The Palestinian perception of the Other - the Israeli - has been largely shaped by the actions perpetrated towards them by the State of Israel. Israel and Palestine's short history together is fraught with anger and bloodshed, as a result of a conflict that has been ongoing for over 100 years. Since 1967, the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip has been the source of confrontation and deadlock over a possible peace. The occupation has resulted in continuous traumatization of Palestinians due to the pressures that have been imposed on them on every imaginable level: political, economic, social and psychological. These have resulted in a cultural identity that is characterized by stress, trauma, grief, helplessness, and hopelessness. Palestinians perceive the Other as the cause of all their suffering, both in the past and the present. The perception of the Other in terms of Israelis as a people is difficult to assess. This is due to the fact that Palestinians have been forced to view the Israelis as occupiers and to judge them according to political and military actions.
Lacking in this conflict, on both sides, is a true understanding of the Other. Perhaps if understanding could be achieved, communication and conflict resolution would prove to be more effective. As mentioned above, from the Palestinian perspective Israel is viewed as a military occupier that has taken, and continues to take, land from the Palestinian people. This, and the increasing number of Israeli military outposts, contributes to the perceived feelings of aggression. The main external stress factors that affect the population include the occupation, in general, but on a more specific level, the building of Jewish settlements on Palestinian land, military force, economic hardships, and travel and movement restrictions. Examining the Palestinian view of the Israelis before and after this current Intifada may be useful in understanding differences in perception in times of peace and conflict.

Mistrust of the 'Other'

During the first Intifada, which began in late 1987, parameters of peace were virtually non-existent and occupation was in full force. Night raids, curfews, imprisonment, restriction on movement, interrogations and humiliation were used by the occupier at will, subjecting the Palestinian population to severe suffering. However, following the signing of the 1993 Oslo Accords, new rules were established for both parties to follow. Restrictions on the occupied territories were eased to a degree. For almost six years, it appeared as though both sides were abiding by these new agreements and moving closer to stability and peace. The pressures of occupation were still being felt, yet, compared to the restrictions experienced during the first Intifada, freedom seemed just around the corner. For the first time in many years, peace seemed attainable and the creation of a Palestinian state inevitable. Trust between the two peoples was starting to build, although still fragile and in a critical stage. Nonetheless, Palestinians began to dream of a life of peace; their hopes were raised and their faith in Israel's word started to take hold.
Although the tension and anger directed towards the Israelis had subsided, they were never far from the surface. Years of oppression and conflict could not be so easily forgotten. The slow pace of the implementation of the Oslo agreement marked the cautious approach adopted by both parties, and meant that neither side could fully and readily trust the other. The Palestinians saw very few results on the ground. The slower the progress, the more frustrated the Palestinians grew. Tempers reached boiling point with the provocative visit to the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount by the current Israeli Prime Minister, Ariel Sharon, and his entourage of soldiers. People's pent-up emotions erupted into the al-Aqsa Intifada, while the effects of the first Intifada were still fresh in the minds of most. Thus began a renewed determination to fight for the freedom of all Palestinians and the creation of a Palestinian state. The many failures to achieve gains on the ground and the lack of international intervention in the current crisis have contributed to the feeling of helplessness among the Palestinian population.
Although the al-Aqsa Intifada is only in its ninth month (at the time of writing), as compared to the nearly seven years of the first uprising, the violence and use of force on the part of Israel, and the number of casualties and deaths among both peoples, are incomparable. The Palestinian people are facing a nuclear power with nothing but stones and the odd light weapon, all totally useless in the face of sophisticated war machinery. Moving away from the obviously complex and conflict-laden history, the fact remains that the view of the Other from both sides continues to be one of mistrust.

