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Occupation magazine - Life under occupation

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The Psychosocial causes for the Palestinian Factional War
By: Dr. Eyad El-Sarraj
15 February 2007

Dear Friends:
See below article by Dr. Eyad Sarraj, of Gaza Community Mental Health
Programme, and links to articles by Jerusalem journalist Daoud Kuttab, and
Chicago comedian Ray Hanania.
These are attempts at analysis of the internal Palestinian causes of the
current internal Palestinian crisis in the Occupied Territories.
The political factions have not gone much beyond blaming each other, and/or
calling for `national unity`, without the specificity necessary or the
unifying mobilizing goal. Politics have abandoned the field to the thugs
and the collaborators.
Politics, in my view, are the political source of the ineffectiveness of the
Palestinian left, the Israeli `peace camp`, and the international solidarity
The Israeli occupation is not `background music` to the Palestinian crisis.
It is a cause. So is the ethnic cleansing of 1947-49, the racist
discrimination, and the persistent refugee crisis. A new, liberating appeal
to the Israelis is necessary. The old approach: `Stay the way you are, just
get off our backs` is part of the problem.
Focusing on the need to mobilize the people, throughout Palestine and
abroad, for explicitly secular and democratic goals -- a defensive struggle
that requires a revolutionary break with the oppressive status quo -- is the
only way forward.
Henry Lowi

Many questions even after Mecca meeting remain . what has become of us? Our
people have suffered for 59 years from displacement, homelessness,
discrimination, impoverishment and expatriation, but they withstood that
suffering and never killed each other; so what happened to us? The late
Arafat rejected a plan to kill Abu Nidal, who had already killed a number of
Palestinian leaders, and said, `If we start this series of killings, we will
never stop.` So what happened? I have heard stories about new forms of
cold-blooded and callous murder, and about Palestinians denigrating and
holding as infidel other Palestinians or accusing them of heresy and bigotry
as a prelude to ostracizing or murdering them. I have also heard numerous
stories about children who have been horrified and traumatized and have
fallen victims to nightmares, loss of appetite, insomnia and fear of
street-walking. What is happening to us? How could things amount to
assaulting homes, mosques and universities?

Politics and political difference alone do not provide the answer. There are
several additional social and psychological factors for what is befalling
this society. A safe and stable environment is one that produces normal
children, while the environment we have been living in since the occupation
is one in which violence proliferates and becomes rampant.

I- Torture

After the 1967 Israeli occupation, a legitimate national armed resistance
movement emerged involving multitudes of freedom fighters. I can recall
that, while I was working at Al-Shifa hospital in the early seventies, we
received several murdered and injured freedom fighters every day. Reacting
to that resistance and in order to contain and destroy it, Israeli forces
arrested tens of thousands of Palestinians and subjected them to systematic
and various forms of torture as documented by research teams of both
Palestinian and Israeli institutions acting in the area of defending human

The effects of torture extend from the individual to his community. Research
has found that a high percentage of torture victims become prey of mental
illness which transform victims into problems for their own selves as well
as for their own families. The commonest problem arising from torture is the
violence which the victim directs to women and children, which in its turn
makes the home a battlefield. The reason for such phenomenon is that the
torture a young man is subjected to makes him harbor a desire for revenge by
violent means and subsequently he unconsciously resorts to identify with the
Israeli torturer. This conclusion is supported by the fact that the methods
of torture used in Palestinian prisons are the same as those used in Israeli
prisons; they have at times even been more atrocious and resulted in deaths
among several prisoners in the early years of the PNA takeover. Indeed, in
many instances, the Palestinian investigator was an ex-victim of Israeli
torture. This phenomenon has created a cycle of internal violence. We note
here that many Hamas members were tortured in Palestinian prisons. Feelings
of immense hatred and desire for revenge started to build up and heighten
culminating in accusations of infidelity leveled at leaders of security
organs. All of these factors led to a state of polarization and division
which has aggravated by Hamas coming to power. Now it seemed that some were
willing to retaliate and take revenge from those who tortured them, a desire
which was intensified by the fact that Hamas government was besieged and
there spread a feeling that it was targeted and conspired against and that
some Fatah leaders were accomplices in such conspiracy.

II- The First Intifada

Despite the glorification we attribute to the `children of the stone` whom
we hold as examples of heroism, we cannot ignore the fact that they are
flesh and blood and that they have been victims of various forms of
violence. In our work at the Gaza Community Mental Health Program we
conducted a research on three thousand Gaza children. The study has found
that those children were subjected to several traumatic and violent
experiences including beating, bone-breaking, injury, tear gas and acts of
killing and injury, all of which experiences have left indelible effects on
their psych. Yet, to many, the most excruciating experience was seeing their
fathers beaten helpless by Israeli soldiers without resistance. Such an
experience will ultimately transform a whole generation into something
different as the second intifada showed; for the children of the first
intifada are themselves the men of the second intifada. Those young men who
are pursuing revenge and killing and are at times seeking even their own
death are the selfsame children who cherished so many dreams of a better
life but saw them fade away and fall apart the moment they saw their fathers
fall helpless and defenseless victims of arrogant force incarnated in the
Israeli soldier. No wonder then that the Palestinian child will see his
model in that Israeli soldier and that his language will be the language of
force and his toys and games will be the toys and games of death.

