2012 Monograph on the Psychological Effects of Political Violence on Israeli and Palestinian Adolescents

In November 2012, New York Times Jerusalem bureau chief Jodi Rudoren visited the Gaza Strip during a devastating Israeli bombardment. During her trip, Rudoren posted an assessment of the psychological effects of the Israeli attacks on Gazan citizens. She wrote:

“[W]hile death and destruction is far more severe in Gaza than in Israel, it seems like Israelis are almost more traumatized. The Gazans have a deep culture of resistance and aspiration to martyrdom, they’re used to it from Cast Lead and other conflicts, and they have such limited lives than in many ways they have less to lose…. when I talk to people who just lost a relative, or who are gathering belongings from a bombed-out house, they seem a bit ho-hum.”

Rudoren, who received strong criticism from activists and journalists for the comments, later qualified her argument. She substituted the word “steadfast” for “ho-hum” and theorized that Gaza Palestinians’ apparent lack of trauma was rooted in a local political-Islamic culture that “views death in this context as a sacrifice, of course, but also a worthy one.”

In the same month, Palestinian-Israeli social worker and scholar Alean al-Krenawi published a scholarly monograph that employed rigorous statistical analysis to compare the self-reported trauma of recent political violence of Israeli and Palestinian adolescents. Tomorrow’s Players: The Israeli-Palestinian Case centers on a 2006 study of nearly 2000 Israelis and Palestinians aged 14-18 living in Israel, the West Bank, and the Gaza Strip. Participants answered questions about their experiences of particular forms of political violence and were evaluated for symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder. Researchers also asked participants about their religiosity, economic status, and family situation in order to evaluate the influence of such factors on the adolescents’ responses to political violence.

In contravention to Rudoren’s theories, Al-Krenawi concludes that, for both Israeli and Palestinian adolescents, experiences of political violence “positively correlated” with symptoms of PTSD, familial dysfunction, and acts of physical and verbal violence (75). Palestinian participants reported symptoms of PTSD, familial dysfunction, and violent behavior at higher rates than their Israeli counterparts. Al-Krenawi notes that this trend can be traced, in part, to the socioeconomic disparity between Israeli and Palestinian subjects. Al-Krenawi also observes that particularly religious participants (both Jewish and Muslim) reported certain mental health symptoms with less frequency than their more secular counterparts, but concludes that “religiosity did not seem to be a factor determining mental health problems” (95).

Tomorrow’s Players places Al-Krenawi’s study in a broad academic, political, and therapeutic context. The text reviews past scholarship on political violence in Israel and Palestine and its psycho-social ramifications. It also notes that psychological trauma plays a significant role in the ongoing conflict in the region. Finally, Al-Krenawi writes that Israelis and Palestinians in Israel in the occupied territories require psychological services that are adapted to their particular societies.

Altogether, Tomorrow’s Players represents a significant addition to the literature on the psychological impacts of prolonged conflict and occupation on Israeli and Palestinian children. Most important, it contravenes the popular and media discourse that individuals in particular social and ethnic categories react differently to trauma than individuals in other groups. Al-Krenawi’s research shows that children in Israel/Palestine suffer psychologically as a result of exposure to political violence, regardless of nationality.

Full citation: Alean Al-Krenawi, Tomorrow’s Players: The Israeli Palestinian Case (New York: Nova Science Publishers, 2012.)

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