The Psychological Battle within Palestinian Society
Many nations that have suffered under occupation often, as a result, experience trauma in one form or another. The case of Palestine is an exceptional one, firstly because it was subject to multiple occupiers (the British then the Israelis), and secondly because it is still under occupation, and continues to be the only occupied country in this day and age.
Therefore, the road to recovery for Palestinians has been an extensive one. Beginning from the British Mandate of Palestine in 1917 and the distress it induced, there has been an increase in psychological problems among the population. This often manifests itself in many forms, such as psychological and emotional distress, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), as well as social maladjustment during crisis. It is widely accepted that these conditions are triggered when one suffers from or witnesses direct violence, as is the case with Palestinians under Israeli occupation. Additionally, lack of peace and security--at times within their own homes and towns--causes varying degrees of distress and trauma among many Palestinians, especially children.
This does not only affect the victims of crisis, but also affects the perpetrators. Israeli soldiers also suffer psychologically from inflicting violence on other human beings. On one occasion, a former ITF soldier, Ido Gal Razon, expresses his anguish in the Israeli Apartheid Parliament, “And no one takes responsibility. No one gives me therapy. And I complain! I shout! I pee at night from Post Trauma.” More evidence of his incredible guilt and regret leading to his mental instability can be heard when he next says, “He comes to me and says, 'Why did you kill me?' Can you function after something like this? Can you eat? Can you, at all, succeed in life?"
Palestine has been under illegal Israeli occupation for over 50 years now. Subsequently, many Palestinians have been forced out of their homes and villages and have fled to refugee camps in neighboring Arab countries. Others, especially those who had the courage to stay, were subjected to various forms of repression and politically motivated violence from the Israelis and their allies.
Amid the Palestinians who have been exposed to violent treatment and subsequently developed mental disorders, a large proportion are from the youth segment of the population. In fact, a study conducted in 2003 involving 944 Palestinian children uncovered that 33% suffered from acute levels of PTSD, while 49% exhibited moderate levels, and 16% had low levels.
The results are even more worrying for youngsters living near Israeli settlements; 55% suffered from acute levels while 35% showed moderate levels, and only 9% had low levels of PTSD. These numbers indicate the extent of the atrocity that these children have known. They have lost their childhoods to this war. They have experienced things no child should experience. Their need for psychological attention is great. And yet, not only is the Israeli occupation the cause of their conditions, it moreover imposes physical restrictions preventing them from seeking treatment.
Despite the growing number of workshops and assemblies that try to shed light on this issue and highlight the concern raised by parents and teachers alike, dealing with this problem is challenged by another unexpected factor; social stigma towards mental health conditions in Arab societies, specifically in Palestine. This seems to bring to a halt any development that may occur in this regard. The issue here lies within the will of the Palestinian people to seek out therapeutic aid; Palestinians--along with most Arabs--shy away from resorting to psychologists or psychiatrists due to the fear of being labeled “mad”. Unfortunately, Palestinians view the need for therapy as a sign of weakness, denoting the objectionable qualities of being frail and exposed.
How can this issue be addressed?
One solution would be educating Palestinians on the importance and benefits of receiving psychological care by implementing relevant programs and opening valuable discussions. Another would be by instilling a sense of much-needed hope greatly at all stages of their lives. Hope is a friend of sanity, and so all efforts made to make it through this predicament should be consistent and empowering to the Palestinian people.