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Gaza: A Synonym for Trauma

Wild flowers of Palestine, Globe Thistle Echinops Viscosus. Wikimedia Commons
Dr Bahzad Alakhras
11 May

Say, one day, you ask yourself: what is the true meaning of the word trauma? What could be a useful synonym to help one vividly understand the term today? Well, I have the perfect answer for you: Gaza.

Let me give you an example, in context: “The boy suffered from multiple GAZAN events during his time in this world.” Perhaps this would make more sense, right?

In terms of trauma, why is Gaza the perfect metaphor? For me, I can explain the term Gaza in four ways:

1. Gaza Means Uncertainty

In psychiatry and clinical psychology, uncertainty is the core dynamic of most anxiety disorders. It's a natural aspect of being human that it is impossible to be certain about everything. There should be a bearable level of tolerance to uncertainty in some parts of our lives as humans, and people who fall short of this level are more likely to show anxiety symptoms and may even develop anxiety disorders.

But can you imagine a life where uncertainty becomes the most certain truth about your existence? When you are uncertain if there will be a morning or not? Will there be another meal with family or loved ones or not? Will you be able to travel to secure your scholarship or job offer in time? Will you be lucky enough to receive your medication or treatment without delay or shortage? Will you get married within the scheduled date or not?

I wonder whether you are blessed with an imagination vivid enough to picture  such levels of uncertainty. If you do, I take my hat off to you. But let me tell you that I, and almost all Palestinians in Gaza and elsewhere, actually live this moment by moment, hour by hour, day by day. It is an undeniable fact that we Palestinians can be certain about one thing: that uncertainty is what envelopes our existence.

2. Gaza Means Grief

Most people would still be able to flourish after experiencing some kind of grief a few times in their life. However, many won't be able to if the grief become an overly familiar experience. In Gaza, almost every Palestinian suffers some degree of grief. Whether in its classic meaning of losing a family member, lover, neighbour or friend. Or, it's less common meaning of losing an opportunity to travel, find a job or study the specialty you dreamt about. Or, even the grief of losing your property as a result of the bombardment!

Sequelae of grief are felt are felt in most aspects of Palestinian lives in Gaza. Children are the most impacted by this. A recent example is Miral, the daughter of well-known dentist Dr. Jamal Khaswan, who was killed along with his wife and son by an Israeli airstrike on his apartment while they slept at night this week in Gaza. This young child not only faces the harshness life will throw at her as a Palestinian, but also now must endure the emotional and psychological burden of becoming parentless, alone!

3. Gaza Means Depression

Hopelessness, helplessness, and emotional numbness are the symptoms that typify someone suffering with depression. When I think about Gaza as a community, I know deep down that Gaza ought be considered a single client who is suffering from depression, and screaming for emergency intervention! I see my people as emotionally frozen human beings who try their best to seamlessly react to the events they experience, but unfortunately most simply cannot do so.

Anhedonia is the medical term that describes a long period of  not being able to feel pleasure and react with proper emotions to the events in your life. Away from science, if you ask me to number a few traits of the growing young population of Gaza, for sure "anhedonia" will be included. I believe that this characteristic is evolving among the Gazan population as a result of two interacting factors. The first I see is being inherited among generations who constantly witness trauma of war and the devastation of siege for more than sixteen years now. Secondly, it is unconsciously learned and acquired through a process termed "learned helplessness and hopelessness".

In my opinion, all of the aforementioned is plenty to qualify the community of Gaza for the diagnosis of a collective depression disorder!

4. Gaza Means Hope

I know it may be shocking to see the word "hope" after all I have mentioned.  Picturing myself as a resident from outside Gaza looking in is what made me write this.

Many of my friends and colleagues from abroad keep telling me that we give them hope to endure their difficulties in this life, that when they feel down they remember me and my people and what we have been through as Palestinians, and this gives them a push to keep trying and tolerating such adversity. That they learn resilience from us. Regardless of my view on this, and the so-called resilience for them, the teaching of hope they mention, and the unmeasurable price we pay, I think there is some truth in this.

Gaza does mean hope and resilience as well. However, there is a question that keeps knocking on my head every time I hear this: “For how long will Gaza be able to provide this?”

Dr Bahzad Alakhras
Medical doctor

Dr Bahzad Alakhras is a medical doctor from Gaza. He studied a masters in Child and Adolescents Mental Health at King's College London. Now, he works as a mental health doctor at Gaza Community Mental Health Program, an essential NGO working in the field in Gaza.