisoners. When the husband is away from home the wife must live with her husband's parents. These women often suffered indignities as shattering as their husbands who were political prisoners did. They were sometimes beaten and molested, and control of their children was taken away. Many were clinically depressed and several attempted suicide. Ismahan was one of those, and was in the utmost despair until Shadia brought her to the program. There, she was able to tell her story and receive support from other women and the GCMHP staff. Through the arts-and-crafts classes, she was able to sell some of her wares and have money of her own for the first time in her life. Through instruction in childcare and intervention from the staff, she was able to have say in the upbringing of her children. When her husband returned from prison the worst was over, but a long and torturous healing process had to begin. Several years later, Ismahan is still in that process, and has a paying position at Shadia's program.

Ismahan's predicament illustrates the tribulations of the subjugation stage during the pre-autonomy period in Gaza, where both she and the wider society were under the oppression of the occupation. Movement to the next stage entailed both use of outside intervention (the GCMHP is almost 100% Gazan, but relies on international resources for finance and training) and appeals to internal values which were broken in the extreme.

The following is a borderline example between this stage and the next. Frial, a Bedouin, is a student in one of my classes. Frial works as a teacher in one of the Bedouin towns in the area and the first day she came to class she asked to meet me about a student of hers. Later in the school year I asked her how she was, meaning no more than a simple social gesture. She replied that she was not so good and recounted a tale of terror that began several years ago when her father betrothed her against her will to her cousin. Her cousin, son of her father's older brother who is head of the tribe, was too proud to give up his uncle's promise and refused to renege though he knew that Frial did not love him. Frial began to have fainting spells and was hospitalized once. The worst part of the experience for Frial was living with her father's treachery. All her life she had been her father's confidante, and had come to think of him not just as a father, but as a friend. She tried everything to persuade him to break the engagement and his refusal wounded her more than the marriage. When she first talked to me about it she had been married for a month and had not come near her "husband" (quotation marks are hers). She said that her father had tears in his eyes at the wedding but still did nothing to stop it. She mourns the death of two uncles who, she claims would have stopped the fiasco had they been alive. She dreams of their deaths, apparently as a metaphor of her own, for she seemingly has nothing to look forward to. According to the custom of her tribe, she can divorce only if her "husband" demands it, which seemed to her unlikely, as he is allowed to marry up to four women. When this happens, the first wife is usually for all practical purposes divorced, but cannot remarry. Frial looks forward to the day he will take a second wife and leave her alone although this would condemn her to a life of loneliness without even children as a condolence.

True to my metaphor, I grabbed at straws with Frial and tried to explore with her options of appealing to the outside or to the internal values of the society. At first she saw no hope in this. She felt that her uncle was too powerful and therefore could not appeal above him, although it is the custom in extreme cases of abuse to appeal to a neutral sheik. She said that if her father knew she had not agreed to consummate the marriage he would kill her. She felt that if I intervened it would imperil her situation more. During our last conversation we discussed the possibility of talking to her father about her predicament. I said she had nothing to lose as she is in a living death, and that I believe that her father still bore great love for her and may understand her. That was on Friday and I left her wondering if I had endangered her more. But after class on Sunday she said that her "husband" had berated her in front of her family and that her mother stood up for her. This gave her hope. She has also agreed to talk to Amal El Sana', a feminist activist in the Bedouin community. Amal comes from a noble family, giving her an inborn authority that adds to her considerable intellectual and organizational power. At this writing, I too have hope.

Frial's situation is on the border between subjugation and the next stage. On the one hand, she has not been physically threatened, molested or beaten. She has been allowed to continue her studies and at the end of this year she will receive her degree. On the other hand, she is in utter remorse with little recourse. She has friends but no allies.

The customs that cause Frial's subjugation come from relations with the larger and stronger Israeli society. These relations are also on the borderline of subjugation - on the one hand Bedouin often serve in the Israeli army and most can vote, but on the other hand, most Bedouin are not living on their land, and only about 60% live in recognized settlements with a democratic municipal government. Many are still harassed by the infamous green patrol, a paramilitary unit run by the Agriculture ministry. There are also still instances of Bedouin deprived of citizenship who cannot partake of their full democratic rights.

Stage 2: Adversarial: The adversarial stage appears after women have won some rights which are considered inalienable by the society. Having done so, they gather within those rights for protection and attempt to use them to acquire further breathing space. Contact with intimate male relations is often characterized by an attitude of zealous guarding of hard-won positions and suspicion towards the intentions of the other. Although there is still a blatant imbalance of power, a woman can usually argue her position without fear of physical retaliation. Nevertheless, excesses still occur often enough to remind the woman that she should not demand too much.

