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The stress of living in Gaza

With no extension of the settlement-building freeze in the West Bank, peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians remain at a standstill. US negotiators are hoping to engineer a breakthrough with some kind of land swap deal, where equal territory is given to the Palestinians in exchange for the major settlement blocks where Israel is building. But any kind of deal looks remote at the moment. Some European governments, uneasy with the stalemate, have suggested increasing Palestine’s weight in any negotiations by admitting Palestine as a full member of the United Nations (raising its current status from that of an observer). The United States would most likely block such a change, but any new political moves at this juncture might help nudge the two sides back into talks.

While the politicians fail to find common ground, life for ordinary Palestinians remains grim in the occupied territories. In Gaza, after decades of fighting, shelling and economic blockades, medical experts believe that as many as 15 per cent of Gazans now suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) from all the insecurity. One school teacher and mother of five, whose house lies close to a Hamas security complex repeatedly bombed, suffered from sleepless nights and dreams of explosions, even when no action was taking place. One of her children also wet his bed over several months. Finally, she was persuaded to visit a doctor and received help from a trauma therapist. After many weeks of treatment, she has reported feeling much better and says her son is no longer wetting his bed at night.

Psychotherapy is a new treatment for many people in Gaza, who are culturally secretive about emotional or mental problems. In any case, few families have the ability to pay for treatment and there are too few specialists in the region. One psychologist working at the Gaza Mental Health Programme says there is a severe shortage of qualified psychiatrists to treat people. A spokesperson for the World Health Organisation (WHO) in Gaza has spoken of the WHO’s efforts to improve psychological services. So far, the WHO has trained 300 doctors and nurses who will operate in 56 health care clinics across the region.

The Deputy Health Minister, Hassan Khalaf, believes many current problems in Gaza stem from depression among the people, caused not only by a climate of continual fear, but also by the dire economic circumstances and a lack of vision for the future. With the peace talks stalled one more, there seems little prospect of any new hope in the near future to lift the spirits of those living in Gaza.

Laurinda Luffman signature