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A deeper pain

Palestinians with head in hands

Unseen: the psychological impact of Israel’s attacks on Gaza will have a profound long-term effect on Palestinians. © Belal Khaled/AA/TT/TT News Agency/Press Association Images

Israel’s war against the Gaza Strip between 7 July and 25 August caused, reports say, 2,133 deaths (including 577 children) and over 11,000 injuries. Many thousands were left with lifelong disabilities, tens of thousands of homes were destroyed, and hundreds of thousands of people were left homeless.

But such reports are just the tip of an iceberg of a much more profound long-term effect on the mental health of the population and the wellbeing of society. The psychosocial damage that has resulted and will persist is unseen, unarticulated and immeasurable.

Consider the Palestinian-American mother who had to choose between fleeing Gaza with two of her children (who possessed US citizen­ship) while leaving behind the two who did not; or remaining in Gaza under bombardment with all four of her children. Psychological damage is also reflected in the questions of children who ask their parents: ‘Why do children in Gaza die?’ ‘What happens to them after they die?’ ‘Will you be sad if I die, too?’ Such are the experiences of families instructed to evacuate their homes, with their past and their future reduced to dust. Statistics cannot capture the chronic traumatic grief felt by those grieving the loss of loved ones in such horrific circumstances, nor the emotional suffering borne by those for whom the bereavement process cannot take its natural course.

Haunted

Mariam lost her little sister years ago, when soldiers shot at the family’s car on the way to school. Even now, every time Mariam encounters a soldier, she relives the shooting and the bitter taste of loss. She is stuck with that traumatic memory, and it is taking over her life.

The impact of war on the mental health of the civilian population is one of its most significant and persistent consequences. Universally, scientific studies have documented an increase in mental disorders following war. Women, children, the elderly and those living with disabilities are the most vulnerable to its effects; the degree of trauma and the availability of physical and emotional support also affect the outcome.

In Palestine today, there is disappointment but not bitterness at a world whose ignorance and moral numbness has permitted so much cruelty

Faced with the immediate atrocity of war, people commonly experience a state of hyper-arousal in which they feel capable of fighting against or fleeing from danger; but they can also feel frozen in a state of helplessness. In years to come, they may be haunted by memories, nightmares and flashbacks of traumatic events.

Accidental mis­fortunes and natural disasters are also tragic, but they are impersonal; the horrors of war are deeply personal. Traumatic injuries inflicted in war cause particularly deep damage because they represent deliberate and preventable malice. The feelings evoked, the sense of helplessness and impotent rage, are more painful. An earthquake does not ‘triumph’, but in war one party aims to triumph over and humiliate the other. The losses experienced are thus especially bitter and shameful. In the case of Gaza, the proximity of the perpetrator is a constant reminder of the past and an ongoing threat for the future.

The destruction of life at a physical and material level is also the destruction of a way of life, the destruction of a point of view: physical warfare brings with it psychological warfare.

Gaza is one of the most densely populated areas on earth, a place whose civilians have been living under occupation and siege for decades, with very high rates of imposed unemployment and poverty. Its civilian population lacks access to its own airspace, land, waterways, sanitation facilities, roads and boundaries; and has been forcibly isolated from Palestinians in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, separating families and precluding economic, social and political growth.

It is because Gaza, and all of Palestine, has been continuously dominated by a vastly stronger military force that has controlled all aspects of life for generations that the life of its civilians cannot be normalized by a mere ceasefire. The war that makes global news is superimposed on a severe, chronic, traumatic deprivation that is no longer news. Palestinians need relief from bombing, but they also need the restitution of lost rights and for underlying wrongs to be addressed. Otherwise there is a risk that the ongoing violence will beget an unending spiral of victimhood and revenge, of polarization and mythology, and of further trans-generational trauma.

Grief but not despair

So how do Palestinians cope? A young boy from Gaza, in a Jerusalem hospital following a blast injury that left him with a gangrenous foot, said: ‘If Allah saves my leg from amputation, when I get older, I’ll rebuild our house that was demolished. My situation is better than others: two of my classmates are dead. When I go back to Gaza, I will pay condolence to their families.’

Cultural and spiritual coping strategies are very important for this nation. Despite continuing community erosion through relentless military, political, economic, social, ideological and psychological oppression, mental-health problems are not as widespread as might be expected.