Such has been the position of Palestinian-Israeli relations at various periods and among various groups. In the case of Palestinians with Israeli citizenship the adversarial stage began at the end of martial law. With Palestinians in the territories occupied by Israel after the six-day war, this was the situation that existed at the end of the intifada and to a certain extent is extant today. Although Palestinians have autonomy in a small percentage of the occupied territories, Israel is the economic and military power in the area and use of this power has at times caused casualties on both sides, as has attempts by Palestinians gain more power.

As befits the adversarial stance, the most important instrument of change from this stage to the next is the law. Use of the courts and other democratic institutions can often widen the precarious base of power. At times the police or welfare services can be counted upon to protect those in danger of becoming victims of arbitrary or retaliatory use of power. The media and academia are also sometimes used with varying success. Demonstrations and public meetings are also carriers of the struggle for more rights.

I first met Jihan after speaking to her many times on the telephone about her sister. Jihan, a Bedouin from an unrecognized village, is a well-known professional and a graduate student with high grades. Her sister, Ahlam, is a student as well, and it was about Ahlam that I first talked to Jihan. On my way home one day I got a call from my wife who had a very worried student. The student, an Israeli Jew of American origin, was a good friend of Jihan, and had heard from her that her brother is threatening Ahlam. The last time he beat her and injured her arm, which required hospitalization. Intervention from the social services, police and Bedouin honorables managed to establish a delicate balance, which allowed Ahlam to return to her studies (and by the way to contend with the university bureaucracy, which at first did not allow her to return). This effort drained Jihan a great deal and she began to discuss with me the tribulations of her life.

Jihan seems to lead the life of a tightrope walker and sometimes she looks down and finds there is no net. On one hand, she is allowed to pursue her career with little hindrance. On the other hand, she had to attempt suicide in order not to marry her cousin (remember Frial, above?), she is not allowed entrance to the shig, the assembly of men in the tribe, which makes decisions that bind her family. Her ability to man (sic) the ramparts of her hard-won position is seen in the fact that during the whole crisis, part of which her life may have been in danger, she did not miss a day of work nor studies. With Jihan's family I attempted to apply the fractal metaphor with relationship to the men - she and her brother had been model students, and her brother was sent north to go to a more prestigious high school, whereas Jihan, being a woman, was required to go to the local school. Her brother came back a year later, a failure at school, and could not adjust to life back home. He began hanging out with the others that failed in school, apparently involved in delinquent activities as well. I have tried to meet with her brother, but to this date with no success. Jihan has two younger brothers, one a high school junior and the other in the seventh grade. The high-school junior is in a dead-end class with little hope for continuing his education or finding a good job. After a short discussion with him in which he expressed a motivation to change to a higher-class level, I was able to get him placed in the track he requested. While there are several aspects of this act that deserve discussion, the point is that if the men will eventually be in a situation where they regain control of their own lives, they will delegate some of this control to the women. Both Jihan and I believe that her brothers are the keys to stability in her life and that until they can enter the larger society with dignity, Jihan's dignity will be in peril.

It is worth pointing out here that there were two basic forces instrumental in Ahlam's return to studies and to the regain of Jihan's precarious balance: Bedouin law and customs, and the law and customs of the larger society. At the height of the crisis there were several meetings of the family Bedouin court, endless discussions at the shig, and when Bedouin professionals attempted to intervene they were told to butt out - and they obeyed. On the other hand, the police put out a warrant for the arrest of Jihan's brother, which to Jihan's surprise gave her more power, and the welfare authorities also spirited Ahlam away to a shelter from her hospital bed for a few days. The intervention of a Bedouin school principle that had taught the family as children managed to tip the balance in a direction with which Jihan could live.

Stage 3: Negotiation: In this stage relations are characterized by give-and-take, compromise, and attempts on both sides to regulate conflicts. Power struggles are based on more substantial mutual bases of power - or at least a precarious status quo - with safeguards that are usually effective prevention against exesses. Nevertheless, relations are based upon the assumption that men and women have different interests and must care for these interests lest one side abate the interests of the other.

The relationship between the Palestinian entity and the Israeli government has yet to reach the negotiation stage. At this writing, "negotiations" are actually Palestinian requests and Israeli responses, agreement or disagreement. If the issue is importmant to the Palestinians, they must resort to international pressure, appeal to Israeli public opinion, or file suit in Israeli courts. A true negotiation stage will be reached when the balance of power allows the Palestinians to look after their own interests. Until that time, relations can at best be considered unstable.

The criterion for movement from the adversarial stage to the negotiation stage is mostly one of quantity. If the weaker side can amass enough power to cause the stronger side to realize that it can no longer dictate policy and the tone of the relationship, a new balance is achieved. The critical attitude of this stage is that the weaker party begins to master the responsibility that comes with power and begins to act in a manner that the stronger party interprets as less threatening. This qualitative change lays the foundation for passing to the next stage.

