Tuesday, October 20, 2020

Trauma, resistance and liberation in Palestine

By Annelies Verbeek - May 31, 2018
Section: [Main News] [Features]
Tags: [resistance] [Health Care] [PSTD]

“I don’t think there are high numbers of PTSD in Palestine,” Samah Jabr said as she sat in her governmental office in Beitunia, where she fulfils her role as the head of mental health centres in the West Bank. She also has a private clinic and supports NGOs in their mental health work.

She authored the book “Derrière les Fronts: résistances et résiliences en Palestine” (Behind the Fronts: resistance and resilience in Palestine) - book that deals with the psychological impact of occupation.
Psychopathologies and suffering in context

Jabr explained many have a tendency to speak about PTSD as a common mental health issue in Palestine.

But according to Jabr, this is a diagnosis developed to describe soldiers that go to war. They come back home, and the bombing does not leave their minds.
“They are in a safe place. And the threat is in their heads. For Palestinians, the threat is not imaginary, it is real. And the trauma is repetitive and enduring. It is transgenerational. We inherit it from our parents,” Jabr told Palestine Monitor.
Jabr reckons most Palestinians experience psychosocial suffering, not necessarily psychopathological disorders.
“Grief is very common in Palestine. There are many circles of grief; grief for the death of family members, demolished homes. University graduates who cannot find jobs, inability to travel abroad. Many people suffer from demoralisation. This is suffering. It is not pathological,” Jabr added.
Psychopathology is related to the individual, while psychosocial suffering is related to the context. “In the first instance, a solution is to medicate. For the second, we need to combat the context,” she said.
Therefore, according to Jabr, most of the intervention should focus on human rights, combating the injustices perpetrated against Palestinians by Israel, as well as fighting for social justice within Palestinian society.
“We need to take care of wellbeing of Palestinians by working against the violence that penetrates every aspect of life.” 

The glorification of the victims

Jabr explained that every nation bent under the weight of oppression, has a tendency to glorify its martyrs. “People do not want to show their pain if they feel that the aggressor will take satisfaction in it,” Jabr affirmed. “So they do the opposite, turns the victims into heroes.
According to Jabr, this natural tendency can be harmful. It may impede traumatised individuals from seeking help.
“It leads to fragile individuals carrying the trauma symptoms of others,” Jabr explained. She told Palestine Monitor sometimes children come into her clinic. When asked about the moment the symptoms of trauma commenced, they often refer back to a period when their father was released from prison.
“To the outside world, their father is a hero. But at home, he is angry, controlling, screams at night. Children suffer from this, and sometimes, they will be the ones to seek help. They carry the trauma of their fathers.”

Psychological impact of colonisation

When asked about the psychological effect of colonisation, Jabr affirmed that there are countless factors at play. It depends on the individual, and the nature of the oppression. “Psychological consequences are variant and dynamic,” Jabr explained. “They can change throughout a person’s lifetime.”

“In general, when there is colonisation - some people will surrender. Some will assimilate, others will fight.”
A lot depends on the individual’s worldview. Jabr said nobody wants to be part of the defeated group - that is a general truth - but there are different ways to conceptualise defeat.
“If victory is defined by being on the moral side, you will want to be part of the Palestinians. If you conceptualise victory by superior physical strength, you will want to be like the Israelis,” Jabr clarified.
She said children might react differently to seeing their fathers being beaten up by soldiers. “Some children might hate that vision so much, they will want to become like the soldiers.”
“Other children will become angry, and more likely to look for confrontations with the Israeli army.”
Jabr talked about the so-called 'peace process’ as a means to domesticate Palestinians, and provoke a psychological change in Palestinians to crush the resistance.
“Unfortunately it works,” Jabr admitted. “For some people, not for everybody.”
Other people became more willing to take risks to oppose the occupation. “Because it causes them a lot of psychological suffering.”
Jabr said she was sure that there will always be people opposing the oppression. “This is human nature. We lose part of our humanity in the choice of surrendering and silence. There will always be those to oppose the occupation - until they reach the point of helplessness and complete loss of agency,” Jabr said. “That, I am sure of.”
Jabr talked about a research in Gaza that suggested that those who participate in protests are healthier than those that don’t. “But we don’t know the cause and effect - if they participate in the protest because they are healthier or the other way around.”
Jabr affirmed that she thinks resistance is the healthy reaction. “But we have to be able to calculate the risks.”
“The question is to calculate hope in a way that saves the individual. We have to be aware of moral choices we make in our resistance, and that there are consequences on our health and faith.”
Jabr said that she works with many western mental health professionals, and that many of them make assertions that the youth who marched towards the separation fence during the Great March of Return were suicidal.
“They think those youth have a death wish,” Jabr said. “Maybe there were a few cases like this, but the large majority had a life wish. They were too hopeful.”
Jabr said that too much hope can be dangerous because it brings disappointment.
“My hope is to contribute to building good health services, a psychological understanding and culture that can liberate the people’s minds, parallel to the liberation of the land,” she concluded.
Lead image: 'Defiance' by Naji El Ali.

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