Addressing the ongoing mental trauma in Gaza and the West Bank

 In Blog

Every month, I will highlight one Healing Across the Divides grantee in greater depth starting with a new grantee based in Bethlehem. In addition to being a new grantee, the organization itself is only six months old. However, it is not entirely new to me as I’ve known the Director for about 15 years. The organization is focused on addressing the ongoing mental trauma (not PTSD, as there is no Post) that Palestinians are enduring, especially in Gaza and very much also in the West Bank. The following is a snapshot of what has happened since October 7 in the West Bank: 

  • Approximately 700 Palestinians have been killed by the Israeli army in the West Bank.  
  • There are over 9000 Palestinians in Israeli jail.
  • Checkpoints are everywhere, making movement between geographic areas extremely difficult. 
  • Hundreds of thousands of West Bank Palestinians are out of work – in part because they can’t go to Israel for the manual labor jobs they had. The Israeli government has frozen taxes that are to be paid to the Palestinian Authority (PA). Consequently, the PA hasn’t paid its employees, including over 500,000 teachers and civil servants, since Oct 7. This, in turn, creates suffering and learning challenges for hundreds of thousands of children.  

To date, our grantee has worked with 500 individuals as direct beneficiaries. There are individuals who have been exposed to and suffering emotionally from Israeli settler and or soldier violence. The Director responded in writing to the following questions that I posed:

  1. Why did you start the organization? My journey in serving those who face oppression has led me to establish an organization dedicated to fostering healing within our community. In my work, I’ve encountered children who have suffered violence, detention, and severe aggression from Israeli soldiers and settlers. This exposure prompted me to consider the long-term impact on a generation of Palestinian children growing up amidst such trauma, surrounded by a historically and continuously traumatized community. I questioned what the future might hold for them.

This reflection led me to believe that community healing is the most effective approach to addressing trauma in our context. To heal communities, we must educate them about trauma, making them aware of its effects on mental health, physical well-being, and future prospects. Through this program, we aim to break the cycle of generational trauma by empowering communities to develop robust psychosocial support systems. This empowerment enables them to support themselves, their children, and their future generations. While this may not put an end to the cycle of violence, it will bolster the community’s resilience against oppression and maintain a glimmer of hope.

  1. What are you most proud of? I take immense pride in having the opportunity to foster healing among children within a challenging and complex environment. Each morning, I greet the day with joy despite the dehumanizing experiences we face daily due to political violence. While it’s simpler for many to detach themselves, I’ve embraced the role of a healer. This demanding mission and lifestyle have endowed me with a profound sense of purpose: to serve those in dire need and to be a beacon of hope for those struggling to find light amidst darkness.
  2. What are your biggest challenges (other than obtaining funds)? Currently, our most significant hurdles are safety and accessibility. We operate in volatile areas that are often subjected to violence from Israeli Soldiers and settlers, placing us in potentially perilous situations. There have been instances where we found ourselves amidst crossfire, and at other times, our team had to spend the night in a vehicle when checkpoints were unexpectedly closed for extended periods. Consequently, we maintain heightened security measures and clear communication with local communities to ensure our team’s well-being. Nonetheless, functioning in such unpredictable conditions is challenging, especially with the knowledge that we could be targeted. Our work is impeded by settler aggression, roadblocks, and checkpoint closures, which can isolate communities and jeopardize our team’s safety. Additionally, relying on public transportation poses its own set of challenges, as it limits our ability to respond swiftly when difficulties present themselves.
  3. What does the word resilience mean to you? In the Palestinian context, resilience takes on a profound significance, surpassing many other places in the world. It is our driving force, our ‘SUMUD,’ which signifies our capacity to remain hopeful and capable amidst adversity and severe challenges. This steadfastness not only sustains us but also energizes and motivates us to continue striving for the welfare of our people. To me, resilience is about nurturing hope when all around us seems to echo despair. It’s about maintaining that spark of optimism in the face of overwhelming odds.
  4. How does your work tie into resilience; again, whatever that word means for you? Our guiding principle is ‘Healing to Hope,’ placing resilience at the heart of our mission. It’s profoundly difficult for individuals and communities to recognize their own worth if they are not mentally sound enough to do so. This struggle persists even though oppression and violence show no signs of abating. The mental barriers we face can be more confining than any physical wall, as they can stifle our belief in the possibility of life and the pursuit of hope. Our initiative is designed to empower communities to rise above oppression and violence by healing from not only the current trauma but also the inherited fears from generations past who suffered similar fates. Through healing, we cleanse ourselves of violence and oppression, ensuring that these do not become our legacy for the future. 
  5. What do your family and friends say about your professional and personal trajectory? The people around me feel inspired, and it’s clear that in tough times, our role as leaders is crucial. We can either offer a positive path forward or lead others to believe that no progress can be made. I am grateful that I can offer a perspective that acknowledges the harsh realities we face, yet also highlights our capacity to make life meaningful and filled with hope.
  6. Complete the following: In five years, I hope to … for myself …. For my organization. In five years, I aspire to witness the transformation of today’s despairing children into thriving young individuals eager to make a difference in the world. I hope to see the fruits of our labor in healing and instilling hope, manifesting as positive changes in the lives of children, youth, families, and communities across Palestine. My vision is for this program to become a pioneer in art therapy, play therapy, and drama therapy within Palestine, utilizing the arts as a conduit for healing and fostering hope within our community.

This organization supported by Healing Across the Divides employs a thoughtful approach to aiding individuals and communities in need, known as the “look, listen, link” model.

This method encompasses various forms of support, including legal aid, counseling, and protection services, tailored to address the diverse needs of those seeking assistance. Furthermore, HATD invests in the professional development of practitioners, psychologists, social workers, and frontline workers through training and capacity-building programs. These initiatives aim to enhance their ability to provide effective assistance, while promoting self-care and harnessing creativity as a therapeutic tool within their communities.

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