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Editorial Board

Adnan Abdelrazek

Danny Rubinstein

Sam'an Khoury

Daniel Bar-Tal

Walid Salem

Galia Golan

Gershon Baskin

Hind Khoury

Edy Kaufman

Ata Qaymari

Benjamin Pogrund

Nafez Nazzal

Dan Jacobson

Jumana Jaouni

Moshe Maoz

Munther Dajani

Khuloud Khayyat Dajani

Izhak Schnell

Lucy Nusseibah

Meir Margalit

Menachem Klein

Ali Abu Shahla

Ilan Baruch

Hanna Siniora

Yehudit Oppenheimer

Mossi Raz

Susie Becher

Frances Raday

Vol.22 No.2 & 3, 2017 / Time For Justice And Peace - End the Occupation


The Psychological Impact of 50 Years Occupation

Palestinian society is fragmented by the long-term trauma — exacerbated in some cases by aspects of its own culture — and everyday struggles imposed by the ongoing Israeli occupation.

     by Safa Dhaher

The psychological impact of the June 1967 occupation of East Jerusalem, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip began with the 1948 Palestinian Exodus (Nakba). Palestinians fled from their homes in Palestine to become refugees in neighboring Arab countries like Jordan, Syria and Lebanon, while many others were displaced in the West Bank and Gaza, whether in refugee camps created by the United Nations or in cities and villages (Bisharat, 1997). Consequently, the Palestinian population of the Occupied Palestinian territories (OPT) is a combination of locals (original inhabitants) and refugees, with the latter now representing around 42% of the total population.1 The refugees have lived with not only the trauma of the 1948 War itself and its consequences, including the loss of land, homes and businesses, but also the feeling of being labeled “strangers” by the locals.

The explanation for this phenomenon is that Palestinian society has a clan-like familial structure and that the place of origin has a territorial significance (Robinson, 2009). Hence, anyone who is not from a local family is defined as a “stranger.” The word “ghourba” (dispersion, estrangement) or “ghareeb” (the person himself, “stranger”) is very much rooted in the social structure and refers to every person who is not from the local families, even if this person is from the second or third generation and was born in the OPT. This term represents a two-sided issue between the receiving community (East Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza) and those from the sending community (that part of historic Palestine known now as Israel). The absence of the feeling of belonging in the receiving community can be attributed not only to discrimination by the locals against them, but also to the fact that the refugees themselves do not want to lose their rooted identity, which has been driven by Palestinian nationalism in order to keep the Palestinian question alive. However, both the locals and the displaced had to deal with this huge change in 1948 that affected their socio-economic lives. Before the Palestinians were able to cope with this new reality, Israel occupied the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and Gaza in June 1967.

One might assume that the new generations of refugees who did not grow up in their ancestral place of origin would forget it. However, Palestinian refugees passed their identity down from one generation to the next, the grandparents to their children and to their children’s children. This has had an impact on the collective consciousness of the Palestinians and influenced the political situation (Habashi, 2008).

Memories of Flight and Return

I was a seven-year-old child, born in Jerusalem to a family of refugees, when the 1967 War broke out and my family fled again with some of our (local) neighbors to Jordan. I still remember the panic of the people who were afraid that the Israeli army would kill the children and rape the women, and they urged us to flee. I was in my pajamas and had a pair of shoes — wearing one and carrying the other, with all of my family. Our neighborhood truck that was used to distribute bread was this time packed with people in order to flee. It was so packed that the back door was open and my father and uncle were barely clinging to the truck. When we were almost halfway from Jerusalem to Amman, one of our cousins from the Aqabat Jaber refugee camp near Jericho, who was fleeing on foot to Jordan, was screaming: “Take me with you, uncle, please take me with you.” My father tried to explain by a gesture of his hand that there was no room in the vehicle, and with a voice full of sorrow he said: “Where shall I put you, Khali (uncle)?”

Three months later, we sneaked in the middle of the night across the Jordan River, with many other Palestinians who had fled to Jordan during the war, to return to Palestine. We waited for the right time to cross the river, with the help of experienced smugglers, who knew the area and were able to lead us back home while avoiding the Israeli Border Patrols. I remember the fear, the darkness, the mosquitoes, the long walk in the sand dunes and my brother, who was almost five, threatening the men of the group that, if they did not carry him, he would scream and allow the Israeli soldiers to find us. I remember also the discussion, especially when one of the locals was telling my father, “Now I know exactly how you and your family felt in 1948.” My father said: “We repeated the same mistake as in 1948; we must go back as long as we still can.” In the first few months after the 1967 War, many of the Palestinians who had fled to Jordan managed to come back, as the Israeli control over the borders was not so strict before the Israeli Authorities started a census of the newly occupied population. It was obvious that Israel wanted the land without the people. Many polices since then have been used to achieve this goal, from rumors to laws and policies to arrest, to violence against the Palestinian people.

