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"The occupation will never win peace or legitimacy"

samedi 2 janvier 2016 - 08h:39

An interview with Samah Jabr

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Samah Jabr Dr., born in East Jerusalem, lives in Shufat , a suburb of Jerusalem and works in the West Bank. After the first promotion in medicine in the Palestinian Al Quds University, she is one of twenty psychiatrists currently practicing in the West Bank. Along with his professional activities, Samah Jabr writes columns regularly in the international press since the late 1990. She agreed to answer our questions.

French version

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Docteur Samah Jabr - Photo : Alexandra Dols

Info-Palestine.eu : Dr Samah Jabr, you are known by your inititiatives at international level and by your commitment to the Palestinian national movement, but you are also a physician and psychiatrist. How would you introduce yourself briefly ?

Doctor Samah Jabr : I’m a Palestinian Muslim woman, a medical doctor, a psychiatrist and a psychotherapist. Being a health professional has provided me with additional awareness and additional tools to use in my modest contribution to counteract the occupation of Palestine. This duty is not only a natural instinct for a native Palestinian, but also an ethical professional position which is taken towards all the violence the occupation is bringing to the Palestinian land, body, and mind. The occupation is a health crisis as well as a political one.
IP : The story of Palestinian families is certainly mixed with that of dispossession, oppression and occupation experienced by a whole society, but what is the history of your family ? From how long time, or generations, are you Jerusalemite ?

SJ : I was born in Jerusalem and except for the years of postgraduate education, I have always lived in Jerusalem—as a temporary resident like all Palestinian Jerusalemites ; I am a citizen of nowhere. My paternal grandfather moved to Jerusalem for better life conditions from a village around Nablus called Kifel Hares. He worked hard to buy land in the village, but most of this land was later confiscated to expand the Israeli settlement of Ariel. My mother was 3 years old when her family was displaced from Jaffa in 1948. They were luckier than other refugees because instead of settling in a camp, they settled in Jerusalem as my grandfather was an educated man and was given a post as a director of an orphanage school and a beautiful home in the old city.

This grandfather had spent time in prison during British mandate for his involvement in a strike. The family’s beautiful home with a view of the mosque was taken and sealed by the Israelis in 1969, as a punishment for the alleged involvement of one of my uncles in an Israeli bus bombing when he was 17. This uncle remained in prison until the nineteen eighties, when he was finally exchanged with an Israeli soldier, and has been exiled since then. I grew up in a home that encouraged education and overprotected us from political involvement ; my father, an educator, believed it would be through our professions that his children would be best able to serve Palestine. 

IP : In your profession, you are directly confronted with the trauma and psychological havoc of the longest colonial occupation (and probably the most ruthless) in modern history. With your profession, are you treating only pathologies related to this oppresive situation ? And is it always possible to distinguish clearly between what is the consequence and what is not ?

SJ : In my practice I usually encounter a dynamic mixed picture of suffering that incorporates the personal and the political, the individual and the collective elements. A woman suffering from a biologically determined illness like Bipolar Disorder might experience more relapses with the killing of her child, the detention of her husband, and the demolition of her home. A drug addict can be easily manipulated to become a collaborator. The biopsychosocial model which suggests that health or illness is an interaction of biological, psychological, and social factors should allow substantial room for the integration of the violation of human rights and the unjust treatment experienced by Palestinians.

It is true that the occupation harms every aspect of a Palestinian life—economy, health, education, legislation, etc. But the occupation is not the only oppression in Palestinian life ; lack of democracy, political polarization, corruption, nepotism, gender inequalities, and classism are other social illnesses that are perpetuated under occupation and that affect the quality of life and the wellbeing of people and how Palestinians relate to each other, even outside the clinical population.
IP : You have repeatedly cited the example of children (boys) taking on gradually both the place of their imprisoned father in the family, and his responsibilities. With all the problems that this creates upon the father’s return, when it happens ... In a case like this, you definitely have been obliged to include the family in your treatment. How did you proceed ? Has your intervention been well received and beneficial ?

SJ : Family interventions are generally appropriate and beneficial in the Palestinian community for several reasons. Palestinians are a collective community and family cohesion is largely seen as a protective element in the face of occupation. That’s why this element is systematically targeted by the policies of the occupation, like attacks and humiliation of fathers in front of their kids at checkpoints ; when they fail to protect their children from attacks by soldiers, when they fail to provide for their families. In some cases, Israelis have planted collaborators who are the family members of some activists. Such policies damage the family structure and break down the social cohesion of our people.