I have listened to hundreds of people interviewed just as they begin to understand the immense destruction of war and its impact on their lives. I have provided treatment to injured Gazans admitted to hospitals in Jerusalem and the West Bank. Their most frequent reaction is ‘Allah is sufficient for us and He is the best disposer of affairs’. Betrayed by the ‘international community’, these people have placed their trust in a power that they believe to be higher than that of Israel, the UN, and the US government. Their profound faith is stronger than the smart missiles of Israel and the psychological treatment meted out by professionals. In Palestine today, there is grief but not despair; disappointment but not bitterness at a world whose ignorance and moral numbness has permitted so much cruelty to come our way.

The war that makes global news is superimposed on a severe, chronic, traumatic deprivation that is no longer news

Despite the horrendous destruction and loss in Gaza, there are many ordinary people who have taken risks to help others survive: medical and civil defence personnel; journalists; families who took in the needy and dispossessed. The damage done will not dampen their morale or weaken their resolve.

Trauma treatment often focuses on techniques that help the individual recall and narrate the horrifying details of his or her experience in a safe environment. But the Palestinian reality includes not only internal ‘post’-traumatic stress but current and ongoing external traumatic stress. Traumatic events cannot be banished from consciousness when they are not banished from communal reality. Acknowledging this reality is a social process, beyond the bounds of individual psychotherapy. Thus treatment that ignores the political reality can do more harm than good. Just as the victim of a crime needs not only individual sympathy but the delivery of justice, so the Palestinian community needs to be seen; its suffering heard and acknowledged. The wrongs it has endured need to be made right. Fact finding and truth commissions, memorials and ceremonies may also help the healing process.

National unity, social cohesion and international solidarity are other potential remedies for the psychological pain and alienation caused by Israel’s relentless dehumanization of Palestinians and the resulting international apathy, denial and denunciation. Solidarity can promote healing, diminish the urge for revenge and pave the way for future reconciliation; it allows for a personal revival and for a rebuilding of society that will eventually help both Palestinians and Israelis in the post-war era.

Safety promotes trust; acknowledgement allows for mutual acknowledgement; compassion paves the way for forgiveness; and justice delivers peace.

Samah Jabr is a psychiatrist and psychotherapist in Jerusalem, who cares about the wellbeing of her community, beyond issues of mental illness. She writes regularly on mental health in occupied Palestine.

Unequal in worth, unequal in death

Funeral in the West Bank

An all-too-familiar sight: a funeral procession, this one for Zakariah Muhamed Abu Aram in 2012. Palestine Solidarity Project under a Creative Commons Licence

This morning I woke up to the noise of helicopters, police cars, and ambulances as clashes erupted in our previously peaceful neighbourhood of Shufat, East Jerusalem, with Israeli security forces shooting at Palestinian youths who were protesting the killing of a 16-year-old boy, Mohammed Abu Khudair. Mohammed had been snatched from our neighbourhood while on his way to prayers at dawn, but eyewitnesses who observed him forced into a vehicle had informed the police. A few hours later, Israeli police discovered his body in the forests of Jerusalem in the site of the massacred village of Deir Yasin – a moment of déjà vu or a traumatic flashback of the village itself! His body had been stabbed, disfigured and charred. These events took place the night following an attempt by Israelis to kidnap a 10-year-old boy, Mousa Zalloum, who was saved by his mother’s courageous resistance. This child and his mother Deema survive to tell their story.

Immediately following the kidnapping of the three settlers on 12 June, Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced, ‘Hamas is responsible and Hamas will pay.’ The Israeli army launched violent raids, imposed curfews, and effected closures throughout the Occupied West Bank, killing a dozen youth, re-arresting without cause members of the Palestinian parliament and prisoners who had been previously freed, and demolishing the homes of suspects before any evidence for charges against them had been provided to the court or to the public. It would not be surprising to me if the accused were to be assassinated, so that only the Israeli narrative of the killing of the settlers would remain alive.

The military escalation that took place following 12 June was not just about finding the three missing Israeli youths. It was a moment in which the Israeli government seized the advantage to recruit international sympathy to reverse the recent global criticism of Israel’s role in paralysing negotiations. It has been a moment of collective punishment of the Palestinian people through imposing movement restrictions across the West Bank, banning international travel from Hebron, and implementing brutal incursions and armed searches into Palestinian camps, towns and homes. Whoever is perceived as posing an obstacle is arrested or killed.

