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No Peace of Mind - Palestinian Mental Health Under Occupation (June 2022)

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No Peace of Mind, a report released today by AIDA and Médecins du Monde highlights the often hidden impact of over half a century of occupation has had on the mental health of Palestinian communities, and that this impact on mental health can often be a hidden driver of forcible transfer of communities from their land, a grave breach of international law.

The report draws from interviews conducted in August and September 2021 across ten communities of the West Bank in Area C, and reveals Palestinians suffer widespread ailments symptomatic of mental health conditions such as trauma, depression and anxiety arising from rights violations, primarily settler violence, excessive use of force from the Israeli Secuirty Forces, confiscations and demolitions.

Specifically, 60% of interviewees indicated having either constant or severe headaches for at least a week following an incident. Stomach aches and heartburn were experienced by at least 30% of respondents. Isolation and difficulty sleeping were amongst the most common behavioural impacts mentioned by communities. Cognitive issues such as having great difficulty concentrating, flashbacks, nightmares and memory loss arose across all categories of respondents.

80% of respondents indicated they experienced feelings of extreme fear and stress, with some explicitly saying they feared for their lives. “[It feels] like the angels of death are in the area,” said a mother from Humsa al Bqai’a.

Feeling safe at home, to have stability and education were the primary aspirations of people surveyed. Yet close to 60% of respondents indicated there was nothing they could do to protect their families when experiencing attacks by settlers and demolitions. 23% of respondents stating they had no hope for the future or that they did not consider thinking about their future.

“I just want to feel safe, but I cannot feel safe in all of the West Bank from North to South, tell me where is it safe?” asked an elderly man from Al Jiftlik.

“Wellbeing is a rare thing for Palestinians. Their lives are being stolen from them.”, said MdM Advocacy Coordinator Jenny Higgins. ‘What is sometimes mistaken for resilience by outside observers is a necessary adaptation to a stressful environment, in which encountering violence is part of the ‘daily routine’. This makes it close to impossible for Palestinians to have emotional balance and stability.’

“I’m helpless. If they say leave, I cannot stop them. If they say they’ll demolish I cannot stop them.”, a man from Ibziq lamented.

One major factor which holds back progression in achieving the rights of Palestinians, is the lack of cost and therefore incentive for Israeli authorities to put an end to the breaches of international la. The longstanding impunity of settlers and the Israeli government has been enjoying is a direct consequence of the lack of serious commitment and action by the international communiy and third party states to hold Israel accountable.
This study is further evidence of the humanitarian and development community’s imperative to consolidate a more coordinated and holistic approach to aid based on community needs, and examine ways to understand, and integrate mental health impacts throughout their work.
The international community must recognize that simply providing the physical means for a community to be able to stay on their land does not constitute a safe or stable environment for civilians to be protected or to protect their mental health. Sustainable development can only thrive when international human rights law and international humanitarian law violations are not consistently hampering it.

Note to editors:

• Since 2009, over 12,000 Palestinians have been forcibly displaced from their homes in the West Bank (UNOCHA) while demolitions have increased by an average 20% year on year since 2017 (WBPC, 2021).

• The study was conducted between August and September 2021 across the following communities: The communities interviewed were: Al Jiftlik (Jericho governorate), Izbiq (Tubas governorate), Humsa al Bqai’a (Tubas governorate), Al Mughayyir (Ramallah governorate), Burin (Nablus governorate), Khirbet Zanuta (Hebron governorate), Tuqu’ (Bethlehem governorate), Jubbet Adh Dhib (Bethlehem governorate), Susiya (Hebron governorate), An Nuwei’ma (Jericho governorate).

• Specifically, interviews of 30 participants from age eight to over 65 years old focused on four categories to assess mental health: emotional, behavioural, cognitive and physical impact of rights violations.

• The report further presents disaggregated data by age, gender and type of impact on Palestinian women, men and children