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Do we have these feelings inside of us?

Activities promote mental and emotional well-being

Together with partners, forumZFD has been implementing psychosocial support sessions for groups of women in the West Bank. Since the onset of the war in Gaza and its effects on the Palestinian population overall, such sessions are urgently needed.
Palestinian women participate of a game with ropes in a psychosocial support session in Hebron.
© forumZFD

“Even if the war is in Gaza, in the West Bank we are also inside a big prison. People are afraid and very anxious. For women, the situation is even more complicated because they hold the families together”, explains Amal Hadweh, a facilitator who implemented psychosocial support sessions with our partner Taghyeer in Bethlehem. “Children are at home having online classes, and poverty increases because men cannot go to work. So women have to hold all of that”, she continues.

The West Bank has seen heightened tensions in recent months with more frequent raids by the Israeli Army. In addition, after the terrifying October 7 attacks, Israel severely restricted the entrance of Palestinian workers in its territory, and an estimated number of 276.000 people from the West Bank have lost their jobs, according to the International Labour Organization. Israel is also blocking funds to the Palestinian Authority, which in turn reduced public sector payments and civil servants have seen a cut of 60% in their salaries. 

This catastrophic economic scenario adds up to the already known effects of the prolonged military occupation on the mental health of Palestinians. The 2022 report No Peace of Mind, developed by the Médecins du Monde France and the Association of International Development Agencies (AIDA), explains how the context in which Palestinians live impacts their psychosocial well-being:

What is sometimes mistaken for resilience is the necessary adaptation to a stressful environment, in which encountering violence is part of the ‘daily routine’ and where acute stress is the norm.

forumZFD and its partners have developed psychosocial support activities in the cities of Qalqilya, Nablus, Bethlehem, and Hebron, in the occupied West Bank. Sessions take place online and in person, when possible, and activities vary from group conversations to games where participants express their needs and feelings.

“Workshops like these, in this situation, were a safe space to put our incomprehensible feelings into. It was an opportunity to share our feelings, and to encourage each other not to hide these feelings inside of us”, says B.K., one of the participants.

Aroub Jumleh is an experienced facilitator who has been working with groups of women for over 20 years. She delivered the sessions with forumZFD and our partners online because it was not possible to hold in-person meetings given the security situation in the north of the West Bank. “I don’t deny that the work is a little overwhelming. But the participants were very interactive and their interaction gave me the positive energy to continue”, she says. Ms. Jumleh also describes the positive changes that she observed in participants: “Someone unable to leave the house now started going out. Another participant who used to feel that there was chaos in her life began to arrange her time in an organized and comfortable way. Another participant who used to be emotionally charged due to the stressful context has calmed down a little. You can't imagine how much it means to me that I conduct such meetings.”

The World Health Organisation has worked to scale up community mental health services in Palestine, but the availability is still scarce. The topic is frowned upon as well, as Ms. Hadweh explains: “When people learn that you are asking for these services, they would ask “Are you majnoon” [Arabic word for crazy]? So the culture is hard and people would look at them with a lens of shame”. 

However, Ms. Hadweh also sees a positive impact of her work on the women. “When they were leaving, I could hear them laughing. One of them said ‘It’s the first time that we have such training… never before have we talked about these feelings. Do we have these feelings inside of us?”. 

These activities have a small impact on each individual taking part in them. However, the context in which they take place cannot be ignored. Palestinians are bearing the brunt of a military occupation that has lasted decades, and with a future looking more uncertain than ever.

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