The Psychological Effects of War and Conflict Experienced by Israelis and Palestinians
Our world is the way that it is today because of people craving independence and land of their own. This idea of nationalism can lead to peace, but it can also lead to conflict and destruction. In 1948, the Palestinians were displaced from their homes during Nakba and the Israelis received the land that they had always dreamed of and felt they deserved. While one side was experiencing feelings of excitement and joy, the Palestinians were experiencing heartbreak, homelessness, and resentment toward the Jews. With that in mind, conflict between the two groups of people arose and hatred grew. Sixty-eight years later, the problems still remain in what some refer to as Israel and others know as Palestine. Although the short or long-term effects of physical injury experienced by many people due to the conflict is extremely serious, there is another factor that is much more detrimental than what we can physically see with our eyes. Many studies have proven that this conflict and trauma has created several psychological problems and stress on the people involved. There are psychological impacts from the present-day conflict being experienced by both sides, so I will explain and portray these impacts to the best of my ability. Both sides are responsible for the chaos and destruction but when searching for scholarly articles about the clash of the two states, almost everything found is about the many Palestinians that are cruelly murdered. It is actually very difficult to find personal accounts of men, women, and children from the Israeli side discussing pain caused by the Palestinians. The majority of what is found, is about the stabbing of Israeli soldiers. Because of this, my paper will feature a majority of Palestinian stories and experiences.
Many studies have shown that Palestinians are psychologically affected by the events taking place in their country. After doing extensive research, I have concluded the psychological effects on children seem to be the most detrimental. Children are very impressionable and events that happen early in their life have a major impact on their futures. Exposure to death, violence, and destruction has an impact on anyone, but especially on children. According to Qouta and Odeh in “The Impact of Conflict on Children: The Palestinian Experience”, about 50% of injured Palestinian children have developed posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) (Qouta and Odeh 76). So on top of being physically harmed, their minds are harmed as well. Another study found that out of 1000 school-age Palestinian children, more than half said that they had experienced at least one traumatic event in their lifetime, and the most common traumatic event was inflicted by the Israeli army (Qouta and Odeh 76). PTSD is very serious because it can lead to depression and can also be the cause of an increase in aggressive behavior, according to Murthy, Srinivasa, and Lakshminarayana in “Mental Health Consquences of War: A Brief Review of Research Findings.” Palestinian children have been injured, had family members killed, have been imprisoned and beaten, and have had their homes destroyed all by the Israeli army.
A documentary titled Israel Unpunished: Child Killers features a young Palestinian boy from Ibrahim. He speaks of his experience with Israeli force saying, “My aunt was collecting laundry and about to sit and rest when the shells pounded us. Shrapnel sliced open my stomach and my intestines fell to the ground. My brother found me lying underneath my siblings.” The boy is alive and well but explained that when he eats or drinks, his stomach is in pain. This event and many other events like this one, can cause PTSD and other problems.
The psychological effects are also prevalent during sleep. Several Palestinian children who have experienced trauma have problems with bed wetting and also suffer from nightmares (Murthy, Srinivasa, and Lakshminarayana 27). A study done by Shafiq Masalha analyzed the nightmares that many children were having. Masalha found that two-thirds of the participants had dreams where the subject was political and a small amount had dreams that included personal desires or wishes for him or herself (Masalha 3). This shows that the trauma consumes their minds even while unconscious. From a psychological standpoint, the unconscious thoughts say a lot about a person. Some of the dreams that the nine and ten-year-old children described were terrifying for anyone, but especially inappropriate for a child to think about or experience. The following is a dream described by a young girl from a refugee camp in Bethlehem:
While I was sleeping, I dreamed an Israeli plane began to shoot at and bomb houses. I was there, I fell on the ground, a missile hit me in the head. I felt that my head was separated from my body. I was very frightened, and I woke up in a panic (Masalha 3)
The previous was considered a nightmare, which was similar to what many children described during the observation process of the study. The following is a dream described by a young girl from Ramallah that starts out good but ends badly:
We went on a trip from school. We walked in the countryside. It was pretty. Suddenly a jeep arrived with Israeli officers. I managed to get away and climb a hill. I looked down and saw the soldiers make the children stand up and raise their hands and begin to interrogate them (Masalha 3).
These dreams are good examples of day residue. These children do not just make up these horrific scenarios on their own. The things that they dream about are realistic representations of what happens on a regular basis to their friends and family members. No child should be afraid to fall asleep because of what their dreams might bring them.