Men who were tortured and have disappeared for years behind bars come back to the community with a tough external appearance and hidden vulnerabilities ; those who are close to them at home can see their weaknesses and take upon themselves the father’s suffering. It is more common in my practice to see a depressed wife, an anxious daughter, or a maladaptive boy who present to treatment as identified patient ; then I learn that the father is screaming in the middle of the night, he is irritable all the time, he passes his days smoking cigarettes and watching news. This father is not willing to come to a therapist for treatment for himself, but he is willing to come as part of the family for the treatment of the identified patient, and once the family is there, we focus our attention on the family as a system, eliciting their points of strength as well as the interaction and the communication between members which might render the family dysfunctional or symptomatic.

IP : The occupant is, strictly speaking, responsible on large-scale of psychological and mental suffering. How do you get to manage such a context ? What makes you continue on this path, despite all difficulties ?

SJ : I manage this by distributing my efforts between addressing the consequences and also doing what I can to prevent the cause of suffering. In addition to my vast clinical work, teaching and my contribution to developing mental health services in Palestine, I often write and speak through public media to raise local and international awareness about how the policies of the occupation hurt the mind and the moral of the Palestinian community.

I try to counteract the diffusion of propaganda about Palestinians that allows international silence regarding what happens in Palestine. I try to promote solidarity with Palestinians at the level of the lay person, as well as at a professional level, because I believe that solidarity for the oppressed is more appropriate than medication or therapy. Solidarity rehumanises Palestinians after being dehumanized by the occupation, validates their experience, and maintains their belief in the goodness of the world. Thus solidarity protects them against becoming callous or radicalized.

Writing helps me to counteract the sense of helplessness and to organize my thoughts and feelings. It gives voice to what I experience or renders testimony when I listen to people. I have also been helped by significant people who inspired me and supported me in the path I take in my life. 

IP : Let’s talk more generally on the political situation. The current uprising in the occupied territories is essentially a matter of youth. Is this a new generation of resistance which has been in the making for several years and appearing in broad daylight today ? Or is that just a simplistic perception from outside Palestine ?
SJ : I don’t think that what is happening nowadays is a new phenomenon in the struggle of the Palestinians, although it takes a different shape. Throughout the occupation and even before, during the British mandate, there were always people resisting on behalf of the community. This resistance took different forms at different periods of time. Whenever political parties backed off, the resistance took a less organized shape as a spontaneous popular phenomenon.

The First Intifada was a reaction to the predicament of Palestinians in Lebanon in the nineteen eighties. The Second Intifada was in reaction to the failure of the Camp David Summit. It started as a popular uprising but soon was hijacked by armed men. The current events—which are not yet a movement—are a reaction to the defunct peace process, the growing danger posed by settlers, the disappointment in Palestinian leadership, and the antagonism between leading Palestinian parties. It is led by young people who are mostly unaffiliated to any party ; it is unorganized and spontaneous. Its activities are usually planned on the spot, in reaction to the loss of friends or acquaintances.

Political parties are trying to ride this current wave of resistance. The leading party flies their flags and creates posters for martyrs carrying the party’s icons in order to appropriate the sacrifices of certain individuals and covers for the authority’s shortfalls in reacting to the situation. The fists of the occupation and their subcontractors are so heavy however that they have impact on every serious resistance movement. The personal costs are too heavy in the current moment. Our leadership is letting down the bereaved and afflicted families. There is a frightened empathy, but not yet enough popular support or mobilization to build upon the initiative of these individuals who fight, to make their struggle more effective, and to involve a larger number of people in less dangerous activities.

IP : It is customary to speak of a period of "post-Oslo", a period consumed with what appears to have been mainly a tool for strengthening and extending the occupation. But what would be the consequences at the economic and societal level of a dismantling of the Palestinian Authority ? What would be the price such an upheaval and could it be assimilated by Palestinian society ?
SJ : The Palestinian Authority unfortunately has provided more security for Israeli settlement expansion and has compromised Palestinian resistance and steadfastness. The PA has created a wide community of governmental or non-governmental employees who are dependent financially on international funds and who can be bribed for their political opinion. The PA has failed to establish economic or development projects which contribute to Palestinian autonomy. The PA fashioned most political parties into cartoonish parties that are shadows of the Authority and incited against those who refused to do so. 

