Will a wave of Stockholm Syndrome be triggered following world sympathy for Palestinians?

IT WAS a split-second moment captured on camera that shook the world when Israeli citizen Yocheved Lifshitz aged 85 – who was taken hostage by Hamas on Oct 7 – turned to shake her captor’s hand upon her release.

As she was being handed over to Israel authorities, she turned to her captor – who was wearing the uniform of the Qassam Brigade (military wing of Hamas) – to wish him “Shalom!” (Jewish salutation of peace).

The video posted on X (formerly Twitter) went viral. As would be expected, the Israeli authorities were not happy about it with some calling the media conference that followed as a propaganda win by Hamas.

Depending on which report you read – the pro-Israel media focussed on the “hell” Lifshitz said she went through while pro-Palestinian media jumped on the quote by Lifshitz that her captors had said if “you believe in the Quran. We won’t hurt you”.

It was reported that Lifshitz and 79-year-old Nurit Cooper were freed after 16 days of captivity for “compelling humanitarian” reasons following mediation by Qatar and Egypt.

Stockholm Syndrome

This incident reminded me of a similar situation when British journalist Yvonne Ridley was captured by the Taliban in Afghanistan in 2001 and upon her release, would convert to Islam in 2003.

Then a journalist with the Sunday Express, Ridley had been assigned to cover the build-up to the Afghan war but was detained on suspicion of spying after she was caught being disguised in a traditional burka.

Although Ridley said she was never physically hurt in any way, while in prison she tried to secure her release in prison by offering to read the Quran. It was the start of her conversion to Islam.

The case of Ridley is often recognised as the Stockholm Syndrome, a concept now known around the world whereby captives develop an emotional bond with their captors.

Psychiatrist Nils Bejerot coined the term Stockholm Syndrome following the six-day hostage drama in Stockholm when two women were used as human shields and were believed to be behaving as if under a spell or similar to being brainwashed.

Then there is the case of Australian teacher Timothy Weeks who spent three-and-a-half years as a captive of the Taliban in 2016. During his captivity, Weeks began reading the exegesis (explanation) of the Quran.

Weeks was quoted as saying: “But one of the things I was absolutely dumbstruck by was the faith of the Taliban. They had unfathomable, unshakable faith that we do not see in the western world.”

A devout Christian previously, it was in May 2018 that Weeks formally converted to Islam. He was released in November 2019 in a prisoner swap for Taliban commander Anas Haqqani. Weeks claims he has not been diagnosed with Stockholm Syndrome.

Much later, a high-ranking Taliban official would apologise to him and Weeks would comment, “It was nice but it doesn’t change the fact that I went through hell. But I guess if I hadn’t gone through all that trouble, I wouldn’t have accepted Islam.”

Support for Palestine

The Israel-Palestine conflict triggered by the Oct 7 attack by Hamas has been brought to the world via social media in ways that had never happened before. Anyone with a smart phone and internet access can show what is happening in real time.

While previously only well-funded news agencies would have embedded journalists reporting their version of events, these days even journalists use social media to show atrocities that would not make it into the mainstream news.

Possibly, this led to – as reported by VOANews – hundreds of thousands of demonstrators rallied in cities in Europe, the Middle East and Asia to show support for the Palestinians as Israel’s military widened its air and ground offensive on the Gaza Strip.

The VOA report also said that while there had been strong support and sympathy for Israel from Western governments and many citizens over the Hamas attacks, the Israeli response also prompted anger, particularly in Arab and Muslim countries including Malaysia.

Also making the social media rounds are clips of non-Muslim influencers (posted on TheDeenShow) who say they were prompted to learn more about Islam and to read the Quran. Some even converted to Islam.

Is it any wonder that Islam is the fastest growing religion in the world? According to Pew Research Centre projections – if current trends continue – by 2050, the number of Muslims will nearly equal the number of Christians around the world.

The report published in 2017 also projected that by 2050 in the US, Judaism will no longer be the largest non-Christian religion. Muslims will be more numerous than people who identify as Jewish on the basis of religion.

Could there be some sort of Stockholm Syndrome happening as a result of observing the stoicism of Palestinians and firmness of faith amid their suffering? The non-Muslim influencers say their eyes have been opened.

Could there be a Stockholm Syndrome backlash that has become the “collateral damage” of war? – Nov 14, 2023


Niza Shimi was a former journo with a leading mainstream English media.

The views expressed are solely of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Focus Malaysia.

Main pic credit: The Times of Israel


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