Dalal is a graduate student in one of my classes. She comes from a well-known family and three of her brothers are respected professionals. A younger sister is a student at a college out of the area, a situation almost unheard of for a Bedouin woman. The class she takes with me requires a great deal of self-disclosure and Dalal has been courageous in this aspect of her work. I nearly fell of my chair when she asked to accompany me to a three-day conference in Gaza on the Palestinian woman (she cancelled at the last minute when her grandfather died). One day after class I had a meeting in the town where Dalal lived and offered to drive her home, and she accepted. This seemingly banal episode became significant only after I made the same offer to Frial who replied that her family and friends would be scandalized if they heard that a male teacher had driven her home.

Dalal's father died when she was young and she grew up with her maternal grandmother, which gave her the privilege of both being an only child and having a large family. She remembers getting her way most of the time and many family members coming to her for advice (I have sought her advice myself for some of my work with the Bedouin community and have found it insightful). She considers her paternal grandfather the most pervasive influence in her life and mourned him deeply when he died recently. He encouraged her, like his grandsons, to excel in school and expected her to continue college. She fondly remembers him often saying proudly that he will accept no uneducated women in his family. He also gave some protection against marrying her off too early (she is still single), but I believe that the family would not marry her off to someone against her will even without his protection.

Dalal is aware of her standing and knows what is acceptable for her in her family. Therefore at this point she does little testing the limits. In return, her family - especially her brothers now that her father and grandfather have passed away - supports her. She is not active in the various Bedouin women's movements. Nevertheless, she is aware that other women look up to her position and that her achievements may pave the way for other women inside and outside her tribe. She also uses her position to negotiate for the female students with whom she works in one of the high schools.

While Dalal has made strides toward her own liberation and perhaps through her the liberation of her sisters, I believe that she has yet to develop relationships of the kind that that require those in power to trust their weaknesses with her. While she carries a great deal of responsibility with her position, she does not yet possess the ability to create new meaning in relationships, preferring instead at this stage to use the resources of those already in power.

Stage 4: Dialogue: The Highest stage in the liberation process is manifested by a multi-level encounter with the other. Issues of power are now behind both sides and they are willing to explore together the ways to mutual enrichment as a result of an intimate knowing of the other as an individual on the background of embedded cultural horizons based on gender, family, ethnic background, and history, among others. The dialogue experience is freely entered and explored, making it an expression of growth in the liberated self, and in it one is free to grow and nurture the growth of the other. In my opinion, the dialogue experience is best described by the humanist philosophers and psychologists, such as Buber (1923/1937, see also Freidman, 1988), Maslow (1971), Rogers (1977) and T. Landsman (1976).

Dialogue in this sense between national entities is rare, if it exists at all. Perhaps it would be more useful at this point to discuss relations between countries that allow or encourage dialogue between individuals, or between representative groups. True dialogue requires both sides to be weak with each other, trusting that the relationship will not be abused. This being so, many so-called dialogue groups are really at the negotiation stage, or in transition from negotiation to dialogue.

Passage from the negotiation to the dialogue stage is accomplished by building trust that one side understands and values the other's welfare. The process of transition resembles successful parenting of the adolescent (Magen, * 1999), where the person in power gives up power, as the person desiring it is able to cope with the consequences of power. As the person desiring the power negotiates for more, and uses the power in a reassuring manner, a subtle qualitative change occurs and the relationship metamorphoses into one between two adults, one with a history of reinterpreted power and the other with a liberation history recently characterized by successful negotiation of power.

I am not sure that I know Palestinian women in this stage well enough to give a full illustration, but will attempt at least a partial description. Fatmeh is another student/colleague of mine, who works in a high school in one of the Bedouin towns. She is married to a high-status professional and has two small children. Although not a Bedouin herself, she won acceptance with some difficulty but with little doubt in the result. In a recent violent clash between students of rival families, Fatmeh found herself immediately in charge, giving orders to (male) teachers and the principal - not because she had the power to use, but because she was in a position of moral leadership at that moment, knew what to do and had no compunctions about doing it. In another violent emergency at the school I was in the area and came to help. After a short battlefield consultation, we divided up the tasks and she went about hers with a natural savoir- easily accepted by the staff.

In her classes with me Fatmeh will not let go of a concept until she understands it to the fullest. She will remind me what I said a month ago and pit it against what she heard from me today. I sometimes have the feeling that Fatmeh reads me like a medieval scholar reads the Talmud, pouring over tome after tome until the text is clear - for the moment. From what I have seen of the way Fatmeh relates to me, and to the high school staff and students, she seems at least close to a dialogical stage in relationships.

