Occupied Minds is a series of stories about Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) patients affected by the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, people receiving assistance from MSF mental health teams in Hebron, East Jerusalem and Gaza. The stories are collected by the MSF teams. Occupied Minds seeks to reflect the reality of daily life under occupation for MSF patients.


Ahed Tamini is a 14-year-old Palestinian girl who lives in the village of Nabi Saleh, in the occupied Palestinian territories. She is in ninth grade. This is the sweet blond, blue-eyed girl who two years ago stood up to Israeli soldiers, shaking her fist at one of them after she learned they had arrested her brother. She is a passionate lover of football and an unconditional fan of Neymar Jr — she and her cousin Jana baked him a strawberry cake for his birthday.

VIDEO: Never-ending struggle

Besides football, one of the things she loves most is the sea. “When me and my friends go out in the village we sit on top of the mountain, and we imagine we have the sea in front of us and we can go for a swim. But the occupation keeps preventing us from going.”

Ahed Tamimi Story. ANNA SURINYACH

Nareman and Bassim Tamimi, her parents

Ahed’s parents are leaders of the popular resistance of Nabi Saleh. This translates into detentions, injuries and long absences. Both have been arrested several times. Her father, Bassim Tamimi, has been arrested nine times. The last time he spent 13 months in prison and visits were very limited. Her mother, Nareman Tamimi, has been detained five times and was injured in her thigh when she was hit by a live bullet four months ago. It will take her one more year to fully recover. Ahed’s brothers have also been detained. Ahed is only a teenager, but all these experiences have made her grow up as she has had to replace her mother while she has not been there.

Nariman and Bassem Tamimi, her parents, in their house. ANNA SURINYACH

“My first dream is to see Palestine free and my second dream is to meet Neymar Jr, the football player”

What is different about Nabi Saleh?

Nabi Saleh is a village located 20 kilometres north-west of Ramallah, in the West Bank, where 600 people live, all of them extended family sharing the same surname, Tamimi. At the opposite side of the village, up in the hills, is the Halamish settlement, built in 1976 on land that still belongs to the residents of NabiSaleh.

The village of Nabi Saleh (left) / The Halamish settlement (right). ANNA SURINAYCH

And lower down, there are fields full of olivetrees and the Al Qaws spring, a natural source of water that once used to supply the village and was a swimming area for the children of Nabi Saleh. The spring and lands surrounding it were taken by the settlers in 2009. Since then, Palestinians have been prevented from going and they only get 12 hours of running water a week. This is what sparked the popular resistance in December 2009, when the first weekly march was held in protest at the confiscation of lands and the seizure of their nearby water spring.

At the entrance of the village of Nabi Saleh there is a military tower. One access to the village is always blocked and the main road to the village is blocked on Fridays and randomly during the week with a gate controlled by the Israeli military forces. Cars and ambulances that need to access or leave the village have to use a bypass road that takes at least an hour.

Since then, the villagers, sometimes joined by other activists, have hosted peaceful demonstrations from the mosque down the main road every Friday after prayer. Peaceful, that is, until they meet the Israeli soldiers who stop them and then the clashes begin.

This is the view from Ahed’s house. ANNA SURINYACH

“They start shooting rubber bullets, gas canisters, sound grenades and live bullets, and also spray houses and water tanks with skunk water [which smells like faeces, can provoke vomiting and remains for weeks],” explains Nareman Tamimi, one of the leaders of the protests.

Demonstration of Friday April 10th. BILAL TAMIMI

The Palestinian youth respond with slingshots and hurling stones. Nareman and others respond with video cameras, filming to document what goes on and to raise their voice to the world about what is happening. Women are very active in Nabi Saleh and besides using their cameras (“their weapons” as they put it), they are travelling abroad to spread the word about their village and about their resistance.

Despite the difficulties of leading a normal life in Nabi Saleh, children like Ahed still go to school, love football and play videogames. People have Facebook accounts to connect to the outside world, and on Friday evening’s families gather around the table for dinner and enjoy themselves watching TV shows together. And this is how they manage to continue with their daily lives.

Ten houses in the village have received demolition order. Ahed’s house is one of them. ANNA SURINYACH


By Jumana Abu Oxa, MSF clinical psychologist who has worked in the village

The people of Nabi Saleh welcomed me into their village, homes and school in a warm and friendly way that makes you see the goodness of these people, and the positive way they approach life despite the difficulties they face on a daily basis due to the occupation. The villagers suffer continual unexpected attacks by the military and settlers, leaving them in a state of alert 24 hours a day, and with huge uncertainty around every aspect of their lives.

The villagers collect gas canisters and bullets thrown at them as a proof of the attacks.

The fact that the military can invade the village and enter the houses at any time terrorizes the people and has a big effect, mainly on the children, on their concentration, sleep and school achievements. Many children suffer from nightmares, anxiety and a lot of stress. Parents of some of the kids have told us they receive random phone calls from the military saying they will arrest them, with no date or time, so they go to sleep with their clothes on, their shoes and ID card next to their bed because the arrests normally happen after 1am; his way they would be ready.

Children from the village.

Furthermore, a lot of the women live in constant fear that something will happen to one of their family members and this constant anxiety affects their behaviour. For example, some mothers stay up at night to make sure the soldiers are not getting close to their houses, in order to be ready in case they do. Then they can warn their loved ones and wake them up slowly so they won’t wake up terrified by the soldiers. Additionally, women play a very important role in the struggle of this village and, for this reason, they are often arrested, beaten and humiliated by the Israeli security forces.

Lara ( 7 years) lives in Nabi Saleh, with his family. She suffers a lot the consequences of the violence. ANNA SURINYACH

There is a lack of certainty about the future, and this affects the way the new generation develops, because they see their friends get shot, arrested, beaten, and jailed for years, and they always expect that they will be next. When you cannot see a future, you will not make an effort to study, develop yourself or see that the world has a lot of good things to offer, because in yours it doesn’t.

In most contexts, victims suffer from a certain trauma or abuse for a certain period of time, and then it’s over. However, in this village, the attacks, the injuries, and the terrorising have been going on for years. One positive factor that is helping the people to keep on going is the social structure of the Palestinian society in general, and particularly in Nabi Saleh. All the people belong to the same big family that provides a safety net of support, compaction and understanding for each and every member of the community who goes through a traumatic event. No one is left alone. Such a support network enables the people to carry on with their daily lives, and try to aspire to a normal one.