MSF provides psychological support to Palestinians living under occupation – occupied Palestinian territory

Humanitarian needs in the Palestinian Territories are increasing due to widespread unemployment, economic decline and the recent impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In the West Bank, the Israeli authorities’ systematic repression and discrimination against Palestinians continues, with house demolitions, forced displacements and an increase in violence.

For many people, such experiences have long-lasting consequences, especially when they come on top of pre-existing trauma from previous episodes of violence.

Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) provides mental health services to people with moderate to severe psychological disorders in the West Bank and Gaza, including mental health problems resulting from experiences of violence in the West Bank.

Photographer Alfredo Cáliz traveled the region to document the toll of life under occupation. These photos were originally published in the Spanish newspaper El País Semanal.

Raghda received treatment from MSF after being diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder. In 2013, shortly after completing her home in H2, a neighborhood in the city of Hebron under Israeli military control, she received a demolition order from the Israeli military for alleged illegal construction. She appealed, but the order remains suspended.

A year later, her son was arrested and spent two weeks in jail after getting involved in a fight with a teenage settler. Raghda says her family was unable to visit her son while he was locked up. Eventually, the boy was released after being released on bail and warned not to approach settlers or the army.

Throughout her teenage years, Raghda tried to keep her son off the streets to protect him. In 2019, Raghda realized she needed help. “Every mother in Palestine lives in difficult conditions and we have grown strong, but sometimes you reach the limit and you need help,” she said. “Our mental health is the foundation for us to continue to be strong for those around us.”

Yasmeen Jabari, MSF medical translator, hugs Raghda, a former patient at MSF’s mental health clinic in Hebron. MSF provides mental health services to men, women and children with moderate to severe psychological problems and psychiatric disorders in the West Bank and Gaza. MSF services include a response to mental health issues that are the specific result of violence in the West Bank.

On January 1, 2021, Haroon Abu Aram survived being shot in the neck by an Israeli soldier. The bullet damaged his spinal cord and he became a quadriplegic.

Haroon and his family live in Masafer Yatta in South Hebron, a traditional Bedouin desert area where Palestinians face eviction from their villages. Haroon was first hospitalized in Hebron, then in Tel Aviv. A kibbutz association [an Israeli community group] helped him pay his medical bills. Farisah, her mother, receives psychological support at the MSF clinic in Hebron. “I have to stay whole,” she said. “If I weaken, my family weakens, and it is my duty to take care of Haroon.”

In 2021, Israel demolished 199 Palestinian homes in the West Bank, according to Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem. Nejmeh Nawajaa owned one of these demolished houses. She received mental health support from MSF. “I feel unhappy but strong,” she said. “I will always be here even if I only have an umbrella to cover me.”

When Shadi was in prison, he was tortured. In 2019, depressed and angry, he sought mental health support from MSF. “In this country, it’s too hard to love and too easy to hate,” he said. “I didn’t feel integrated into society, I was always anxious, I didn’t want to continue living.”

After 18 months of psychological support, Shadi’s mental health has improved. He also recently became a dad. “I pushed the tormenting memories to a corner,” he said.

Randa Abu Sifan lives in the Israeli-controlled H2 area in the West Bank. “We live in fear and it affects us all psychologically,” she said. She reports repeated settler attacks. One of her daughters receives treatment from MSF for anxiety.

A passage and an arch in the old city of Hebron, in the H2 area, controlled by the Israeli army. Palestinians living in H2 suffer routine violence, nightly military excursions to their homes, harassment, delays at checkpoints and other degrading treatment. Restrictions on traveling by car or on foot put medical care out of reach for many residents, especially the elderly, people with disabilities and those in need of emergency care. Some 34,000 Palestinians living in H2 struggle to access even basic medical care.

Michael A. Bynum