Social psychology emerged in the early part of the last century as a distinct discipline that focused on the study of social behaviour of individuals and collectives. Over time, however, social psychology has relatively ignored the ‘social’ part of the equation and has become mainly concerned with individual behaviour. The major part of social psychological research was carried out in the artificial context of the experimental laboratory. Studying social behaviour in real life contexts is essential, not only to return social psychology to its roots, but also to ensure that our contributions are both theoretically rich and socially valuable. Observation of real life situations is essential if we want to advance our understanding of how individuals and collectives behave. To illustrate the importance of a contextually rich social psychology and the usefulness of natural observations, the recent violent confrontation between the Israelis and the Palestinians is described and analysed, focusing on social behaviours of Israeli Jews. In conclusion, it is argued that social psychology should strive towards equilibrium between natural and experimental approaches, between personal and contextual emphases and between micro and macro perspectives. Copyright © 2004 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.