These actions have succeeded in disempowering the recently formed Palestinian unity government and inducing re-polarization among Palestinians, especially following President Abbas’ speech describing the sacred quality of co-operation between Israel and the Palestinian Authorities. Even more, we have witnessed our own security forces sneaking into their police stations in civilian clothes, permitting the Israelis of the Occupation to do whatever they please in the West Bank.

The Israeli leadership and propaganda have stirred up a toxic anti-Palestinian climate and dehumanizing image of Palestinians – including children – in both official and social media. For example, Netanyahu stated, when the bodies of the settlers were discovered, ‘They were abducted and murdered in cold blood by human animals.’ He went on to note, ‘a broad moral gulf separates us from our enemies,’ and to assert that, ‘they sanctify death, we sanctify life.’ The mayor of the Ma’ale Adumim settlement, Benny Kashriel, called upon the Israeli authorities to construct new settlement units in the area in response to the killing of the three Israeli settlers. Slogans like ‘Death to the Arabs’ and ‘No Arabs, no terror attacks’ have arisen louder and louder from the Israeli public.

At the same time, international diplomats and global leaders (who would not know the names of any of the Palestinian children who are killed on an almost-daily basis) are deploring in the strongest terms the killing of the settlers, identifying them name by name. The story of Yousef Shawamreh, age 14, who was killed in March while harvesting the wild thorny vegetable gundelia (akkoub) in Deir Al Asal south of Hebron, or the story of Ahmad Sabarin, age 20, who was watching a match of the World Cup when the Israelis came to arrest people in this Al Jalazoun refugee camp and was shot as he went out to see what was going on –these stories are not known to the diplomats. Saker Daraghmeh, age 16, who was killed in the Tayaseer village near the Jordan Valley while shepherding his cattle, or Muhammad Abu Daher and Nadim Nawwara, two teenagers killed while commemorating the Nakba – the death of these young people did not earn international visibility equal to the killing of the settlers.

These are just a few of the names of the dead, now held in the recent memory of Palestinians, but they demonstrate the inconsistency of the preaching by Israel and its supporters regarding the value of human life and the innocence of children and adolescents.

The killing of Palestinians is not seen as horrific as the killing of Israelis. Our pain is not perceived as acute as theirs – if our pain even enters consciousness at all. The supreme violence and aggression that Israel has initiated and continues to inflict on the Palestinian people, from its unlawful Occupation of our land to the settlers’ presence at our doorsteps, lies in total oblivion. The equation of Palestinian responsibility for the alleged acts of a few individuals with the formal responsibility of a democratically elected Israeli government for the actions of its army is illogical and unjust. But this equation is often made by the supporters of Israel, although it is an insult to reason.

The administration at Haifa’s Technion University is considering taking disciplinary action against an Arab student who posted on Facebook, after the bodies of the three settlers were found, ‘Three goals for Palestine without taking part in the World Cup.’ But who would discipline the thousands of Israelis who have endorsed the Facebook page, ‘Until the boys are back, every hour we shoot a terrorist!’ Within hours of its creation, this Facebook page accrued 10,000 Likes, while calling for the murder of a Palestinian every hour until the three missing Israelis were located. No-one has disciplined the Israeli soldier who posted online a photo of his T-shirt with the word ‘Revenge’ written in blood, celebrating the killing of a 16-year-old boy, Yousef Abu Zagha – who was shot in the chest during clashing with troops invading the Jenin camp.

Price Tag is the name of a group of settlers committing anti-Palestinian vandalism whose graffiti urges ‘Price tag blood vengeance’. The Israeli government’s response to their conduct has been minimal. Israeli intelligence, so effective in hunting down a Palestinian kid who throws a stone, remains so inept in setting any limits on such actions by Israelis.

Throughout its history, Israel has never imposed meaningful consequences on anyone for killing a Palestinian. After the death of Mohammed Abu Khudair, the police are invading Shufat – not the neighbourhood of his killers! But his killers will remain anonymous, their homes will not be demolished, there will be no closure of Israeli neighbourhoods, no settlers will be prevented from going to work or from travelling abroad, and there will be impunity for the rabbis and the leaders of the settlers who incited this crime.

