Occupied Minds - Occupied Palestinian Territory

One year in Hebron and East Jerusalem

Concha Fernández has returned after spending more than one year working as a field coordinator for Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) in Palestine. She has thus had the opportunity to have a global view of both the conflict between Israel and Palestine and the intra-Palestinian conflict, and of the overall consequences that this conflict has for the population.

A cycle that is never broken

“The news is always the same: detentions for the same causes, night raids here or there, demonstrations and strikes, a cycle that remains seemingly unchanged, recurrent, stagnated,” says Concha.

“One of the most striking things when you arrive there and which you never seem to get used to, is the wall, the partition, the movement restrictions for the population. People from Palestine, for instance, cannot travel to Jerusalem to visit their family members or go to a specialised doctor without getting a permit,” explains Concha after 13 months in the country, where she coordinated a team of 25 people in Hebron and East Jerusalem, carrying out a mental health programme targeting victims of the conflict.

Separated families

“Movement restrictions, red tape and the building of the wall mean that there are families that have been separated, with husbands working in Jerusalem and their wives and children living in the West Bank, who barely see each other or just once a month. Permission to travel has to be sought, which may take months to be granted or may never be granted at all. The wall also means injured people, men trying to jump over it to look for a job in Jerusalem; men who have been wounded and also require mental healthcare.” Working in Jerusalem has traditionally been a gateway for breadwinners in the West Bank, the place to earn a living that is now barred after the wall was built. The number of patients treated by the MSF teams in the two locations speaks for itself: nearly 800 people have received support from MSF social workers, or from MSF psychologists, or both.

A six-year-old suffering from anxiety

“These two places, despite being very close (Palestine is very small), are very different. One is more urban, where more houses are demolished and there is more work with minors, in home detention for example, while the other one is more rural, where the presence of longer term settlers is more obvious,” explains MSF’s field coordinator. When asked what her toughest case was, she answers: “the case of a six-year-old child. Since he was born, he has only known violence, night raids. He barely sleeps, suffers from anxiety, he is always on the alert. That case broke my heart, he is only six.”