Occupied Minds: a Bedouin mother tells her story

By Randa Bargouthi, MSF psychologist

There are about 50 members from the same Bedouin family who live in a small area located at the end of Anata, in the east of Jerusalem. The area is rocky, with small flat areas where the tents where they live are installed. Each family usually has between 35 and 60 sheep, which they take every morning to graze the short grass growing between the rocks. This is a hot spot as the community is caught in the middle of crossfire from both sides: the Palestinian youths throw stones and the Israeli army fire bullets and tear gas. The bullets and stones fall on this area.

There is no safe place for these families, they can´t have a home and it has turned into a place of fear and terror. The children and the women are the main victims. They show symptoms of acute stress. Added to this is the demolition of their tents by the Israeli authorities.

Mirna* is a 42-year-old Bedouin mother of four boys and three girls. She shows a lot of symptoms requiring a psychological intervention, such as excessive fears, bad moods, sleeping problems, eating problems, avoidance, constant worry and psychosomatic complaints. All of these are symptoms of post-traumatic stress and anxiety.

So far, she has done four individual sessions (she needs around 10 to 12 ) and has participated in a counseling group session for women. This is her testimony:

“Before these sessions, I was not aware of what was happening to me and my children. I was unable to understand what would happen further, and was very afraid. I lived in stress and fear and felt incapable of helping myself and my children. But after these sessions, I understand that this is a reaction to what we saw and we are living through, so I am less stressed and less anxious and it helps me understand my children more. I have also learned how to deal with the symptoms of my children such as enuresis, fears, and nightmares and how to protect them further. It also helps me become stronger, and be aware that I have to defend myself and my family and never surrender.

We need somebody to share our feelings with and to know the suffering we are going through. I feel good because there is somebody that can understand us.

And now the army wants to take our land and demolish our homes. They want to move us from here. It could happen any time. If it really happens, the situation will be very difficult. I want to be very strong to help myself and my family. I don´t want my children to see me suffering as they will suffer too. I expect the women who are part of the women’s counseling group will support each other. This group will make us stronger and less stressed.  As  Bedouins, we have a lot of difficulties in our life.”

As a psychologist, I will follow Mirna and her family during the following weeks. Besides our psychological intervention, these people need other things outside MSF’s scope to allow the therapy to really work: they need to receive training in vocational skills so they can increase their income, they need to make a link between their children and the community to be more social, and most of all they need that the continuous threat of losing their homes stops.

*The name has been changed to protect the privacy of the patient.