Israel has kidnapped our freedom, our lives, and our futures since it took occupation of our land. Israel has established a discrepancy in human worth, since the killing of a non-Jew seems far from equivalent to the killing of a Jew. There is also discrepancy in the validation of human experience, since Israel remains the sole author of the narrative of this land and the sole power determining its political reality. But in reaction to these violations, there will always be individuals who rise up to oppose them. In this way, Israel will kidnap all of our opportunities in life and bring nothing but death and nihilism to Israelis and Palestinians alike.

Samah Jabr is a Jerusalemite psychiatrist and psychotherapist who cares about the wellbeing of her community – beyond issues of mental illness.

 This blog has previously appeared on the WRMEA website.

Occupation and the mind

Ahmad, a 46-year-old man from Ramallah, was doing well, until his last detention. But this time he just could not tolerate the long incarceration in a tiny cell, with complete visual and auditory deprivation. First, he lost his orientation to time. Then he became over-attentive to the movement of his gut and started thinking that he was ‘artificial inside his body’. Later, he developed paranoid thinking, started hearing voices and seeing people in his isolated cell. Today, Ahmad is out of his detention, but still imprisoned by the idea that everyone is spying on him.

Fatima spent several years doctor-shopping for a combination of severe headaches, stomach-aches, joint pain and various dermatological complaints. There was no evidence of any organic cause. Finally, Fatima showed up at our psychiatric clinic and spoke of how all her symptoms started after she saw the skull of her murdered son, open on the stairs of her house, during the Israeli invasion of her village of Beit Rima on 24 October 2001.

Such are the cases I see in my clinic. The traumatic events of war have always been a major source of psychological damage. In Palestine the kind of war being waged needs to be understood in order to appreciate the psychological impact on this long-occupied population. The war is chronic and continuous, over the lifetime of at least two generations. It pits an ethnically, religiously and culturally foreign state against a stateless civilian population. In addition to daily oppression and exploitation, it involves periodic military operations of usually moderate intensity. These provoke occasional Palestinian factional and individual responses. The vast majority of people are never consulted about such actions. While their opinion does not matter, it is they who must endure pre-emptive Israeli strikes or collective punishment in retaliation for acts of Palestinian resistance.

Displacement

Demographic factors complicate the picture. Those living in the occupied territories make up just a third of Palestinians; the rest are scattered around the region in a Diaspora, many in refugee camps. Almost every Palestinian family has experiences of displacement or major painful separation. Even inside Palestine, people are refugees, expelled in 1948 to live in refugee camps. The massive displacement of 70 per cent of the people, and the destruction of over 400 of their villages, are referred to by Palestinians as the Nakba or Catastrophe. This remains a trans-generational psychological trauma, scarring Palestinian collective memory. Very often, you will encounter young Palestinians who introduce themselves as residents of towns and villages their grandparents were evacuated from. These places are frequently no longer on the map, either razed entirely, or now inhabited by Israelis.

Palestinians perceive Israel’s war against them as a national genocide, and to resist it they give birth to many children. The fertility rate among Palestinians is 5.8 – the highest in the region. This leads to a very young population (53 per cent under the age of 17) – a vulnerable majority, at a crucial stage of physical and mental development. The geographical enclosure of Palestinians in very small neighbourhoods, with the separation wall and a system of checkpoints, encourages consanguineous marriages, increasing a genetic predisposition to mental illness. Walling off friends and neighbours from each other also has a debilitating effect on the cohesion of Palestinian society.

But it is the violent environment in which they live which most undermines the mental health of Palestinians. Population density, especially in Gaza – with 3,823 persons per square kilometre – is very high. Elevated levels of poverty and unemployment – 67 per cent and 40 per cent respectively – undermine hope and deform personality. The war has left us with a huge community of prisoners and ex-prisoners, estimated at 650,000, or some 20 per cent of the population. The disabled and mutilated make up six per cent. Recent screenings found a disturbing level of anaemia and malnutrition, especially among youngsters and women. The intense emotional hostility provoked by our daily friction with the Israeli soldiers at our doorsteps is a constant stress factor. Many Palestinian kids have been living with daily violence since birth. For them, the noise of bombardment is more familiar than the singing of birds.

Sudden blindness

During my medical school training in several Palestinian hospitals and clinics, I saw men complaining of non-specific chronic pains after they lost their jobs as labourers in Israeli areas. I also saw schoolchildren brought in for secondary bed-wetting after a horrifying night of bombardment. And all too vivid is my memory of a woman, brought to the emergency room suffering from sudden blindness that started when she saw her child murdered as a bullet entered his eye and went out from the back of his head.

