The Humanitarian’s Dilemma

Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) has been working for more than 15 years in the occupied Palestinian territories. Our medical and psychological programs give a window into the daily reality for Palestinians living in the West Bank and Gaza. It is a journey that reveals the devastation of the policies of occupation, whether through blockades and bombardments or through walls and nighttime raids.

One form of psychological violence experienced by our patients is the constant threat of loved ones being locked away indefinitely, without charge.

In the town of Majdal Bani Fadil, six children are living by themselves: Both parents were arrested in the past year, an uncle explained when I visited their home with one of our psychological assessment teams in late April. Their mother was taken away in the middle of the night 12 months ago, he told me, and says that she has been held without sentencing ever since.

The children not only saw her dragged away, but they also have no idea when she will return. Now the eldest daughter cannot focus on her studies, the middle son is prone to violent outbursts, and the middle daughter is often found crying in her parents’ old room. “They don’t have hope,” the uncle said.

MSF sees how this sort of administrative detention–through which people can be held indefinitely without charges–heightens the psychological violence inflicted on Palestinian children. The presence of the Israeli army and its use of force are the main cause of the psychological trauma of our patients in the West Bank. A review of the main triggers resulting in our patients’ need for psychological treatment showed that just over half (52 percent) of them describe violent IDF search operations inside their homes, 42 percent say one or more family members is currently incarcerated, and 35 percent report being affected by indirect violence such as shootings or incursion operations by the IDF.

Unsurprisingly, children suffer the worst effects. Half of the 254 patients who received care in 2014 were younger than 15, and 25 percent were younger than 10. Fifty percent of the children we see say they have trouble sleeping, 34 percent report anxiety, 28 percent have trouble concentrating, and 21 percent report bed-wetting.

Even our most seasoned psychologists are shocked by the levels of trauma.

[Jason Cone writing in “Foreign Policy”]