My observations did not stop there, and now I see it as though the Palestinian people have been participating in a scientific social experiment since the occupation of the territories in 1967 until now. Social experiments, in general, can produce valuable information about the effectiveness of interventions (Heckman, et al., 2010), and they are usually designed to determine whether (or how much) the intervention policies would affect the behavior of individuals by comparing the results between the assigned group and the control group2 through time (Greenberg & Shroder, 2004). The only difference, in our case, is that the intervention by the Israeli occupation was imposed on the entire Palestinian population and not only on a randomly selected group. However, as the participant sample is so large, it may produce misleading inferences and multiple outcomes according to the applications of large sample statistical procedures (Heckman, et al., 2010).

A Social Experiment of People and their Land

A quick review of Israeli actions and policy interventions show that immediately after the occupation in 1967, Israel shaped the political and economic order of the OPT (Hilal, 2007). First, Israel annexed East Jerusalem and some 64 km2 of its suburbs, which are considered part of the West Bank, and placed them under Israeli jurisdiction, while the West Bank and Gaza remained under military occupation (B’Tselem, 2009). At that time, people did not give much weight to this step, so long as there were no restrictions on free movement between East Jerusalem and the West Bank (Yousef, 2011). The administration of the West Bank was kept almost as it was during the Jordanian rule. As if the Jordanian horizontal “roof” was replaced by the Israeli military authority (Heller and Nusseibeh, 1993), Palestinian personnel in several departments, such as health, education and social welfare, fell under the control of the Israeli military governor, which was named later the “Civil Administration" (Ibid). The Gaza Strip, too, fell under the Israeli civil administration. The residents of annexed East Jerusalem were given “Permanent Resident” status (Blue ID), which allowed them to work in Israel and enjoy access to health insurance and social welfare benefits (B’Tselem, 2006), while the Palestinians of the West Bank and Gaza were given an Orange ID3 with no such benefits.

Israel has controlled the population’s movement between Israel and Jordan by a complicated and strict permit system. At the same time, it opened the borders between Israel and the OPT, allowing people to move almost freely in Israel. Internal tourism was encouraged, especially by the refugees of 1948, who were forbidden from visiting their homeland during the period between 1948 and 1967. Other Palestinian families started to spend their leisure time in Israel. This movement went in both directions, and Palestinian markets started to deal with Israeli customers who were encouraged to shop in the OPT because of the relatively low prices. I remember that the Palestinians of East Jerusalem suburbs used to avoid shopping on Saturdays, as the city would be crowded and full of Israeli shoppers. Working in Israel started to be a phenomenon, because of Israeli demand for labor and the high unemployment rates among the Palestinians. A significant portion of the Palestinian labor force started to work in Israel (Hilal, 2007). Meanwhile, the Palestinian markets were almost restricted to Israeli goods and commodities. Thus, the Palestinian economy became severely dependent on the Israeli economy (Ibid).

Parallel to all of this, Israel took control of hundreds of thousands of dunams throughout the OPTs with the primary objective of establishing Israeli settlements and reserved the land for future expansion (Bimkom & B’Tselem, 2002). However, this new reality created a kind of confusion, and the Palestinians of the OPT became politically “schizophrenic,” if we may use this term, because most of the Palestinians accepted Israel only as an “occupier” — whether as an occupier of the historic Palestine that they had lost in 1948, or the rest of it, which was occupied in 1967. Therefore, it was logical for this forced economic integration that started in 1967 to end in one form or another.

The four Palestinian workers who were killed at an Israeli checkpoint in Gaza in December 1987 sparked the collective nonviolent resistance action: the first intifada, which literary means “the uprising.” This revolution of mass consciousness underlined the need for self-determination (Heller and Nusseibeh, 1993). This, in addition to other factors,4 all worked toward concluding a peace agreement with Israel in 1993 and the establishment of a Palestinian government in the OPT. This had a psychological impact on the people, especially in the context that various characteristics of the Israeli occupation deepened rather than weakened throughout the period between 1993 and 2000 (Pressman, 2006). Palestinians expected that their life conditions would improve, such as freedom of movement, and that the economic situation would improve. However, both worsened. And with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s visit to al-Aqsa mosque, the resultant frustration sparked the second intifada (Ibid).