In Palestine, such cases are not registered as war injuries and are not treated properly. This realization provoked me to specialize in psychiatry. It is one of the most underdeveloped medical fields in Palestine. For a population of 3.8 million, we have 15 psychiatrists and are understaffed with nurses, psychologists and social assistants. We have an estimated three per cent of the staff we need. We have two psychiatric hospitals, in Bethlehem and Gaza, but it is difficult to get to them, due to checkpoints. There are seven outpatient community mental-health clinics. In developing countries like occupied Palestine, psychiatry is the most stigmatized and the least financially rewarding medical profession. Psychiatrists work with desperately sick patients and, in the eyes of their communities, are far removed from the glory of other medical specialties. As a result, competent and talented doctors rarely specialize in psychiatry.

I find psychiatry a humanizing and dignifying profession – not least because it helps me personally to cope with all the violence and disappointments surrounding me. I move from Ramallah to Jericho to see psychiatric patients. In one working day I see between 40 and 60 patients; 10 times the number I used to see during my training in Parisian clinics. I observe my patients’ disorganized behaviour, listen to their overwhelming stories and answer them with the few means I have: a bit of talking, to pull together their fragmented ideas; some pills that might help them to organize their thinking, stop their delusions and hallucinations, or allow them to sleep or calm down. But talks and pills can never return a killed child to his parents, an imprisoned father to his kids, or reconstruct a demolished home.

The ultimate solution for mental health in Palestine is in the hands of politicians, not psychiatrists. So, until they do their job, we in the health professions continue to offer symptomatic treatment and palliative therapy – and sensitize the world to what is taking place in Palestine.

Resistance

Nowadays, Palestinians are pressured to surrender once and for all, when they are asked to ‘recognize’ Israel. We are asked to accept, reconcile ourselves with and bless the Israeli violation of our life. The fact that our homeland is occupied does not, by itself, mean that we are not free. We reject the occupation in our minds, as far as we can cope with it; and learn how to live in spite of it, rather than being adjusted to it. But, if we recognize Israel, we are mentally occupied – and that, I claim, is incompatible with our well-being as individuals and a nation. Resistance to the occupation and national solidarity are very important for our psychological health. Their practice can be a protective exercise against depression and despair.

Israel has created awful facts on the ground. What remains for us of Palestine is a thought, an idea that becomes a conviction of our right to a free life and a homeland. When Palestinians are asked to ‘recognize’ Israel, we are asked to give up that thought, and to renounce everything we have and are. This will only sink us deeper into an eternal collective depression.

After several years in Paris I returned to a tired, starved Palestinian people, torn apart by factional conflicts as well as by the separation wall. Palestinians are especially demoralized by the infighting taking place on the streets of Gaza, but orchestrated elsewhere in order to abort the results of last year’s democratic elections. Those who have stopped all money from going to Palestine are, in effect, sending us guns instead of bread. They encourage the psychologically and spiritually impoverished to kill their neighbours, cousins and ex-classmates. Even if the factions settle up, Palestinian society will be left with a serious problem of intra-family revenge.

We shall overcome

It is hard not to wonder whether Israel’s targeting of Palestinians is deliberately designed to create a traumatized generation; passive, confused and incapable of resistance. I know enough about oppression to diagnose the non-bleeding wounds and recognize the warning signs of psychological deformity. I worry about a community forced to extract life from death and peace through war. I worry about youth who live all their lives in inhumane conditions; and about babies who open their eyes to a world of blood and guns. I am concerned about the inevitable numbness chronic exposure to violence brings. I fear also the revenge mentality – the instinctive desire to perpetuate on your oppressors the wrongs committed against yourself.

There has yet to be a comprehensive epidemiological study of the psychological disorders in Palestine. And, despite all that is published on Palestinian war-related psychopathology, my impression is that mental illness is still the exception in Palestine. Resilience and coping are still the norm among our people. In spite of all the home demolitions and extreme poverty, it is not in Palestine you find people sleeping in the streets or eating from trash cans. This resilience is based on family foundations, social steadfastness and spiritual and ideological conviction.

