Theater of Cruelty

When the human mind bleeds

Seven out of ten Palestinian children in the West Bank are mentally injured. One cure is artistic expression.


West Bank, Palestine / Israel

(text and photo)

I'm going to Ramallah. I have just come through Qalandya, the great checkpoint between occupied East Jerusalem and the equally occupied West Bank. No Palestinians from the West Bank will pass here.

On the other side is a sea of ​​taxis, and drivers are shouting for customers. Every customer can mean salt in the food, because unemployment here is very high; a consequence of the bombed infrastructure and the movement inhibitions the wall and all the control posts create.

I explain a driver my case and get shown into a car. Then the colleagues explode in rage, shouting and screaming in Arabic inside the car. For a moment, it seems as if the mouthwash is going to turn into a hand mix. Eventually I get out of the cab, where someone had blocked the door, and everything is quiet. Here, the drivers do not sneak unpunished in the queue.

Wing clipped everyday

In 2000, the second Palestinian intifada began, the rebellion against the Israeli occupation.

Since then, the mental disorders among the Palestinians have increased sharply. A study conducted at the University of Tel Aviv in 2002 showed that 70 percent of Palestinian children in the West Bank suffer from post-traumatic ailments, while 30 percent of Jewish children in the settlements are affected.

A few weeks ago, Israel withdrew from Gaza. Deadly air strikes continue, but in the West Bank frustration and powerlessness are also growing in tandem with the wall and settlements. Twenty psychologists in the West Bank work on war traumas.

New Time goes to the Palestinian Red Crescent, a sister organization of the Red Cross. In Ramallah, their department of mental health in the West Bank is headquartered. Here is the knowledge of how the occupation affects Palestinian minds.

- The injuries are many, says psychologist Fathy Flefel, head of the department.

- Anxiety, insomnia, excessive sleep, depression, street violence and reduced school performance are some examples. On the streets of Ramallah, I see cluttered body language everywhere. People only think about the occupation, it permeates daily life.

- In what way?

- Look at the city of Qalqylia. It is surrounded by the wall, and the primary school is on the other side. The wall's opening hours are actually from 07.00: 08.00-14.00: 15.00, 17.00: 18.00-XNUMX: XNUMX and XNUMX: XNUMX-XNUMX: XNUMX. Sometimes children have to wait for hours. Sometimes they do not let through if they are two minutes late. Ransacks are ransacked, they have to get rid of t-shirts. This is everyday. I have seen children's faces petrified when soldiers have threatened them with rifles, says Flefel.

He gives several examples of complicated everyday life:

- Between Nablus and Ramallah there are 40 kilometers and in among six checkpoints. Although I openly drive for office, the journey can take four to five hours. Sometimes we do not get through and have to spend the night in the car. How to plan things under such conditions? Poverty is also a poison. Unemployment is around 75 per cent, and this weakens the parents' ability to care. A father says that he goes out before the children get up in the morning to avoid hearing about things they need. The humiliation of the soldiers also undermines the authority of the parents. This is noticeable in a culture where the family network is important.

- How do you remedy this?

- Among other things with counseling and awareness raising. We are quickly on the spot when Israeli forces arrest, destroy and kill. We get people to verbalize emotions, talk about symptoms, both individually and in groups, and we suggest ways to deal with this. Not least, bodily awareness is important; to use body language and locate where the pain has settled. We believe in releasing tension with both relaxation and physical activity. With children, we often use drawing, painting, theater and other artistic expressions.

Nightmares and bed wetting

Psychologist Iman Ashoor talks about Ahamd, a seven-year-old boy from an ordinary family. On his way home from school, he saw an Israeli rocket blast an apartment block five feet away and youths few body parts torn off as blood flowed. Among other things, Ahmad reacted with school refusal, nightmares, insomnia and bedwetting, especially by sound from gunshots and fighter jets.

- First he received individual treatment, says Ashoor. Rationally and objectively, we made aware of what had happened. He fully understood his reaction as we practiced improving the negative. We rewarded when the bed was dry, comforted when it cut. Ahmad's symptoms are classic. Eventually, Ahmad met a group of children with similar experiences, and there he overcame his social withdrawal. Among other things, we let the children draw, sing and tell stories to unwind. In the end, Ahmad managed to convey the incident to the whole group, says Ashoor.

- How common is Ahmad's case?

Very common, but the guilt can be stronger when the children are powerless witnesses to someone they are related to being shot. Two ten-year-old boys ended up in a firing line, and one was hit in the head. The surviving comrade responded with strong guilt, anxiety, eating disorders and concentration failure at school. Then we told stories where one who survived and mourned his dead comrade got hero status.

The inviolable power of control items

The Department of Mental Health also conducts preventative work. I'm invited to a play for Jericho's schoolchildren and their parents. The message should arm the children against abuse. The project is financially supported by UNICEF.

The mood works well among the hundreds of attendees in the large airy hall, which is a more comfortable place to stay than the outdoor heat here at the bottom of the Jordan Valley.

Jericho is one of the few Palestinian cities in the West Bank that has not yet experienced military raids. A farmer's wife tells me that her children are still afraid of the soldiers. It controls the family's everyday life when parents are allowed to pass through the checkpoints to and from the earth. This unpredictability has led her to give up her husband on earth.

The play is written by Jenin's teacher of theater science, Mohammad Abu Aziza. He performs it with actress Raya Zeyada.

The show is about a bird that has lost its gold feather to a bird catcher. Without the spring, the bird cannot fly. A girl has lost her mother and her country. She and the bird join their wands to find the lost. The girl meets the birdcatcher and saves the feather. The bird catcher then falls into a hole, and with the gold spring in place the bird can help the man up. He becomes so grateful that he decides to never catch a bird again. The play ends with the bird and birdcatcher helping the girl find her land.

The main message of the play is collaboration, and that no one can live without freedom. The children are then encouraged to come forward and say how they experienced it. It turns out that most of the children have associated the birdcatcher with the soldiers, while the bird and girl are alternately Palestinians in Israeli prisons, farmers who have lost their land and refugees in the refugee camps, as there are several in most Palestinian cities.

The author explains that he had thought of the girl as the Palestinian people, and that he had left the end open because he could give no clue as to how the lost land should be recovered.

Hopefully the piece has sown something in the audience, which can strengthen them in a difficult life.



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