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Posts Tagged ‘Gaza City

People in Gaza: In such a Psychological mess

No need to look at the physical devastation to feel the aftermath on the mental well-being of the Palestinians from all the successive preemptive wars of Israel on Gaza

KHUZAA, GAZA — Mosallam El Najaar, the retired customs official who is walking me through this small village in southern Gaza,  said “It feel like the Day of Judgment.”

It looks like it, too. Houses are as squashed and scattered as paper cups.

A water tower is torn up close to the ground like a stalk of corn. Mosques, schools and factories are blasted, useless shells. Olive trees that were almost ready to yield their fruit are reduced to kindling.

It goes on, block after block here in Khuzaa, as well as in Beit-Hanoun in the north, Shejaia to the east of Gaza City, and Rafah in the south.

Altogether 20,000 homes are destroyed and uninhabitable, 39,000 people are still living in UN shelters, and perhaps 100,000 more are homeless, crowded in with relatives. Building materials promised by the UN and international donors are stalled or unavailable.

But the catastrophe here is not just physical. Upheaval has wrecked lives, severed families and upended routines.

“The psychological damage is even greater,” says El Najaar, who is leading some local reconstruction efforts. “And it will take much longer and be far harder to repair.” It’s a tragically common refrain here — from political leaders, homeless women, university officials and my own team of trauma counselors from the Center for Mind-Body Medicine.

I’ve worked for 20 years with psychological trauma – during and after the war in Kosovo, after the earthquake in Haiti, with U.S. troops returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, and in Israeli towns like Sderot that have been continually shelled by Hamas for years before, as well as during, this summer’s war.

And since 2002, I’ve worked here, in long-beleaguered, isolated Gaza, leading workshops, training local clinicians and leaders and setting up a program of self-care and group support to deal with the population-wide psychological trauma.

In those decades, I’ve never seen psychological devastation this intense.

 

Almost all the hands I shake, seven weeks after the fighting has stopped, are cold with a “fight or flight” response that won’t quit even though the situation no longer demands it. When I ask children and adults in the half-dozen Mind Body Skills Groups that our Gaza team leads whether they have trouble sleeping, all hands go up.

Just about everyone has regular nightmares of bombs falling, tanks roaring toward them, body parts lying in the street, children buried under rubble, screaming for help that never comes.

In a resiliency-building workshop I lead, ambulance drivers from the Palestinian Red Crescent Society share the symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder that afflict them: the sudden rages, flashbacks of the dead and dying, the long withdrawn silences.

These guys — as courageous, tough, and funny as the New York City firefighters they resemble — now say they cannot think straight or remember the simplest things. Their wives say they thrash their arms and legs and scream in their sleep.

Gaza’s long-enforced isolation and powerlessness continue to compound and reinforce every symptom. So, too, does an experience of Israeli aggression that everyone I speak with feels to be unprecedented.

For Gazans there was, during this war, no safe place and no way out. People who were told by Israeli soldiers to leave homes that were about to be bombed said they rushed for safety to the next street, where they found more soldiers blocking their way, telling them to go back.

When they returned to their own houses, bombs greeted them. “Something inside us broke,” says a man in Shejaiah whose two sons – the sole survivors of 26 family members – cling to him. “We didn’t think the Israelis would do this.”

In the school in Rafah where 3,500 homeless Gazans sleep like logs lined up on thin blankets spread over concrete floors, uncertainty about the future is crushing. Mothers fear the next round of Israeli bombs will kill children on their long way to still-standing schools. Parents are sure they’ll never be able to rebuild their homes or pay for their kids 10f8 ’ university education.

I have seen this level of distress, unaddressed, lead to fixed destructive biological, psychological and social patterns: agitated children and adults focus and function poorly; impatience explodes in domestic abuse; and free-floating fear and anger push desperate people toward individual and collective violence.

Our Gaza team tries to restore some small measure of control, and even hope. Kids doing slow “soft belly” breathing discover it’s possible to loosen knotted shoulders and quiet fearful thoughts.

They sleep better, and their nightmares are less overwhelming. Adults who express their fear, anger and frustration in our groups feel, at least for a while, that their thirst for revenge is slaked.

And those who help others, as well as themselves — in or out of our program – can still summon considerable energy. Exhausted school principals and teachers, as well as neighbors, find comfort and inspiration in helping other people’s kids. They, like El Najaar, the ambulance drivers, and my own team, move resolutely forward.

“We want to rebuild. Of course, we must rebuild,” concludes a principal sitting in one of our mind-body groups. “We need help to do it, help from Israel and the world. But it is not enough.” The Quran, he assures me, “tells us before we change the outside, we have to change the inside – the mind and the heart.”

November 3

James S. Gordon, a psychiatrist, is the founder and director of The Center for Mind-Body Medicine and author of “Unstuck: Your Guide to the Seven-Stage Journey Out of Depression

Unusual scholarship from Oxford University to students in Gaza

Rawan Yaghi is a bookish 19 year old student of literature at Gaza’s Islamic University.  She is currently studying English literature, and among other books, George Orwell’s Animal Farm and William Golding’s Lord of the Flies.