As a result, Israeli control over Palestinian mobility has tightened and become more sophisticated and effective. Checkpoints and roadblocks were erected inside and between Palestinian cities, subjecting all people and vehicles to Israeli security inspection. We used to wait for the Israeli Border Patrol in the area between Bethany and the Mount of Olive to leave before going to work in East Jerusalem. In 2002 Israel started building a separation wall, and at that stage we squeezed ourselves between the cracks in some parts of the wall before it was totally sealed (Amir, 2011). The wall not only separated Israel and East Jerusalem from the West Bank, but also isolated Palestinian communities from one another. The reaction of the Palestinian people to all these restrictions on free movement varies according to which geopolitical enclave they live in and the type of identification card they hold (with or without a crossing permit), in addition to other factors. The immediate impact was on the levels of unemployment, which increased from 11% in 2000 to more than 41% in the third quarter of 2002 (Ajluni, 2003).

Territorial and Sociological Isolation

In such circumstances, and in the absence of the welfare state, people’s main concern became to survive — to secure their economic status, safety and well-being. This led to the notion that self-interest was more important than the sense of national collectivism (Dhaher, 2014). Many became accustomed and adapted to the new reality and reorganized their lives around the wall, Israeli settlements and bypass roads, and they coexisted with these hardships. However, the vast majority of the Palestinians adapted themselves and normalized these hardships. They slowly accepted the wall as part of the general landscape (Dhaher, 2016). For example, one of my family members posted some family pictures with the wall as the background. Ironically, he could have had a beautiful olive tree as the background if they had moved the wall a little bit to the left. Nonetheless, the mechanism of acceptance or denial is used by most of the population after they lost faith in politics and politicians.

In this phase of the “social experiment,” Israel succeeded in isolating the Palestinians. However, tension and violence reached a boiling point in the summer of 2014, following the kidnapping and burning to death of the 16-year-old Mohammed Abu Khdeir by Israeli settlers in East Jerusalem. Violent clashes erupted, many lives were lost, and hundreds of Palestinian men and women, including minors, were arrested (ACRI, 2015). The continued provocative visits of Jewish settlers to al-Aqsa Mosque fed the uprising and gave it a religious dimension5, in addition to the general oppression by Israel and the daily hardships that all Palestinian face under the occupation. In spite of the political fragmentation and the general trend of hostility between the followers of Fateh and of Hamas, Palestinians unite, at least emotionally, during every violent act by Israel, such as the invasion and bombing of Gaza or the assassination of Palestinian political activists. This is because it is in the souls and subconscious of all Palestinians that they are all in the same boat and are facing one enemy. Even so, solidarity only lasts for a while before the everyday life struggles takes control of the general scene.

The fact that some are still working in Israel constitutes another ideological fragmentation and reflects the political schizophrenia among the Palestinians. Perceptions of “working in Israel” ranges from absolute acceptance to the accusation of betraying the Palestinian cause. On one hand, some envy those who have the opportunity and are given the permits to enter Israel, whether for work or shopping and entertainment. On the other hand, this is seen by others as a lack of national affiliation and is accused of “normalization” with the occupier6.

There is no doubt that Israel has used the time since Oslo (1993) to confiscate more land, to expand existing settlements and to build new ones, while in parallel, forcing tight control on Palestinians’ freedom of movement, imprisoning them inside the wall and restricting local development. The desirable outcome of this “social experiment” is that the ordinary Palestinian will leave, or at least find a way to cope, accept and tolerate all these restrictions without causing Israel any harm. However, the fact that 40% of the Palestinian population have been jailed by Israel since 1967 (Addameer, 2015), indicates the level of the Palestinian resistance and shows one of the undesirable outcomes of the Israeli occupation. Palestinian society is fragmented by the ongoing Israeli occupation’s policies and also by its own culture. However, the strength of the negative degree of the local-stranger relationship, the transformation of the temporary refugee camps to permanent residency and the diffusion of many social diseases are all by-products and externalities of the Israeli occupation.

We all hope that this “social experiment,” which all of us are unwillingly participating in, will one day come to an end, hopefully in my lifetime.

1 See
2 The control group is the group that was not assigned for the experiment.
3 The Orange ID was replaced by a Green ID after the creation of the PNA in 1994.
4 The Jordanian disengagement decision in the mid-1988, and the Palestinian Declaration of Independence in November 1988
5See groups-east-jerusalem
6See “The Impact of the Separation Wall on the Social Capital of the Palestinians in the West Bank and East Jerusalem” PHD dissertation.


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