Occupied Palestinian Territories – West Bank: MSF provides support to victims of violence

April 15, 2012

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Occupied Palestinian Territories – West Bank: MSF provides support to victims of violence © Juan-Carlos Tomasi

the only incident that has really affected me is when the settlers attacked me in my shop. The way they entered the shop was very terrifying. To talk about this incident is not as difficult as the feeling I had. I felt that I was going to die. I could not feel my legs. I was pregnant two months and a half at that time. Because of this attack I had a miscarriage, I lost my child.

J. lives together with her husband and their 6 children in the old city of Hebron

Following the murder (in early 2011) of five members of a family of settlers in an Israeli settlement located 5 km southeast of Nablus, and the Israeli Army (IDF) retaliations against the inhabitants of the closest villages, tension remained high. In parallel, a clear increase of settlers’ actions towards Palestinians civilians was observed, and raised their maximum in September 2011.

Over the last months, Nablus, Qalqilya and Hebron districts have been severely affected by a wide range of settlers’ violent actions, running from continuous harassment and threats to direct settlers’ attack to villagers. Various forms of violence against Palestinians in the occupied Palestinian territories have been observed, including physical assaults, harassment, takeover of and damage to private property, obstructed access to agricultural land, and attacked houses.

In Qalqilya district, near Nablus, the situation between settlers and Palestinian population is particularly violent. And although arrests of Palestinians conducted by the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) remain stable, the end of the summer has showed a massive increase of arrests conducted by the Palestinian National Authority (PNA): more than 390 in September and October, in this district.

MSF works in the West Bank since 2000 running a psycho-medico-social programme in Nablus, Qalqilya, Hebron and East Jerusalem for victims of psychological suffering related to the conflict. MSF teams focus on people with psychological distress (acute stress, anxiety disorders, post traumatic syndromes, depression…) caused by violent incidents involving Israeli settlers and Israeli Army, but also due to the intra-Palestinian conflict.

A., a housewife and mother of 10 children describes her experience the night settlers attacked the village: “around mid night, while we were sleeping we started to hear some noise outside, we heard shouting and crashing, then stones started to hit our windows and doors, and suddenly a big noise came out. At the beginning we didn’t know what it was but after a few seconds we found out that a group of settlers were trying to destroy my husband’s mini-bus. We put the outside lights on, we waited until the settlers have left, we found out that they broke the mini bus’s window, poured diesel inside and had prepared to burn it, but luckily something stopped them otherwise we would have lost our main source of living (livelihood)”.

“We have no social life – A. adds- we can’t visit our family or friends as we are afraid of leaving the house or the children alone. If someone is sick during the night it is so difficult to go to the doctor, it is not safe to move during the night and in the same time it is impossible to leave the children alone. We can’t sleep, it is difficult to plan anything as you never know when they will attack, and there is no time for the attacks, nights and day.”

The continuous threats and fears are not only prohibiting the family to work and live, it gives the mother another reason to stay alerted to keep an eye on the children, the fear of being killed or kidnapped is a continuous suffering for all the people in this area.

“MSF is giving a great help for us, the support we get from MSF Psychologists is really helping us to cope with our difficulties and fears which we face daily, especially for the children, after the visits of MSF psychologist they start to feel that life is becoming normal again”, one of the children said: “we start to see people, we can dress and welcome people in our house as if everything is normal and we are getting our social life back, today for example, I dressed and combed my hair because I knew that you are coming , this really made my day a good one”.

W., housewife and mother of 7 children said: “We had to install fences on all the windows around the house for protection. At the beginning we saw it as a jail, but now we believe it is so important for our safety, as I can’t forget the moment when a stone broke into the room where my daughter was. Luckily, the stone hit her back but I can’t stop thinking of what could have happened if she would have had hit on her face… My daughters are scared to sleep in their bedroom, they keep imagining that settlers are climbing and entering their room, and one of my daughters keeps thinking that she is living in a scary movie. We feel that the danger is surrounding us from everywhere, day and night”.

“Fridays and Saturdays are the days that I really hate; in these days we prepare ourselves for a new trip to the unknown. Waiting for the settlers to harass attack and destroy, it is annoying, really annoying”. “The fear of losing someone who is a beloved to us, by being killed or kidnapped is controlling our minds all the time, it is not safe at all for the children to play outside the house”.

“My life really improves with the help of MSF psychologists, I feel more comfortable and less worried now, and this support gives us the power to stand in front of what is going on, Children are less traumatized, they manage to sleep better than before thanks to the help of MSF Psychologists”.

Q., mother of 9 year old Enas, lives in the old city of Hebron, in the area known as H2. Every day she suffers from constant harassment from settlers living in adjacent buildings. “Not a day passes by without an attack by the settlers. They throw stones at our house, they try to provoke us. But what has affected our life for ever is an incident that has happened two years ago. It was Ramadan, I was in the mosque to pray, I was not at home. When I came back my daughter was complaining about her head. She told me that a settler had beaten her and that she had a headache. After this incident she started to feel constant dizziness and nausea. I took her to many doctors to see what was the problem. One doctor in Ramallah discovered that she had fluid on her brain. They said that it will not affect her brain now, but if in the future it will start to affect the brain, then she will need to undergo a brain surgery. I am so afraid about my daughter’s health. She is too young to undergo a brain surgery.”

J. lives together with her husband and their 6 children in the old city of Hebron, in the area known as H2. Five months ago, she was attacked by settlers in her shop. “Since we started living here we had problems with the settlers. Every day they were throwing stones at our windows. We had to put iron bars and metal windows to protect ourselves from the stones. Constantly, we face many problems with the soldiers and the settlers. But the only incident that has really affected me is when the settlers attacked me in my shop. The way they entered the shop was very terrifying. To talk about this incident is not as difficult as the feeling I had. I felt that I was going to die. I could not feel my legs. I was pregnant two months and a half at that time. Because of this attack I had a miscarriage, I lost my child. I love children too much so this has affected me very much. I could not live with my children. I could not live my regular daily life. When the MSF psychologist came to visit me, I have started to feel better. We started to talk about my feelings and about the incident. After 10 sessions with the psychologist I felt that I had improved a lot.”

Living, dreaming, and having a future in these areas is very difficult. The continuous fear of losing houses, lands, family member or a neighbor is sticking to all. Expectations for the future are very low, and the constant progression of settlements built on Palestinian lands worsen everyday hopes and potentialities of having a normal life for these villagers.

MSF works in the northern West Bank districts of Qalqilya and Nablus, and in the district of Hebron in southern West Bank. Two teams of psychologists, social workers and medical doctors assist people to express their emotions and psychological pain, and to develop stronger coping mechanisms in order to alleviate their suffering and to overcome the abnormal living conditions in the Occupied Palestinian Territories.

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