Her favorite book is Mornings In Jenin by the Palestinian American writer Susan Abul Hawa. The novel follows the story of three generations of a Palestinian family who became refugees after the creation of the state of Israel in 1948.

Rawan’s life is about to take a different direction: She has just won a scholarship to Oxford University to study linguistics and Italian.

Jon Donnison of BBC New published from Gaza City on April 4, 2013: “Gazan heads to Oxford University on unusual scholarship”

Portrait of Rawan Yaghi, 19 year old Gazan student who is wearing head scarf.
The scholarship offers Rawan Yaghi a life-changing opportunity

” Rawan arrives to meet me in Gaza with a text tucked under her arm.

It is a well-thumbed copy of Catch 22, Joseph Heller‘s classic satirical novel on the absurdities of war: Rawan spent her entire life amid one of the Middle East’s most intractable conflicts.

Rawan says: “Most people think [Gaza] is like a war zone and that everyone here is really depressed and involved in politics. But it’s not always about war. It’s also about families, friends and love”

Rawan is looking forward to moving from the minarets of Gaza to the city of “dreaming spires”.

“I’m very excited. I can’t wait,” she smiles. “It’s going to be different but it’s going to be fun.”

Few have made such a journey for this Unusual scholarship: all the other students at Oxford’s Jesus College will pay some of the cost of Rawan’s studies.

As part of the recently established Jesus College Junior Members Scholarship most of the other students have each agreed to pay £3.90 ($5.90) per term towards Rawan’s fees.

The scholarship was set up by Oxford graduate Emily Dreyfus after she realized that few people in Gaza had ever had the chance to study at one of Britain’s most prestigious universities.

Emily Dreyfus at her graduation ceremony
Emily Dreyfus says most students are happy to contribute to Rawan’s scholarship

“They voted for this from the outset. They recognize that this is a very small contribution to make which has a disproportionately positive benefit.”

The student contributions will raise around £6,300 a year towards Rawan’s living costs. This is only a fraction of the estimated £30,000 annual costs needed to complete the four-year course.

And the university has agreed to waive around 60% of the tuition fees.

The rest of the costs are being paid for by three charities: The Hani Qaddumi Scholarship Foundation, the AM Qattan Foundation and the Hoping Foundation, which supports Palestinian refugees around the world.

Rawan still had to apply for and win the place against fierce competition, but she knows the other students at Jesus have given her a rare opportunity.

“I really appreciate that Emily believed in people here and she gave somebody like me a life changing chance,” Rawan says.

Rawan has only once before left the tiny Palestinian territory, when she went on a study trip to the United States.

Israel’s blockade of Gaza and the ongoing conflict with Hamas which governs here make it difficult for Palestinians to leave through Israel.

Before it withdrew from Gaza, Israel had been refusing permission for Palestinian students to leave Gaza in order to carry out studies abroad. Rawan will likely leave Gaza through Egypt in order to travel to Oxford.

Rawan is also a fan of JK Rowling, author of the Harry Potter books.

Students walk under the Bridge of Sighs along New College Lane on March 22, 2012 in Oxford, England.
Rawan’s second trip out of Gaza will be to the historic city of Oxford

“Her style of writing is very subtle. There are little things in her stories that grab your attention.”

Education is highly valued in Gaza. There are no fewer than 7 universities in the territory for a population of 1.7 million people.

But Rawan is expecting a different study experience at Oxford.

“The education system is completely different. I’m going to have my own tutors not like in Gaza where I am among hundreds of students who have the same teacher.”

Cultural differences?

She will also have to get used to mixed education. At the Islamic University, where she studies now, men and women are taught separately.

“I don’t think it’s going to be a problem. The culture there is obviously very different but I’m open to that.”

Rawan also accepts that she is going to miss home.

“Of course I will be homesick. But I have to go through that and get used to it because I have something more important to achieve.”

Emily Dreyfus expects the young Palestinian will be given a warm welcome.

Graduation ceremony of Palestinian engineering students at The Islamic University of Gaza on July 31, 2005. All of the student are women wearing Islamic head scarf. Some of them wear Niqab.
Graduation day at Gaza’s Islamic University: Rawan is expecting a very different cultural experience at Oxford

“I’m confident that she’s going to have a wonderful time and I know that there are a lot of people at the college eager to meet her and to welcome her to their community.”

“Most people think it’s like a war zone here and that everyone here is really depressed and involved in politics,” she says.

“But it’s not always about war. It’s also about families, friends and love. It’s not only about the conflict with Israel.”

And despite the chance to broaden her horizons, she is adamant that once she has finished her four years in Oxford, she will return to Gaza.

“I still haven’t thought about what I’ll do after university but I’ll definitely come back here. Although it may seem difficult to live here, it’s still interesting and adventurous at times,” she says with a wry smile.

“There is ugliness in Gaza but you can’t leave it and turn your back on it.”

