Khan al Ahmar- Abu al Helou Community: A Mental Health Perspective

Razzan Quran, a trained counsellor and MAP’s Advocacy and Communications Officer in the West Bank, outlines psychological suffering in a Bedouin community under threat.

There are 46 Palestinian Bedouin communities across the West Bank. On the outskirts of East Jerusalem in the occupied Palestinian territory, lie the Khan al Ahmar Bedouin communities.

The community of Khan al Ahmar - Abu al Helou, is one of 18 communities located in or next to an area slated by Israel for the E1 settlement plan, which aims to create a continuous area between the Ma’ale Adumim settlement and East Jerusalem. The Israeli authorities and settlers want the community to move and are making life unbearable for them. This has been described  by human rights organisations as creating a “coercive environment”, a form of forcible transfer, which would constitute a war crime.

Abu Khamis, a member of Abu Helou community, explained this to me: “Listen, I once had 40 sheep and 20 camels, today I only have 10 sheep and no more camels. I am unable to support my family in the way I was taught and was passed down generationally. With the few livestock I have left, my kids are afraid to herd, because we are constantly under settler violence. They have guns.  We want to live an economically independent life. Unfortunately, the sides aren’t level.” The personal experience of Abu Khamis parallels the findings of numerous studies on the impact of socioeconomic status to health quality.

When speaking with mothers from the community and reflecting on the benefits of the MAP supported mobile clinic, which I have accompanied on its visits to the community a handful of times, a mother of three told me: “The mobile clinic is essential to our steadfastness given the daunting restrictions imposed by Israeli forces. You know, when my child has a fever I can pull out the Tylenol provided by the clinic or use methods shared by the social health worker, rather than figure out transportation to the nearest hospital, some 15 km away. But tell me this, is there medication I can give my child for his constant night terrors? Is there something that can be prescribed for my daughter who won’t leave my side for fear that she will be shot at by an Israeli settler?

Questions like these are key to understanding the community’s mental health situation.

The everyday practices imposed by Israel on the Bedouins has impacted not only their socioeconomic well-being and physical health, but their mental health too. Particularly at risk are children, who represent half of the community.

The children are inheriting a life forged by their families in the Naqab, from where they were displaced by the new Israeli state’s military forces in the 1950s. The land they made home for themselves and their livestock in the West Bank has been increasingly encroached upon by Israel’s occupation and illegal settlements, often with violence and threats.

Such violence, threats and fears are a palpable day to day reality and cause distress. The impact of prolonged exposure to trauma, fear of being killed, obstacles to self-determination, the erasure of Bedouin cultural practices, and restriction of movement has begun to impact the quality of life and health experienced by the community of Abu al Helou

Sustainable and proactive interventions are needed to ensure the safety and dignified living of an occupied population. Unless addressed in the present moment, there will be a generation of youth that has been exposed to physical violence and childhood trauma. It has been noted that exposure to trauma in childhood has direct links to long term chronic illnesses. Research suggests that higher socioeconomic status can be a “potential protective factor for those with a history of trauma.” (Mock and Arai 2010: 1) Unfortunately, both access to improved socioeconomic conditions, and an end to exposure to trauma have been curtailed for the Bedouins of Khan al Ahmar- Abu al Helou community.

Mental health has not yet been fully embraced as a core component of one’s health status by the Palestinian population. However, as any visitor to Khan al Ahmar Abu al Helou Bedouin community can see, children are being marked with high rates of malnutrition, night-terrors, bed-wetting, aggressive behaviours, hyperactivity and attentional deficits. These children are bearing the brunt of widespread and grave injustices, mostly, if not always, committed with chronic impunity.

It is vital to speak up against the infringements of human rights that take place on a daily basis in the Khan al Ahmar community.

This community needs support to remain where they are and where they want to stay, on Palestinian land, thriving once again as Bedouins living their traditional lives with dignity and in good physical and mental health.

Take action

Please email your MP today urging them to sign, if they have not already done so, Early Day Motion 1169, "demolition plans for in Khan al-Ahmar village in the West Bank", which "calls on the Government to exert meaningful and decisive political, diplomatic and economic pressure on the Israeli authorities to halt the demolitions programme as a whole and, in particular, to abandon attempts to demolish the school and other buildings in Khan al-Ahmar".

You may wish to use the information above and here to help inform your email. You can find your MPs contact details here

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