Israel has imposed military occupation, settler-colonialism, and an apartheid regime upon a multitude of fragmented Palestinian communities, thereby creating, sustaining, and contributing to grave health and mental health issues. These are caused directly through inflicting physical and psychological distress, environmental violence and hazards, and targeting medical providers and services; and indirectly through retarding economic growth, disrupting social functioning, and hindering development efforts or improving healthcare provision.
It has been claimed that among all the countries bordering the Eastern Mediterranean, the one with the greatest burden of morbidity due to mental illness is Palestine (Charara et al., 2017). Mental illness in Palestine represents one of its most significant public health challenges, as it occurs in the context of chronic occupation and exposure to violence (WHO, 2019). According to the Humanitarian Needs Overview in 2020, an estimated half a million adults and children suffer from mild, moderate, and severe psychosocial distress and mental disorders in occupied Palestine. There is no doubt that Israel's occupation is harmful to the Palestinian mind.
However, this research does not indicate harms measured beyond the level of the individual; collective harms which affect our relationships within society and with others.
The occupation not only attacks the bodies and brains of those who are affected individually but also attacks the social fabric, the norms, the symbolic representations, and the collective identity of Palestinian society.
Collective consequences of the occupation include internalised oppression, prevalent mistrust throughout the community, and low collective self-confidence and self-esteem. Further consequences are the loss of subjectivity and the presence of self-objectification, the loss of a sense of community agency, an acceptance of inefficacy and status of passive victimhood, as well as an impaired collective functioning and achievement.
Palestinian resistance as expressed in its various forms — from writing slogans on walls to launching rockets — is usually undertaken by individuals acting in the name of the group as a whole. We cannot ignore the impact of this resistance at the collective level, insofar as it has the potential to repair the emotional erosion of the community brought about by oppression. Resistance can move people from conditioned learned helplessness to hopefulness.
Palestinian resistance stems neither from racism nor national chauvinism; nor from political and economic interests, but from deep psychological factors; a need for cognitive coherence instead of dissonance and a need to be active in rejecting oppression through striving for justice and a genuine empathy with those who are oppressed. This resistance represents moral, symbolic and spiritual values that are crucially important to those who are deprived of material and tangible rights.
Resistance has a humanising influence, acting against the dynamic of objectification at both the individual and the collective level. It is perceived by Palestinians as a legitimate human right and a moral duty. We may argue about what forms of resistance we should take and at what times it should be enacted, but this argument must be an internal Palestinian debate that cannot be decided for us by others, especially those who have never supported us or defended our rights.
People often ask, "Doesn't the Palestinian resistance backfire and bring more losses to Palestinians?" As I write, Israeli aggression against the Palestinians in Gaza is killing and wounding hundreds of people of all ages, and destroying their homes and infrastructure; as I write, Palestinian rockets cause a much lesser degree of damage in Israel and loss of Israeli lives; as I write, three of my professional colleagues have just been killed along with their children, buried under the rubble in Gaza; as I write, armed Israeli settlers roam around and fire shots in the neighbourhood where my family lives.
I understand, though, that the resistance of the oppressed does not subscribe to the usual calculation of risks and benefits that characterise business or economic logic. It cannot be judged merely by its end results. The journey of resistance is dignifying in itself, even in the absence of the achievement of desired goals. It is resistance for a decent life, not death. When Palestinian protesters and Israeli settlers were demonstrating and opposing each other on the streets of Jerusalem recently, the Palestinians chanted "Freedom, liberation", while the Israelis chanted "death to the Arabs, burn their villages". Above all, the motivation involved in resistance to oppression maintains a positive concept of an imagined future and thus rejuvenated hope for liberation.
Moreover, if Palestinian resistance is the remedy for the collective trauma of the people of Palestine, international solidarity is also rehabilitative and therapeutic for both Palestinians and those who support them. Solidarity validates the humanity of Palestinians and acknowledges their feelings and subjectivity; it nourishes their aspiration to be agents and actors for change. It also has the potential to generate mutual and global activism for justice.
It is a shame that some supposedly democratic governments, such as that in France, are preventing demonstrations from taking place in solidarity with Palestine, arresting the organisers and imposing fines on participants. Despite this, the current Palestinian resistance is the well-spring of struggle against oppressive powers. It shall flourish within and beyond occupied Palestine.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.