Still, we do have a mental-health emergency. Services are urgently needed for people who have suffered and endured crises so that they can restore their recuperative powers and coping capacities. This is crucial if they are not to crack when peace finally comes, as so often occurs in a post-war period. It is not just a small number of sick individuals but an entire wounded society that needs care. Our trauma has been chronic and severe; but by recognizing our suffering and treating it with faith and compassion, we shall overcome.

*Samah Jabr* works as a psychiatrist in occupied Palestine. See Page 26 for groups offering medical aid to Palestine.

Silence & Security

JC Tordai / Panos / www.panos.co.uk

The clapping of the passengers startles me awake as we arrive at Israel’s Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv. I have returned to the grave reality of Occupied Palestine after a 20-day speaking tour in Finland and the United States.

‘We should do whatever it takes to prevent the Palestinians from coming back to their homes,’ were the words of David Ben Gurion, this airport’s namesake. ‘The old will die and the young will forget.’

I have a conditioned psychological reaction to this place. Nausea and anxiety overwhelm me even before my name is announced and I am commanded to drop my hand luggage, remove my jacket and walk with my papers to the security guards that are waiting at the stairs of the plane. I am acutely aware that I am the sole individual (and apparent Arab) led in the opposite direction from the airport arrival hall.

With the patience of a person who has endured 60 sleepless hours I begin to answer the infamous 100 questions usually posed by Israeli security. I was asked the same questions on my way out of Ben Gurion and at the Newark Airport, where I boarded my return flight to Tel Aviv. I know the answers I’m supposed to give by heart. I display before my interrogators all available papers that might give a sense of identity to my alien presence. I show my blue Jerusalemite identity card, two Israeli travel documents that refer to me as a Jordanian, my two flight tickets, an American and a Finnish visa, my physician’s ID card, a reporter’s press pass from the _Washington Report_ magazine, and a pile of invitation letters explaining the ‘whens’, ‘whys’ and ‘wheres’ of my journey. My foreign acquaintances are dismayed that I have to show so many papers and spend so much time to get through airports. But my Palestinian friends envy my access to the unusual and hard-to-come-by paperwork that legitimizes my need to travel. Without these papers I might not even be able to be here.

Finally I leave the airport that night, after a long investigation and tedious search that involved not only the ripping open of my gifts and emptying of my toiletries, but the reading of my diary and searching of my planner and address book. I know that the machines they have are capable of screening any suspicious objects, but it seems to me that it is also psychologically necessary for the security officials to expose people ‘like me’ to this special treatment.

I arrive home to a sad and gloomy East Jerusalem where depressed, inconsolable people suffocate at thoughts of death’s stench and the taste of grief coming from Ramallah, Bethlehem, Jenin and Nablus. The smell of graves, left after the Israeli army violated our towns and neighbouring villages, seems to have permeated Jerusalem’s less contaminated air. In the name of ‘security’ and ‘fighting terrorism’ the people of this world, the United Nations and the international community have allowed yet another human disaster to happen. The small gifts I bear are welcome, but the cries of delight do not cover the silence of drained emotions. This homecoming is like no other I’ve experienced in the past.

Silence is ominous for us. Jerusalem is silent. My family is silent. What is there to say? I know that many citizens around the world have spoken out on our behalf, but those who can stop our torment have been silent or even partners in the crimes against us. Will our old die and we young people forget, like Ben Gurion suggested? I came through Ben Gurion to see a world destroyed – the ancient city of Nablus, the new city of Ramallah, and then Jenin, where once there was a Refugee Camp.

Silence does not keep me from knowing about the two Palestinian young men, Mahmoud Salah and Izzat Durgham, who were hand-cuffed and restrained, then stripped of their clothes and executed at a Jerusalem checkpoint. Nor about the deaf boy who could not hear the instructions to stop and was shot dead at a Nablus checkpoint. This, also, in the name of ‘Israeli security’ which is always offered as more important than the humanity of my people.

One does not have to die at a checkpoint to be suffocated by them. Every day, we line up for hours in the hope that we will be allowed to get through and earn our bread for the day. In several kilometres one might encounter more than one barricade, controlled by armed Israeli soldiers, some of them backed by tanks and lookouts swathed in army brown on the hillside above.