The Authority is now talking about the presence of Daesh in the West Bank, in order to create a pretext to prolong its own presence. I don’t wish for the Authority to be dismantled—I wish for it to be profoundly reformed and led by a new, pluralistic, and representative Palestinian Liberation Organization. My wish is that we have a democratic government whose project is to liberate Palestine, not to domesticate Palestinians so that they will submit completely to the occupation.

If that does not happen, then let the Authority—which cares more about the interests of the occupation than to its own people—be dismantled ; that will permit the Palestinians to continue their struggle against the occupation unrestricted by Palestinian hands and let the occupation face its proper responsibilities towards the occupied nation and face without the protection of Palestinian mediators, the consequences to its brutal policies against Palestinian people.

IP : You know closely the international solidarity movement. What would be the strongest recommendations that you would make it ? What should be its first priorities ?

SJ : Solidarity workers should unite and create a network at local and international levels, to spare themselves repetition of effort and a waste of resources. Solidarity activities should continue at all times, not just in reaction to crises. Solidarity workers should aim for political change, not just meeting the humanitarian needs of Palestinians. Solidarity efforts should help the issue of Palestinian rights travel the distance from social media to mainstream media, from already-converted grass-root movements to vertical solidarity across syndicates and labor unions to deputies to parliaments.

An international solidarity movement must be coordinated with Palestinian partners and according to a strategic plan towards common objectives to reach the goal of ending the occupation. Achieving solidarity is a difficult task, but people can be trained and supported to do it. People in solidarity movements are vulnerable to psychological burnout, and must take care to seek the proper support for themselves when needed.

IP : You have lived in France for several years since you made a part of your studies there. What memories, what perception do you have of French society ? Whether in relation to the Palestinian issue or in general ?

SJ : I arrived to France not speaking the language, as a Muslim woman wearing a headscarf. I experienced considerable hostility and in fact was prevented from studying for a few months until I obtained permission from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to continue my training with my headscarf.

Being a Palestinian, I have a special sensor for discrimination and racism, I could detect that easily in policies and media reports in many areas ; not only regarding Palestine and considering the Palestinian cause as the motive for anti-Semitism in France, but also in the media coverage of the banlieu events, in the law about “teaching the positive aspect of French colonization” in Africa, and in the growing Islamophobia. I also had wonderful personal encounters with some individuals in France who supported me socially and professionally, who created a place for me in France, and thereby created their own place in my heart and mind forever.

IP : And finally the last question ... How do you see the future ?
SJ : It looks gloomy. Genocidal discourse is audible among Israelis who enjoy complete impunity and silence any oppositional voices. But there will always be Palestinians who will struggle for Palestinian rights in spite of all sacrifices. There will always be Internationals who will stand in solidarity with Palestinians in the darkest times. The policy of the occupation is to displace the majority of Palestinians and to condition those who stay to helplessness.

The capacity of a few of us to resist indicates that Palestinians are still alive as a nation, they are willing to maintains the Palestinian struggle for liberation and continue to hope for a crucial political turning point that will help Palestinians achieve national liberation. We will not give up and the occupation will never win peace or legitimacy. 

From Samah Jabr :

- Après Paris, le « savoir-faire » israélien n’est pas la voie à suivre - 7 décembre 2015
- Culpabilisation et intimidation de la communauté palestinienne - 6 novembre 2015
- Les adolescents palestiniens marchent la tête haute pour la libération - 31 octobre 2015
- La mosquée al-Aqsa : encore une autre bataille dans la lutte pour la libération nationale - 24 octobre 2015
- Une révolution palestinienne jusqu’à la fin de l’occupation - 24 octobre 2015
- Sur la destruction de ce qui fait sens en Palestine - 18 septembre 2015
- « L’homme ne vivra pas que de pain » - 9 août 2008
- Un vol sur El Al - 2 juillet 2015
- Humanitarisme à la sauce israélienne - 31 mai 2015
- Promouvoir la résilience dans les écoles palestiniennes - 20 mai 2015
- Samah Jabr : les « traumatismes cachés » de la vie sous occupation - 24 décembre 2014
- Une oppression intériorisée ? - 17 avril 2014
- La politique discriminatoire d’Israël à Jérusalem-Est n’a aucune base légale - 11 décembre 2013
- L’apartheid a un visage - 25 février 2012

December 30th, 2015 - Interview conducted and translated by Info-Palestine.eu

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