A personal report on the UK Palestine Mental Health Network conference
Fida’l Fida’l Fida’l – Warrior, warrior, warrior – Oh my land, the land of the ancestors, Oh my people, people of eternity ………..
What better way to start a conference on Palestine and its children than by singing the national anthem? Emotional, yes. And so was the conference as we heard from Reem and Meran, from Jericho and Ramallah respectively, about the everyday trauma of growing up in a country under occupation.
The previous evening attendees were reminded, as if they needed to be, of the depredations of childhood in the West Bank and Gaza by a film, Surviving Childhood compiled and edited by Charlotte Burck and Christine Van Durren. Dr Ghada Karmi’s described trying as a child to make sense of the disruption of family life and the disappearance of neighbours as they joined the exodus fleeing Jerusalem in 1948. Her bewilderment which was shaped by at leaving her dog behind while understanding deep down that whatever assurances her parents gave her, there would be no coming back. Ghada challenged “What are we going to do about Israel?
Victoria Britain gave a powerful Opening Address and she was followed by Dr Samah Jabra and Dr Nadera Shalhoub-Kerorkian, both of whom I had been privileged to meet on the 2016 ICAHD Network visit to Palestine and Israel. I asked Dr Samah then how she relaxed working and living like her patients in such a punishing environment. She replied that writing reports helped her to organise her thoughts and feelings and this gave her ‘tools to cope.’
We had also visited Nadera in her home just inside the walls of the Old City of Jerusalem, an area being rapidly Judaised. She had hurried us into her apartment to avoid arousing attention and described an incident about which she was still shaken. Returning home at dusk carries a threat of abuse or worse. A soldier feeling suspicious or bored may decide to suspect that a shopping bag carries a bomb or that car keys are a knife. Nadera had found herself in just this situation, being thrust up against a wall while walking from the car park to her home.
The addresses by Samah and Nadera and other speeches will be made available on the Network website.
Other speakers described how the Occupation steals the childhood of young people and in a video link from the West Bank Ahed Tamimi called on young people to join her in resisting and on the international community to take heed and act.
Afternoon workshops offered an opportunity for attendees to dig down into therapeutic approaches to the trauma and grief which the Occupation of the West Bank and the continuing siege of Gaza dishes up daily.
Young people are picking up the struggle for peace with justice. We must redouble our efforts to support them and to do what we can where we can. There’s a National PSC demonstration – Exist! Resist! Return – on Saturday 11 May!
The conference ended with Mohammed Mukhaimar introducing us to his children. Yazan and Yumna read a poem by Mahmoud Darwish and Yara sang a poignant Palestinian song. This was a great way to end the conference. I’m sure most people like I did left for home with a spring in their step and better able to absorb all that we had learned from the conference.