Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, Trauma and the Brain

Things to Remember When Crisis Hits

1. Lizard brain instantly steps to the control wheel when scary or painful things happen. We’re on ancient autopilot, a mechanism so powerful that we can’t always control our response in certain situations. We are wired to think and act with much less than our full human capacities of reason, intention and ethics in crisis. That does not exempt us from the responsibility of our actions – it calls us to constantly work on bringing back our rational and act with moral judgment.

2. To regain the use of our full higher capacities requires effort and conscious choice. Our instinctual brain responds to the signs of crisis around us and floods us with signals of panic and terror. If we don’t recognize what is happening, we translate these responses to hatred and aggressive acts towards those we react against. We may find ourselves reacting strongly in situations of perceived threat.

We can assist the rational mind to stay in charge, by reminding ourselves that although these are hard and fearful times and people are in danger, the sense of danger is much greater than the actual danger.

3. Inner conflict is your friend in managing Lizard brain. In fact if you’re not conflicted within during crisis, you’re almost certainly under full control of Lizard brain. In these moments, if you begin to ask yourself — is what I am seeing or doing right now falls into my moral compass? If you are able to ask yourself these questions in these moments – your Lizard brain is no longer in charge – you are.

If all you think about and feel is how wrong and terrible the other side is, you’re probably bringing less than your full human capacities to this situation. You will overlook important information in such a state and odds are high that actions you take will make things worse on the long-term, not better. You may be wise to wait before speaking or acting.

4. Crisis activates our instinctual response mechanisms, even when we are not directly involved. This means that simply being exposed to constant reports of the media can lead you to feel that you are under attack, even if you are in your own living room.

Almost everyone who has experienced deep and painful crises in the past can be activated by similar reminders of their past experiences.

Such a response is normal! We can’t prevent our old crisis mechanisms from being activated in the presence of new danger (real or perceived), however, we can help our thinking brain to be back in control.

Taking Action

In violent conflicts, everyone is exposed to stress and high alert on an on-going basis. Regardless to religion, nationality, gender or ethnicity, people mostly respond from the instinctual part of the brain and less from rational and moral judgment.

We Middle Easterners are hot tempered. When you put together the natural hot tempers of our region and the recent violence, that adds up to a lot of lizard brains! I think most of us would admit we have a lot of experience with saying or doing things in the heat of a moment.

Every day, most of us read or hear news reports that trigger lizard brain responses in us and those around us. I invite you, the next time you find hatred or fear rising within yourself, be mindful to what is happening to you.

Try the Reset Exercise* if you feel you can’t relax. Pay attention to your response. The more you get to know yourself and your responses – the more you are able to take control over your responses. Mindfulness is like muscle that gets stronger surprisingly quickly once you start using it – and weakens almost as quickly if you stop.

It is time to gain control and bring our thinking brains back into the equation. We have rich resources of wisdom, passion, and creativity that could guide us in creating a good future for our children. To do that — we have to bring our full resources back into play.

*If you feel that you are too hyper/anxious try this Reset Exercise:
Jump up and down (as fast as you can) 10 times. Then sit down and (preferably leaning back on something) take five long, slow, in-breaths, (each about four seconds long, then held for one second before releasing). After each in-breath, breathe out long and slow (for about six seconds). Repeat until your nervous system resets itself and your thinking brain is back in charge.

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Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, Trauma and the Brain

Odelya Gertel Kraybill, Ph.D.

Dr. Odelya Gertel Kraybill was born and raised in Israel. Her personal journey as a trauma survivor has led her to become a trauma specialist and therapist. She was a Fulbright scholar and focused on trauma studies in three graduate studies programs in the U.S. Odelya has lived in and worked with trauma survivors in Israel, Lesotho, Philippines and the U.S. She is a graduate adjunct faculty member at the George Washington University art therapy program and is widely recognized as a blogger on stress and trauma integration at Visit her on Facebook.


APA Reference
Gertel Kraybill, O. (2015). Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, Trauma and the Brain. Psych Central. Retrieved on April 3, 2020, from


Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 3 Nov 2015
Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 3 Nov 2015
Published on All rights reserved.