“The biggest trauma we have suffered is that when we open our eyes we cannot see our homeland”.
Dr. Mohamed Altawil, one of the founders of the Palestine Trauma Centre in Gaza, has been studying the psychological effects on children of life under siege in Gaza for many years. During research in 2006 he found that 41 per cent of children suffered from trauma. Ongoing research in 2012 showed that the figure had by that time risen to 80 per cent, whilst his latest findings last year suggest that as many as 92 per cent of children are now affected by psychological traumas. Such devastating statistics offer a glimpse in to life for new generations of Palestinians living under siege and blockade in the imprisoned coastal enclave.
Altawil was amongst speakers at an event in Sheffield organised by Labour Friends of Palestine and Sheffield Palestine Solidarity Campaign to mark Nakba Day. Held in Sheffield’s Winter Gardens, speakers followed the opening of a public photographic and embroidery exhibition exploring different aspects of Palestinian life in both a cultural and political context.
Based in the UK for more than 10 years, as a trained clinical psychologist Altawil established the Palestine Trauma Centre in 2007 in collaboration with colleagues in both the UK and his native Gaza. Altawil is clearly passionate about his work, and offered various statistics to reveal why such work is essential in Gaza as in other parts of Palestine:
“Since 2007, 420 people are known to have died due to the lack of access to Chemotherapy treatment and the inability to leave Gaza to receive cancer treatment elsewhere…
Rafah crossing, the only route from Gaza to the outside world for medical or other reasons, was closed for 88 days before opening briefly last week for just two days for emergency cases…
Access to electricity is limited to between 4-6 hours per day. 29 Palestinians in Gaza have burned to death since 2010, including 24 children, from fires that were started accidentally by candles that were lit during the long electricity blackouts…”
Speaking alongside Altawil in Sheffield was Dr. Anne Hollows, a former professor in Social Work from the city’s Hallam University. Having recently returned from the West Bank, Hollows chose a very different way to explore life in Palestine as she offered a series of short descriptive portraits of people she had met during her stay, highlighting Palestinian resilience within refugee communities.
Hollows described how inspired she had been to meet Yaqoot, a Birzeit University Honours student and resident of Jerusalem’s Shuafat refugee camp who at 22 years old has already established her own business employing 10 teachers to provide educational support to school students.
She also remembered 50 year old Jawad who lives in Jenin refugee camp and is still working to rebuild parts of his house that was originally demolished during the 2002 massacre in the camp. One a clear day Hollows recalled, “from his rooftop Jawad could see the village near Haifa that his father was forced from in 1948”.
Whilst Mohamed Altawil and Anne Hollows varied in their approaches to the subject, Altawil focussing on statistics whilst Hollows presented short human portraits, collectively the two speakers explored different aspects of the same issue – often referred to by Palestinians as the ‘ongoing Nakba’ – the process that remains at the heart of what is happening to Palestinians across all areas of historic Palestine and those in the diaspora.
The exhibition which the two speakers helped to open will remain on public view for several days. Images of Israeli military checkpoints stand alongside images of Palestinian youth practicing Parkour in Gaza, and children dancing Dabke stand alongside images of refugee camps. It should be hoped that any members of the wider public who stop to look at the exhibition as they wonder through Sheffield will be reminded that whilst the realisation of Palestinian rights remains a long way off, Palestinian resilience is far from conquered.
Photo story by Rich Wiles