No Palestinian can go through the day without travelling either through the checkpoint and all its rigors, or around on a hilly dirt road nearby fashioned by those who know they don’t have the right papers to pass. I, for example, can spend more time at checkpoints than I do sleeping if I am so bold as to try to go to work on the Mount of Olives and do my errands in Ramallah on the same day. They are no further than 18 kilometres or 12 miles apart. In this way we are exhausted and tormented and robbed of our time and productivity.

So far, checkpoints have failed to provide security to the Israeli occupation, for those who have nothing to hide are the ones who pass through them. Suicide bombers and gunmen don’t go through checkpoints, but find their own ways around them. In fact, checkpoints have backfired and have provided the fuel to the few Palestinians who have decided that life is not worth continuing.

Recently, special concrete search areas have been constructed to enable the army to undress people and, if need be, to beat them up away from the lens of an international camera. Women in labour deliver at checkpoints, patients with medical emergencies die because they are prevented from reaching the hospital. People are harassed, humiliated and some are just shot and left to die. No wonder people have named these barricades the ‘checkpoints of death’. A Rabbi told me that it is a cardinal sin in Judaism to cut a part off an animal and leave it to bleed to death, yet the Israeli army regularly shoots and leaves Palestinians to bleed to death at checkpoints. Are Palestinian lives worth less than those of animals? We are shown every day that our lives are worth less than Israelis.

What about Palestinian security? Every day Palestinians are killed and the world is silent. Silent too when our infrastructure and educational, health, cultural and welfare institutions are decimated, when American congress and Israeli Knesset members speak of ‘transferring’ the Palestinians to other Arab countries. In a farce, American President George W Bush declares that ‘Ariel Sharon is a man of peace’. I have to wonder if Ariel Sharon thinks so of himself.

We are described sometimes as the last colonized people, the last frontier of genocide, massacre and ethnic cleansing, words people fear to speak because they’ll be labelled anti-Semite. Always we must couch our horror with appreciation of what the Jews have suffered.

Now, all is silent. Is it the last human disaster? Israel’s security pathology is not a once-in-a-lifetime epidemic for unfortunate Palestinians. But it is the terminal illness of the whole Palestinian nation, it is the daily hammer that hits all of us equally in Palestine – men and women, old and young, rich and poor, educated and illiterate.

At home, I look out of the kitchen window to see that the Israeli flags have moved forward, closer to our neighbourhood, demarcating the new boundaries of the Pizgat Zi’ev settlement. For ‘security’ reasons the Israeli settlements keep expanding all the time, demanding a larger and larger buffer zone from the Palestinian land, no matter that many homes are demolished and countless trees uprooted in the process.

The Israeli warlords claim that they want peace after separation – they speak of establishing a wall on the green line, for ‘security’ reasons. They want separation, which will ensure that Palestinians are denied access to the land of their immediate fathers and forefathers, while they continue to have their settlements and their secure by-pass roads to those settlements, lying within the heart of the Palestinian territories. Would separation bring security or would it prevent the humanists and peace-loving on both sides from meeting and working together, all the time polarizing the moderates, emphasizing stereotypes and allowing the extremists to win their war?

Israel has tried everything; except ending their occupation and allowing the Palestinians to live in dignity

Over the last 54 years of occupation Israel has been trying to control, exhaust and terrify the Palestinians in the name of ‘security’. Recently they have chopped the Palestinian towns and villages into 69 Bantustans and cantons with their 264 permanent checkpoints. One cannot ignore the many more temporary checkpoints, the ditches, the iron gates and all the other colonization phenomena. Israel has waged several wars and perpetrated many massacres to end ‘Palestinian terrorism.’ But have they really gained security? Did they manage to stop suicide bombers on their way to causing a mass fatality? Or was the aggression and humiliation at the checkpoints just fuel for those who decided that life is not worth continuing? Israel has tried everything; except ending their occupation and allowing the Palestinians to live in dignity in the land of their ancestors.

When the Palestinians live as equals with the people of Israel, when the Israeli people stop following Ben Gurion’s advice, when not only ‘Israeli security’ matters, but ‘Palestinian security’ as well, when both of us take the same bus to work, then the last shall be first in keeping the peace. Our fighters will not sacrifice their lives of meaningful expectation to kill themselves or others. Then and only then we will stop fearing each other. Then and only then will we stand a chance of breaking the silence to speak for justice, equality, peace and real security. I hope I’m alive to hear the silence end.

*Samah Jabr* is a doctor and writer who lives on the edge of East Jerusalem. Her e-mail address is: