– A father stands in the ruins of his home where he tells us his story, following a punitive demolition.
I was a participant on a 10 day tour of Palestine focused on Palestinian Mental Health provision which was organised around the Easter Holiday this year, which I will never forget. Our tour guide’s deep knowledge of Palestine and her organisational skills along with the planning and contacts she brought to our itinerary, ensured I shared in an unforgettable and life-changing experience. I have been re-radicalised.
Here is a short overview of some of my findings, as noted over four intense days in my daily journals.
Today I heard:
- a psychiatrist explain that for many clients here what is needed is to be helped to appreciate the politics of their situation, not to scrutinise their internal life
- a man explain how planning law can be used as a tool to divide, rule, humiliate and oppress, all in the name of order
- a man explain he was so determined to build his home he fought and still fights a whole government and army to do so
- a man invite and welcome me and 19 others with warmth into his home because he had been cared for and supported through ICAHD and wanted to ‘pay back’
- a psychiatrist speak of the importance of professional, political and personal solidarity.
Today I understood:
- that the spirit of Kafka’s ‘Trial’ and ‘Castle’ – of polite civil meaningless oppression – has been refined here to an ultimate offensiveness
- that law here is applied in discriminatory ways across the two communities
- that planning and area zoning can be tools of discrimination
- that the delayed and inconsistent enforcement of oppressive laws adds to their oppressiveness as they become a vehicle for arbitrary petty persecution
- that if you deprive people of infrastructure – water, electricity, garbage collection, pavements to walk on, you communicate worthlessness to them
- how much we need our suffering to just be understood, witnessed, to mean something to another person
On this trip so far I have been struck by the professionalism and genuineness of the Palestinian women who for the most part have been explaining the situation here to us – they are hugely inspiring – honest, open and funny. What also strikes me is that the three therapists we have met, all senior in their different institutions, have spoken in different ways of wanting to step back from the first world models they have been taught – wishing to step away from the assessment models they have inherited and are beginning to seek out and create their own Palestinian models. My personal view is that this reflects not the inapplicability of traditional models to the unique situation in Palestine as much as the inadequacy of those models anywhere – the extremity of the situation here breaks the models down quickly and they emerge as inadequate for their users, but the faults are inherent not situational.
In the Bethlehem Psychiatric Hospital today, Clinical Director Dr. Ivona Amleh explained how they are ‘moving slowly from the traditional medical model towards a model based on ideas of recovery and empowerment.’
I have not yet seen someone speak with us without them being in tears or close to tears. The depth of pain here is very deep. The impact on the Palestinian people can be found in rising domestic violence and emotional unavailability (the words of our hosts, not mine) – but also in the sensitivity and quality of the work going on here with children and adults. It’s comprehensive, contextualised, sensitive and deeply impressive. Everyone I have met here shows great dignity and passion, and great friendliness. As I hear their stories I am often close to tears.
A recurring theme in stories from Palestinians is humiliation – of adults, of children, at any opportunity. For example – if the IDF demolish your house (perhaps because your son has engaged in resistance) you are expected to pay for the work involved. I use polite language here – ‘expected’ – but the debt will be pursued rudely and without mercy.
If that same son has been killed – it may take you six months to obtain the body. You might only be allowed to collect it at midnight. The burial must be carried out at night and you have to choose a small number of people who are allowed to attend. The body will be returned to you without ceremony – as a worthless thing. Lately, sometimes Palestinian bodies are frozen and returned as blocks of ice. Palestinian culture of grieving involves physical contact; embracing, kissing, carrying the body. With a block of ice to relate to this becomes difficult. One father spoke to us of fearing that they might drop the body and break it…. I find that unimaginably poignant and it provokes deep outrage in me.
That father has yet to bury his son – he is fighting to be given the right to do so. He described his pain at this situation through this anecdote – He was watching a cat and a kitten. The kitten had died, and the cat came and found the body of the little animal and picked it up by the scruff. She carried and dragged it to a patch of earth and she buried it there. As he watched this scene he burst into tears at the pain of being denied the opportunity to render this last service to his son.
He told this story on the terrace of his parents’ house. His own home – the second storey of a three storey block of flats, had been demolished shortly after his son’s death under planning law – leaving the first and third storeys intact.
It’s hard to see a positive outlook here. Israel is making Palestinian lives unbearable and the future strategy seems to be to divide the Palestinian community into a series of enclaves by building and settlement programmes which are contrary to international law. In the process the Israelis are demolishing their own dignity and worth and I find it hard to imagine how they can retreat.
These days are very intense – we only stop for meals or bus journeys, working from 9.00am until 9.45pm today – for now I’ve had enough and I don’t have time to tell you more about the Palestinian feminist activist I heard tonight, who explained to us how she believed that ultimately her motive for political activism was love for others. Her name was Nabila Espanioly.
I would advise that if you want to change your life, learning from resisters and innovators one way might be to join one of these tours.
– With thanks to Andy from Bradford for sharing these insights.