It is disturbing to think about soldiers attacking young, innocent, children but the truth is that it is happening. It makes me wonder why this goes on. A young survivor of a family massacre answers my question simply: “They [the Israeli Army] could tell we were a bunch of kids playing. They deliberately target and kill the children of Gaza and Palestine. They want to uproot them at a young age so they will not grow up and become resisters, so they bomb them at this young age” (Israel Unpunished: Child Killers).
A good example of this scare tactic is shown in the documentary titled Racist Psychological Genocide in Palestine. A five-year-old Palestinian boy was just playing outside when he was accused of throwing rocks at an Israeli soldier. The young boy’s fourteen-year old friend tried to help him by telling the soldiers that the boy did not do it. The soldiers took the boy anyway. The footage in the film shows the boy sobbing before being taken and interrogated for two hours before being returned to his home (Racist Psychological Genocide in Palestine). Both boys in this situation had to have been psychologically impacted. At the age of fourteen, boys are changing into men and part of what society believes being a man is, involves being able to stick up for yourself. In this situation, no matter how hard he tried to help the young boy, he was helpless. There was nothing he could do. For this reason, his psychological development had been hindered. As for the five-year old, studies have shown that horrifying experiences at such a young age, can play a factor when they grow up.
Of course Palestinian children are not the only people who are psychologically impacted by the conflict in a negative way. Just like the fourteen-year old boy I previously mentioned, parents constantly feel helpless, which messes with them psychologically. Some parents are never sure of when they are going to get a knock on their door in the middle of the night and one of their children will be taken from them because they are accused of something they most likely did not do (Racist Psychological Genocide in Palestine). Sometimes these parents do not know if they will see their children again and there is absolutely nothing they can do about it (Racist Psychological Genocide in Palestine). The loss of a child can increase the risk of having depression, anxiety, cognitive and physical symptoms related to stress, increased risk for suicide, pain, and guilt (Vitelli).
In Hebron, the largest Palestinian city in the West Bank, a man wanted to walk along the street in order to visit his father’s grave but was denied access to the cemetery by Israeli soldiers (Racist Psychological Genocide in Palestine). The streets are the Israelis’ territory, and they allowed Australians to pass through, but not the Palestinian man (Racist Psychological Genocide in Palestine). The man explained that he just wanted to visit his father’s grave (Racist Psychological Genocide in Palestine). Cemeteries provide a place of comfort so that loved ones can mourn properly. It is part of the grieving process. Because this man, along with many other Palestinians, are unable to visit their family and friends, it is difficult for them to move on from the tragedy. They live with the heartbreak forever.
Another factor that is considered is humiliation among the Palestinians. David Lacey in “The Role of Humiliation in the Palestinian/Israeli Conflict in Gaza” suggests that humiliation is the belittlement of a person or a group because of who they are. Lacey states, “Humiliation occurs when others treat a group as if they perceive their worth or status to be lower than the group perceives it to be. What the group believes others think about them intensifies the emotion” (78). The Palestinians have been discriminated against and humiliation could be the product of this discrimination. Palestinians have been unable to mourn. Part of the mourning process is remembering and coming to terms with the past, but whenever past events are recalled, the humiliation is relived, restricting them from moving on (Lacey 79). Not being able to mourn is severely detrimental to one’s psychological health but just humiliation in itself is traumatic. Humiliation damages self-esteem which can lead to a number of other problems (Lacey 79). Escaping these psychological problems is nearly impossible until receiving some sort of psychological help.
After discussing how the Palestinians suffer psychologically because of what the Israelis put them through, it seems difficult to sympathize with the other side. However, the Israelis are definitely affected by the conflict. Since the beginning of the conflict, there have always been Palestinian attacks against Israel, but according to Terrorism-Info.org, there is an intense Palestinian terrorist campaign that began about seven months ago. Recently on March 14, 2016, the following event occurred:
Two Palestinian terrorists tried to run over Israeli civilians standing at a bus stop near the junction at the entrance to Kiryat Arba, shooting at them at the same time. An Israeli soldier was wounded by gunfire. An IDF force securing the junction shot and killed the terrorists. An improvised Karl Gustav machinegun and pistol were found in their possession. While post-attack events were in progress at the junction, another Palestinian drove up and ran into an IDF officer. The officer and another soldier were wounded. Another terrorist was shot and killed (News of Terrorism and the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict).