No Independent Palestinian State? Think again! (January 16, 2009)

 

Note: Israel pounded yesterday the south-west corner of Gaza City and had demolished the UN agency headquarter and the Red Cross hospital; 500 injured Palestinian babies were trapped in these locations.  The death toll has climbed to 1,100 and the injured to 5,200; the world community is finally realizing that apartheid Israel has gone way too crazy against the UN charters. Keeping silent on the facts that this is a war crime being perpetrated in Gaza is no longer tolerable.

 

            The US, Europe, the hateful Moubarak of Egypt and the Wahhabi monarchy in Saudi Arabia  do not want a sustainable Palestinian State in the West bank and Gaza; they want a recognized Palestinian State by name only, devoid of the conditions attached to an independent and self-autonomous status.  They want what their puppet of “Palestinian” Abbass is willing to bow to, under the excuses that resisting the Zionist occupation should not involve arms struggle, no matter the humiliation and miserable conditions that the Palestinian people are subjected to.

            Hamas represents the dignity and pride of the Palestinian to stand tall and reclaiming their rights as deserving people under the sun, with full recognition and the application of the UN charters on the apartheid Zionist State.  The religious ideology of Hamas is a byproduct for denying the Palestinian people their due rights and recognition; when the liberal approaches of negotiation and democratic results are canceled, trampeled, and made a mockery by the US Administrations and the EU.

 

I have published in November 12, 2008 “The State of Palesrael: a future plausible resolution” and I feel compelled to re-iterate my position after the Gaza fiasco and the genocide that has been watched live for over 20 days.

 

            There are reams and reams of plans and counter plans and resolution suggested to containing this everlasting unjust and uncalled for reality of the 20th century monstrosity that permitted the establishment of the State of Israel by displacing its original inhabitants (the Palestinians), as one of the worst monstrosities in this century. There are two viable solutions for the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, short of exterminating one party or the other or most probably both, that has been spreading death, disabilities, miseries, indignities and humiliation since 1920.

Before the Gaza onslaught, Israeli Olmert PM had declared that “the time to facing truth has come”.  Since the Madrid convention in 1990 among the Arab States and Israeli delegations, (mediated by the Bush Father US Administration), for a resolution of this conflict, it was becoming evident that the “Biblical” strategy of Israel, for further expansion and pre-emptive wars, is no longer tenable.  A resolution was contemplated but the US had an old battle plan to prosecute: invading Iraq. The US allowed Israel to scrap the comprehensive agreement of “land for peace”

The Bush Junior administration dusted off this war plan and invaded Iraq. This invasion has failed miserably but Israel realized that it is no longer a necessary State for the strategic interest of the US in the Middle East:  The US has military bases in the Arab Gulf, it has many heavy weight allies among the Arabic States, and the price of oil on the market is far cheaper than physically securing its exploitation and distribution in Iraq or elsewhere or even resuming plans to intimidating China and blackmailing her by outdated military presence in Iraq.  The return of the heavy investments of the US in Israel has been reflecting sharp negative rates for decades, politically, economically, and socially within the US society and foreign policies.

My plan is of two phases: the first phase is recognizing the State of Palestine by the United Nation, a State self-autonomous, independent and all.  It is of primordial interest by the world community and the Jewish State that the Palestinian people recover their dignity and rights as a full fledge State and be permitted to exercise the complex task of administering and governing a State.  At least from a psychological necessity, the Palestinian people should feel that persistent resistance and countless “martyrs” for re-establishing their rights as legitimate and independent people have brought fruits, as any genuine national resistance ultimately should. The burden of proof for peaceful co-existence is on the occupier force, the apartheid Zionist State.

 

            The second phase is the merging of the two States of Palestine and Israel into a confederate State with a central government and several self-autonomous “cantons”.  I can envisage the following cantons: West Bank, Gaza (including Escalon), Galilee (including Haifa and Akka), Judea (around Jerusalem and Bethlehem), the “East Shore” (Tel Aviv, Yafa), and the Negev (including Akaba).  I have this impression that the tight religious extremists on both sides would opt to move to Gaza and Judea, the very secular citizens would move to the East Shore or Galilee and the economically minded people might reside in the Negev backed by strong financial incentives.  The second phase will witness the return of the Palestinian refugees as ordered by the UN resolution of 193 in 1948 and the refugees would have the right to select the canton of their preferences.

            I can foresee that the key offices in the central government would be equally, including gender, shared by the Palestinians and Israelis and a rotation imposed.  The representation in the cantons would be proportional to the general census of the period (at 5 years intervals).  The representation among sects, factions, or other types of social divisions within each “people” would also follow the proportions in the census.

I suggest to the interest of the future “Palesrael” State that Israel let Lebanon experience, without foreign interventions, the full extent of its caste structure so that the State of Palesrael might study the pitfalls and strength of such a system of co-existence and avoid the unnecessary miseries of minor civil wars and countless frustrations in its future unfolding.  The “Wall of Shame” constructed by the vegetative Sharon has to come down.

It would be inevitable that the State of “Palesreal” be guaranteed a neutrality status (no pre-emptive wars within and outside its borders) by the world community and the regional powers.  Then, it is hoped and strongly desired that the State of Lebanon would secure this neutrality status.  Amen.


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