Implications for Social Activists

Although the purpose of the above tales was to develop the fractal metaphor for social activism from chaos and complexity theory, it is difficult to resist hunting for a moral to the stories. I would like to put forward some ruminations for the consideration of the reader who has borne with me this far. As mentioned above, resonance of these tales and the thoughts attached to them in the hearts of those exposed thereby is validity enough for me. Of course, stalwart hearts and latent positivists may prefer a more formal validation of the metaphor - to those I offer the metaphor as a stimulation of research hypotheses, especially to those needing a dissertation or tenure. I beg the patience of those remaining while I search for implications of a fractal metaphor within a social justice framework.

It seems to me that the foremost implication is that advocacy for those in the liberation process must be done in an ecological context. While the starting point for intervention may be one of convenience, an effective liberation process requires attention to as many eco-levels as is feasible. In many instances a liberation discourse may be useful at the level of both the persecutor and the persecuted. In the above example of Jihan and Ahlam, work with the brothers will probably raise the chances that both women will live a more liberated existence.

Juxtaposed to multilevel fractals at each stage, different strategies are needed to advocate for Palestinian women at different stages in the liberation process. Thus, advocacy for Ismahan may entail outside appeals or even efforts of physical protection, whereas for Ahlam an appeal to court or to the police may be more effective.

A third implication is that the stages are hypothesized to be progressive which implies that success is more likely if the attempt is to move up one stage at a time. In a well-known example of this predicament, during the beginning of the Palestinian Intifada ("uprising") the women enjoyed a position almost equal to men, but somewhere along the way the Islamic Movement took control and returned the women to subjugation [3]. For some time in Gaza there was even heavy pressure to force women to wear the veil. The metaphor discussed here would imply that the jump from stage one to stage three was too difficult for a society that was both they subjugated and subjugated women. The metaphor would suggest that it would have been more efficient to consolidate gains from stage one to stage two before attempting to move on, no matter how urgent the need.

It would seem that a fractal metaphor in liberation discourse would imply that one should look for parallel phenomena at the various eco-levels; that is, if we see the subjugation level at the relationship between men and women, we should look for highly authoritarian and hierarchical relationships among various groups within Palestinian society and similar relationships between the Palestinian society and other societies. If the metaphor holds true, it would seem that in other societies as well one could look for such embededness. In the Palestinian situation this metaphor seems to hold - where the Palestinian society is more subjugated, as in Gaza, the women are more subjugated. In Galilean Israel, where relationships between Palestinians and Israelis are at the adversarial or negotiation stage, women as a whole seem to be in a parallel relation to the male Palestinian society. In other societies, however, the metaphor may not hold completely, and further examination is needed to discern whether the fractal metaphor is useful. At any rate, it seems to me that a fractal metaphor would predict that the system aspires toward embeddedness. This would mean that we can predict that intervention in a stage two predicament would be more effective if the larger system relationships were at stage three than if they were at stage one, or even stage two. This observation seems to imply a hypothesis that the fractal metaphor is more accurate in predicting efficient intervention and advocacy than it is in reflecting a static situation.

Freire (1975) did not need a fractal metaphor to undertake his pedagogical model of liberation. Although Freire did not seem to be especially concerned about the liberation of women, professional interventions based on his model (Landsman, in press) have been found to be effective in situations that we would discern as the adversarial level. It is possible that a fractal patch to his model would help social justice advocates develop Freire-type interventions at other levels as well.

Summary and Conclusion

On the way to a lecture, Dr. Nadira Shelhoub-Kavorkian, prominent women's advocate, received a telephone call from the Palestinian governor of a large city. He demanded to know where a young woman was being hidden. Shelhoub-Kevorkian had spirited her away to one of her shelters, fearing for her life. She asked the governor why it was his business. He replied: "It is a matter of family honor - and state security!" The thesis of this article is that the relationship is in the opposite direction: The life and well-being of women are a matter of state security, and not their subjugation.

Other than indicating the state of the mind and heart of the social justice activist at any given time, chaos may provide a metaphor for understanding and applying advocacy and intervention in the liberation process. In this article I have especially focused upon a fractal metaphor in trying to understand the stages discerned in my work with Palestinian women as I shared their struggles and concerns. As this metaphor has guided both my thinking about the liberation process and my attempts to plan some proactive interventions in this area, I feel that it may be worthwhile to share these thoughts with others who may further enrich the process of building a better future for those currently in oppressive relationships.

Chaos theory indicates, on the one hand, that there are no simple answers and that the cause-effect relations may be hopelessly complex. This we have known all along. The good news is that embedded patterns may be hypothesized in social activity as in the rest of the physical world and that these patterns have the potential for facilitating advocacy and intervention to change, perhaps radically, the plight of the oppressed. And while the fractal metaphor does not place the future in our hands in a linear fashion, without doubt it places the social activist in a position with just enough leverage to truly move the world.


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1. This word began as a typo, but I like it and decided to keep it.

2. The names of women in this article called by their first names are, of course, pseudonyms.

3. The Islamic Movement, a social and economic entity, should not be confused with Islam, the potentially progressive religion.

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