III- The Effects of Ongoing Violence

Israel systematically assaulted the Palestinian people in all aspects of
their lives and it even escalated its aggressions during the second intifada
as it resorted to a policy of house demolition; infrastructure, farm and
facilities destruction; extrajudicial killing and mass detention of
activists and systematic torture. Psychological research worldwide has shown
that ongoing armed conflicts result in what is known as chronic social
toxication which makes people and children less sensitive and more ruthless,
less rational and more impulsive, less conversant and more violent. More
significantly, new groups are formed of individuals who are alien to the
family system and to the social fabric and who are powerful and violent
enough to be capable of heinous killing. Ultimately, those individuals are
viewed as untouchable masters and examples to be followed by the
disadvantaged and vulnerable. The outcome of this is that brute force, not
morality, emerge is the example to be followed.

Another effect of such social toxication is the phenomenon of social
disintegration and disunity which is manifest in the decline of the father`s
authority with all the moral values it embodies; and in the young men`s
tendency to search for a new identity which they seek to be assertive and
different from that of their vulnerable and downtrodden parents. There
emerged the new form of identity provided by Islamic organizations and armed
militias which in many cases supplanted national and filial belonging and
rendered many persons alienated from their community.

IV- The PNA Performance

The PNA performance has had a tremendous psychological impact on the
Palestinians. Throughout its term of office, the PNA regime has been
characterized by absence of law and justice, violation of human and
individual rights, contravention against public lands, disrespect for
reason, disregard of accountability and penalty amounting to rewarding of
offenders, spread of favoritism and nepotism which created heightened
feelings of bitterness, exasperation and hatred among the disadvantaged and
destitute. All of these factors made the Palestinian citizen feel that only
force in its different forms is the only resort.

The PNA added insult to injury as its security organs penetrated families.
This reciprocally allowed families to penetrate security organs which became
controlled by Fatah leaders as well as by heads of a large Gaza family. This
resulted in gross security violations and social disorder, and culminated in
numerous instances of law-breaking and aggressions against public and
individual rights and property. In all circumstances, aggressors were backed
either by their faction, family or a security organ and sometimes by all of
them, which made power concentrated in the hands of influential individuals
in the large authority apparatus. This eventually resulted in more disunity
and division among those same families, and new armed and rival groups
emerged by virtue of the official authority support; only to turn against
that authority one day and dauntlessly assault some of its major symbols.
In this regard, it is noticeable that the Palestinian people`s performance
in the first intifada was characterized by an overwhelming sense of
solidarity, resilience and commitment to moral values, all of which seemed
to be nonexistent in the second intifada which has been dominated by chaos,
disintegration and division. Some observers attribute such change to the
presence of the PNA and to its inability to assume a leading role, as well
as to its acting as a barrier between the resistance and occupation. Its
corruption and weakness made it easy for both parties to beat it.

V- Absence of a common enemy and uncontrolled arms

The actual non-presence of a common enemy in Gaza diverted the furious and
enraged feelings of revenge from their natural path and redirected them into
the Palestinian community among individuals, families and the factions
contending for power and their militias. Under deteriorating social,
economic, political and psychological conditions, it is only natural, as we
have already warned that violence will prevail in the Palestinian society
and among its individuals and groups. This situation further worsened with
the proliferation of arms and plentitude of funds in the hands of contending
parties and militias. Those factors on their own, however, cannot account
for those bizarre acts of revenge, torture and killing committed in the
recent clashes between Fatah and Hamas and which reflect inveterate grudge
and hatred. Therefore, there is need to consider the other reasons.


The systematized repression and torture that the Palestinian people was
subjected to under the Israeli occupation, the poor performance of the PNA
as embodied in the absence of law and justice and maladministration all led
the youth to seek and cling to a new identity which is different from that
of their helpless parents and which holds that naked force is the only means
to avenge themselves over the suppression they have long been subjected to.

The formation of those political, partisan and religious identities and the
view that ultimate force is the model of heroism are the major cause of the
status quo of Palestinian armed conflict which finds its fuel in many causes
such as division, hatred, and vindictiveness of a generation that rebels
against the declining family system and the chaotic PNA.

Please visit our site:
Gaza Community Mental Health Programme

The source of Gaza fighting
by Daoud Kuttab

Ray Hanania
PA unity deal a disaster


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