Similar attacks happen frequently. Stabbing attacks are also occurring on Israeli soldiers and civilians (News of Terrorism and the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict). Because of these frequent terrorist attacks, many are wounded and killed. This means that those who are wounded are more likely to experience PTSD and the loved ones of those who have died also suffer. A 2003 article titled “Exposure to Terrorism, Stress-Related Mental Health Symptoms, and Coping Behaviors Among a Nationally Representative Sample in Israel”, speaks about a study that was conducted on 512 Israelis. Eighty-four participants claimed that they had been directly exposed to a terrorist attack, but 191 participants said that they had a family member or friend that has been previously exposed (Bleich, Gelkopf, Solomon, 612). This means that there are several Israelis that have either been affected directly or indirectly. To further back this up, the researchers also found that 391 out of the 512 participants reported having at least one traumatic stress-related (TSR) symptom (Bleich, Gelkopf, Solomon, 612). Although the Israelis are inflicting a great deal of suffering on the Palestinians, the Palestinian terrorists or freedom fighters (depending on your perspective) are giving it right back to them and causing psychological problems for the Israelis as well.
I previously mentioned that humiliation is a psychological factor with the Palestinians, but it is also a factor among the Israelis as well. Lacey states, “An important part of humiliation is the feeling of a lack of control, of being helpless and at the mercy of your enemy” (81). The Holocaust did exactly this to the Jews, making them feel humiliated to be who they are. Since then, the Jews have always felt like they are not recognized. By creating the state of Israel, the Jews were able to create a home for themselves which made it easier for them to deal with the trauma from the Holocaust (Lacey 81). Humiliation is such a serious concept that can result in extreme actions when experienced for a long period of time. This humiliation experienced by the Jews during the Holocaust is a very important part of how the conflict between Israel and Palestine started.
An end to the conflict between Israel and Palestine almost seems impossible. People have been talking about things that can be done for years now and still no resolution has been found. However, the people of Israel and Palestine refuse to lose hope. There may not be one giant solution, but there might be several little ones that can eventually lead to the goal of peace. As a psychology major and a person that truly cares about the wellbeing of others, I think that in the meantime of trying to end the conflict, the minds of the affected men, women, and children need to be tended to. I believe that psychological support should be available to anyone who feels that they need it.
A shocking 70% of Palestinian refugees and non-refugees claimed that they had never received psychological support (Murthy, Srinivasa, and Lakshminarayana 27). Bleich, Gelkopf, and Solomon found in their research that very few of their Israeli participants felt that their psychological problems were severe enough to feel the need for help (612). However, the participants that were interviewed for this study were above the age of eighteen which means that Israeli children and teens were left out of this sample. “Israeli Teens’ Mental Health Worsens When Arab-Israeli Conflict Does” discusses how teens are impacted by the conflict and that the “Israeli public health services should continue to offer psychological and psychiatric support to teens not just during and after escalations in the conflict, but also to prepare them during quieter periods (Tobin). Both sides are being impacted psychologically, but one truly needs aide and assistance and is not receiving it. It would take volunteers or international funding in order to support the Palestinians receiving psychological help.
If there is going to be a change, people are going to have to step up and recognize the suffering that is taking place. At the end of the day, the Palestinians and the Israelis are all people who do not deserve to feel depressed, anxious, or afraid to fall asleep. Both sides need the availability of psychological support. Something needs to be done and these people in distress, need to be tended to while they wait and hope for peace in the future.
Bleich, Avraham, Marc Gelkopf, and Zahava Solomon. “Exposure to terrorism, stress-related mental health symptoms, and coping behaviors among a nationally representative sample in Israel.” Jama 290.5 (2003): 612-620.
Israel Unpunished: Child Killers. Israel Unpunished: Child Killers. Press TV Doc, n.d. Web. 14 Apr. 2016.
Lacey, David. “The role of humiliation in the Palestinian/Israeli conflict in Gaza.” Psychology & Society 4.1 (2011): 76-92.
Masalha, Shafiq. “Children and Violent Conflict.” Palestine-Israel Journal. Pij.org, n.d. Web. 17 Apr. 2016.
Murthy, R. Srinivasa, and Rashmi Lakshminarayana. “Mental health consequences of war: a brief review of research findings.” World Psychiatry5.1 (2006): 25-30.
“News of Terrorism and the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict.” Terrorism-info. The Meir Amit Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center, Mar. 2016. Web. 20 Apr. 2016.
Qouta, Samir, and Jumana Odeh. “The impact of conflict on children: The Palestinian experience.” The Journal of ambulatory care management 28.1 (2005): 75-79.
Racist Psychological Genocide in Palestine. YouTube. YouTube, 29 Oct. 2015. Web. 18 Apr. 2016.
Tobin, Andrew. “Israeli Teens’ Mental Health Worsens When Arab-Israeli Conflict Does.” The Times of Israel. The Times of Israel, 4 Aug. 2014. Web. 20 Apr. 2016.
Vitelli, Romeo. “When a Parent Loses a Child.” Psychology Today. N.p., 4 Feb. 2013. Web. 22 Apr. 2016.