Palestine: Occupied Minds - Climbing out of the hole

Occupied Minds is a series of stories about Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) patients affected by the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, people receiving assistance from MSF mental health teams in Hebron and in East Jerusalem. The stories are collected by the MSF teams. Occupied Minds seeks to reflect the reality of daily life under occupation for MSF patients and the people who treat them. 

See also: Part IPart IIPart IIIPart IV and Part VI

Part V: Climbing out of the hole

ALT Juan Carlos Tomasi/MSF

Mohammed* is a 28-year-old divorced young man who has a small boy. He is from a village located south of Hebron, Palestine. The village is near many settlements and there is a main road that connects all settlements with the West Bank. This village is divided in two parts: one area belonging to the 1948 division between the West Bank and Israel, and the other area belonging to the 1967 division. The village is separated from Israel by the security wall. The population of this area is constantly pressured by incursions from the Israeli army.

Mohammed is living in difficult conditions because of his financial situation. He loves his country and has strong political beliefs. This has made it difficult for him to find a job and has made him a target of the Israeli army and the Palestinian security forces. Before meeting Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), this young man had been arrested a total of seven times by both sides. He spent five years in an Israeli jail and two years in the prisons of the Palestinian Authority. During the time he spent in jail, his father and brother died and his wife divorced him because he was in prison.

Over a five month period Mohammed attended 14 follow-up therapeutic sessions with an MSF psychologist. He was suffering from anger, nervousness, lack of trust, constant worries, and problems in his relationship with his son and his family. Mohammed was struggling to find work and improve his life because his arrests and political affiliations meant the Israeli forces and the Palestinian Authority put many obstacles in his way. He described it as trying to climb out of a big hole, but having someone continually pushing you back down.

Mohammed requested a female psychologist. The psychologist felt a big responsibility on her shoulders.Could she be a good female role model so that he could have a healing experience for his rocky relationships with women in his life? They worked in the sessions trying to manage his life pressures. He was given permission to feel his emotions but also to have the opportunity to behave in a different way. Having space for working on his self-confidence and for finding his place in his family environment was particularly helpful for Mohammed.

After being released from jail, Mohammed suffered from health problems including stomach pains, severe diarrhoea and blood vomiting, so the MSF doctor also tried to help him with this.

After some time he was able to make plans and to set goals for the future that were within his control. He overcame the barriers in his internal personal conflict. He felt proud of attending the MSF sessions. “It's my life and I will live it in a good way,” he said.

At the time of writing this story, Mohammed was arrested again by the Israeli forces and he is currently in jail with no sentence given.

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