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Palestinian Youth: Intersections of Trauma, Identity, and Resilience

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Palestinian Youth Intersections of Trauma Identity and Resilience

Amid the challenges posed by the conflict in Palestine, young Palestinians are navigating a delicate balance of strength, self-discovery, and healing while overcoming imposed obstacles. Growing up in a society marked by violence, displacement, and loss has exposed them to trauma and various challenges to their identity and self-concept. Despite these adversities, many Palestinian youth have demonstrated remarkable resilience. The prevalence of trauma among Palestinian youth is evident, as they have endured multiple wars and daily violence, leading to high rates of depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) within this population. The constant fear of losing loved ones and the uncertainty of the future have also significantly impacted their emotional well-being.

Palestinians have exhibited elevated levels of trauma, as evidenced by various studies. In the city of Gaza, a staggering 70% of the population has been diagnosed with PTSD (Aghajanian & Finn, 2022). The situation is particularly distressing for children residing in Gaza, with a striking 91% of them being diagnosed with PTSD (TRT World, 2021). A study involving over 500 children from Gaza revealed that 98% of them reported experiencing trauma, such as witnessing mutilated bodies and military aircraft, which subsequently led to the development of PTSD symptoms (Thabet & Thabet, 2015) [1].

Interestingly, among the children, females are more prone to developing PTSD symptoms, while males are more likely to be exposed to traumatic events, such as witnessing violence (Thabet & Thabet, 2015). Moreover, older women in Palestine attribute their stress to the prevailing war conditions that they and their families endure (Aqel & Thabet, 2018). Notably, PTSD is particularly prevalent among women, adolescents, individuals from larger families, and those with lower socioeconomic status (El-Khodary et al., 2020).

The impact of trauma

The ongoing conflict between Israel and Palestine has significantly impacted the lives of Palestinian youth. This generation of young Palestinians has been raised in an environment characterized by continuous violence, fear, and uncertainty. The consequences of war and occupation have deeply influenced their physical, mental, and emotional well-being, leaving a lasting mark on their existence. The conflict has particularly disrupted the education of Palestinian youth. Schools and universities are frequently damaged or destroyed during conflicts, making it challenging for students to pursue their education.

Additionally, the daily violence and instability in their surroundings create obstacles for students to concentrate on their studies. Consequently, there is a high dropout rate among Palestinian youth, depriving them of the chance to acquire the knowledge and skills essential for their future. The lack of education also restricts their employment prospects, resulting in increased levels of poverty and economic insecurity. Consequently, many Palestinian youth are compelled to seek hazardous and low-paying jobs to support their families, further diminishing their prospects for a brighter future [2].

Identity Formation Amidst Conflict

Palestinian youth have grown up in a tumultuous and conflicted environment due to the ongoing conflict with Israel, which has significantly impacted their identity formation. The constant threat of violence, displacement, and political instability has deeply affected them. For these young Palestinians, their national identity and the struggle for Palestinian statehood are closely intertwined with their identity. They strongly identify with the concept of “Sumud,[2]” or steadfastness, as they resist and protest against the occupation of their land. This collective identity, rooted in their shared struggle, also shapes their identities.

However, the Palestinian youth face a dilemma as they navigate their identity within the constraints of the conflict. On one hand, they are instilled with a strong sense of Palestinian identity and the aspiration for self-determination [3]. On the other hand, they are confronted with the harsh realities of daily life under occupation, including checkpoints, curfews, and restrictions on movement and access to essential resources like healthcare and education. The trauma challenges their sense of self as they strive to reconcile their national identity with their personal experiences and aspirations. Many young Palestinians find themselves torn between their desire to resist the occupation and the need to lead normal lives and pursue their ambitions. This internal conflict often leads to confusion, anxiety, and a feeling of powerlessness.

Resilience toward Terror

One of the key factors contributing to the resilience of Palestinian youth is their strong sense of community and family support. In Palestinian culture, the concept of ‘Sumud’ or steadfastness is deeply ingrained. It emphasizes the community’s solidarity and the support networks that exist within families and the larger society. The Palestinian youth’s resilience is also influenced by their religious beliefs and cultural traditions. The majority of Palestinians are Muslims, and their faith has been a source of strength and guidance in navigating through the challenges of conflict. Many cultural practices and traditions also play a significant role in providing the youth with a sense of identity and belonging, which helps to build their resilience. This collective support system has played a crucial role in helping the youth to cope with the traumatic events they have faced. According to a study by Scheid and Weiss (2019), youth’s sense of belonging and strong social support has been identified as key protective factors in building resilience [4].

Furthermore, education has also been identified as a significant factor aiding in the resilience of Palestinian youth. Despite the challenges and disruptions caused by the conflict, Palestinian youth have shown a strong determination to pursue education. This is evident in the high literacy rates among Palestinian youth, which is among the highest in the region (UNESCO, 2020). Moreover, the Palestinian youth’s resilience is also evident in their active participation in community initiatives and programs. Young Palestinians have been actively involved in grassroots movements, advocating for human rights and social justice. This not only gives them a sense of empowerment but also helps them to cope with the trauma they have experienced (Alamri & Ahern, 2019).

Conclusion

The daily lives of Palestinian youth are filled with challenges, including trauma, identity struggles, and resilience due to the ongoing conflict and occupation. Despite facing displacement and denial of basic rights, they show remarkable resilience by asserting their national identity and using address their unique needs by providing quality education, mental health support, and safe spaces for expression. Efforts should also focus on addressing the root causes of trauma and amplifying the voices of Palestinian youth in shaping their future. By empowering them with tools and resources, we can help them build agency and hope for a better tomorrow. Recognizing the interconnectedness of trauma, identity, and resilience is key to creating a more just future for Palestinian youth.

References

Shwaikh, M. (2023). Beyond expectations of resilience: Towards a language of care. Global Studies Quarterly, 3(2), ksad030. https://doi.org/10.1093/isagsq/ksad030

Chaliand, G. (1972). The Palestinian resistance. Penguin.

Malave, G. S., Luo, C., Taku, K., Yanagisawa, R., & Katz, C. (2021). Post-traumatic growth and resilience in adolescents in puerto rico post-hurricane maria. ISMMS Journal of Science and Medicine, 1(2), 10. https://doi.org/10.29024/ijsm.57

Jiménez, E. (2023). ‘The occupation wants to delete us’: Palestinian youth’s interpretations of and resistance to settler colonialism. Third World Quarterly, 44(11), 2351–2369. https://doi.org/10.1080/01436597.2023.2230901

#82 palestine’s mental health crisis: Personal and collective trauma under israeli occupation. (n.d.). Retrieved March 21, 2024, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WtXhij9SfQk.

The nakba & its generational impact on palestinians: Memory, identity, & a future rooted in justice. (n.d.). Retrieved March 21, 2024, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=izgZiM8MUVE.

Palestinian youth: Choosing death over occupation. (n.d.). Retrieved March 21, 2024, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l7Oit9oyGno.

Zubair Mumtaz
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Zubair Mumtaz a Conflict Analyst and M.Phil. Scholar at National Defence University. Currently, he is an author at (Eurasia Review and Stratheia), also a Research Associate at Radiant Journal Foundation. The author explores the complexities of regional/Global dynamics, offering insightful perspectives on security issues and conflict.

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