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A Vision for Palestinian Womens Rights Organizations based on the Global Study on the Implementation of UNSCR 1325
(Ten strategies for tackling issues pertaining to Women, Peace and Security)
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Date posted: October 24, 2005
By Eyad El Sarraj

The collective Palestinian psyche is a mixture of painful memories, old and recent traumas, an unyielding quest for freedom and a profound longing for a dignified life.

In December 1987, the Palestinian popular uprising, the Intifada, against the Israeli military occupation opened a dramatic new chapter in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict with far-reaching psychological, political, and socio-economic consequences.

The Israeli army's response to the Intifada was to increase brutal and oppressive measures. These measures included killings, detentions without trial, demolition of homes, torture, deportation, and curfews.

The Palestinian Human Rights Information Center estimates that during the period of the first Intifada (December 1987 to December 1993), 1,282 Palestinians died (of which 332 were children) as a result of the conflict and 130,472 Palestinians were injured. Among the injured there are those that remain with permanent disabilities. Furthermore, approximately 57,000 Palestinians were arrested (many of whom were subjected to systematic physical and psychological torture)(1), over 481 were deported and 2,532 had their homes demolished. The psychosocial and financial costs for the affected families in terms of medical and psychosocial care, loss of productive time, chronic disability, loss of function, and loss of life and property are enormous. (2)

Two kinds of trauma have been considered the most difficult to cope with torture and home demolitions

  • The use of torture in Israeli interrogation centers was sanctioned by law until the Israeli High Court of Justice ruled in 1999 that all forms of torture during in interrogations are unlawful (except for moderate use of physical pressure!). Research from the Gaza Community Mental Health Programme (GCMHP) showed that 30% of torture survivors developed Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and that the more a prisoner had been exposed to physical, chemical or electric torture, psychological ill-treatment, sensory deprivation or bombardment, the more he subsequently suffered from intrusive re-experiencing, withdrawal, numbness, and hyper-arousal. Electric and chemical torture constituted the most serious risk for PTSD symptoms. Both physical and psychological methods of torture placed victims at serious risk for intrusive experiences trauma. (3) It is worth mentioning that some political prisoners did not develop signs or symptoms of PTSD.
  • Home demolition has been one of the harshest methods of collective punishment carried out on the Palestinian population. During the Al-Aqsa Intifada, the number of demolitions of private homes exceeded thousands The Donor Support Group Statistics in April 2003, estimates total damage of private housing to be US$ 63,008,410. Many families currently live in tents or in relatives' houses, which causes frustration and conflicts between family members. Children who were exposed to loss of home were severely disturbed. (4)

In 1990, the GCMHP established programs to care for children who were most traumatized. Many children have detailed and sequential forms of trauma. Most come from overcrowded homes and many have had their parents arrested, humiliated, beaten and imprisoned. In many instances there was a direct link between events in which the child witnessed humiliation of the father and his desire to throw stones at Israeli soldiers. Children who come from families of imprisoned fathers were more ready to join the struggle against the occupation.

Mental disorder in the Palestinian culture is seen as either a form of weakness, spoiled behavior or spiritual possession, but always stigmatic. Throughout the years, the most immediate resource for Palestinians has been the family, which is still cohesive and eager to assume responsibility for the weak, elderly or ill.

Although the years of occupation and conflict have impacted negatively the physical, psychological and mental well being of Palestinians, the Israeli unilateral disengagement from Gaza could be an opportunity for peace. Ending the cycle of violence and victimization can only be achieved through a political settlement and through national reconciliation.

**Eyad El Sarraj is a psychiatrist, human rights and peace activist. He founded the Gaza Community Mental Health Programme (GCMHP) in 1990 to provide comprehensive community mental health services - therapy, training and research - to the population of the Gaza Strip. He is currently the Chairman.

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Source: Bridges Magazine
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