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

Almost all Palestinians in the occupied territories have experienced stress and trauma, which will have serious implications for the future. The widespread nature of the conflict has touched every area, village and family. With over 500 deaths so far, and over 10,000 life-threatening injuries (including loss of eyes, arms, legs and brain function) that will impair the resumption of a normal life once hostilities end, hundreds of thousands of people will have been either directly or indirectly affected by violence. Palestinians are not only prone to the current stress factors, but their history is beset with similar traumas.
A staggering, record number has been reached of people suffering from symptoms of stress and trauma-related disorders. Common among these are Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), Acute Stress Disorder, Adjustment Disorder and Major Depression. Complicated symptoms of conflict-related stress and trauma must be seriously considered and treated. Understanding the nature of the trauma and how it affects the sufferer is essential. Trauma is often suppressed and can resurface months or years following the traumatic event. It should be noted that, since many Palestinians had been exposed to similar traumatic experiences in previous conflicts (most notably the first Intifada), this unresolved condition has frequently resurfaced with exposure to the current conflict. Symptoms of PTSD are often further complicated by depression. Given the time frame and immediacy of the current conflict, the Palestinians are in the critical stages for the development of the above-mentioned disorders.
The following criteria have been shown to increase the risk of developing PTSD within the Palestinian context:
• a traumatic event that involves actual or threatened death or injury to oneself or others and a response which involved intense fear, helplessness or horror;
• a traumatic event persistently re-experienced;
• avoidance of stimuli associated with the trauma and numbing of general responsiveness;
• increased arousal;
• duration of symptoms longer than one month; and
• symptoms that impair normal functioning in daily activities (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 4th Edition (DSM-IV), 1999, pp. 427-429).
These characteristics and symptoms can be further complicated by a delayed onset of symptoms, appearing six months or more after the incident. It is therefore imperative that treatment of these symptoms and disorders begin as soon as possible. The Palestinian population has been exposed to countless acts of violence and aggression. Many have retreated into an avoidance of everyday activities for fear of coming under attack, a behavior that prevents a return to normalcy.

Children, Youth and Women

Most noticeably affected by the conflict are children. Children and youth under the age of twenty-five make up the majority of the Palestinian population. They are the most actively involved in the physical conflicts and account for the largest percentage of people killed during the al-Aqsa Intifada. Out of 500 deaths, 337 were children and youth of 25 years of age and under - 67 percent of all deaths (PRCS Statistical Data). Realizing that environment shapes childhood development, a negative environment can have disastrous effects. Many youth still remember and have not fully overcome the stress and trauma of the previous Intifada. This cumulative nature and constant exposure to conflict increase the risk of stress and trauma-related symptoms and disorders. Children and youth are at a disadvantage, as they have often not developed the ability to express themselves effectively regarding the stress and personal conflict they feel. The resulting behavioral changes affect both the family and classroom dynamic. Common behavioral changes and symptoms observed include increased aggression, loss of concentration, inattentiveness, separation anxiety (clinging to parents), nervousness, negativity, and carelessness. Other symptoms include nightmares, aggression, fear, changes in appetite, psychosomatic complaints, and bed-wetting. These symptoms are all characteristic of PTSD and result from the witnessing of, and exposure to, trauma and violence.
The perception of the Other through the eyes of Palestinian children is especially a matter of grave concern. Working with children in schools has revealed extreme and nearly universal changes in behavior and attitudes since the beginning of the al-Aqsa Intifada. Every Palestinian child has been exposed to direct acts of violence, be it shooting, shelling and bombing, or participation in physical conflict or subjection to military brutality. An examination of children's drawings in schools has demonstrated that the Intifada is a constant preoccupation, with Israeli military aggression a dominant theme. Images of death, killing, shooting, military force, house demolition, are common themes. Thus, Palestinian children's perception of the Other is solely defined in terms of military aggression and occupation.
As the central figure in the Palestinian home, women face anxiety, depression, distress and torment. Not only do they experience their own fears, but they must also face those of their children and husbands. Debriefing sessions conducted with women by this writer and his staff, mainly within the Bethlehem Governorate, have revealed that the majority of these women are suffering from symptoms of PTSD. Symptoms observed include loss of appetite, nervousness, flashbacks, and psychosomatic complaints (such as headaches and stomach pains). These stem from the unpredictability, uncertainty and pessimistic outlook of the future due to the current conflict. Women are isolating themselves and are hesitant to return to their normal social life. Additionally, they are suffering from the economic pressures of the conflict. Many are unable to pay their children's tuition fees or even household expenses such as food and rent. These stressful experiences all stem from the Israeli occupation and aggression. They lead to hatred by women of their current situation and influence their perception of the Other, who is blamed as the source of all their misery. Contributing to the difficulties faced by women are the great pressures placed on their husbands, fathers and brothers.
Palestinian men suffer in silence from restrictions on movement, loss of employment, and participation in violence. Many are unable to provide their families with the basic necessities. As few psychosocial programs exist to help Palestinian men, they often suppress the depression and anger they experience. Unfortunately, in many cases, these frustrations are taken out on the family, exacerbating the situation at home and destabilizing further their mental well-being.
The staggering number of homes that have been damaged or demolished during the last nine months, due to Israeli shelling or bombing, has caused the displacement of thousands of families. In the small community of Beit Sahour alone, 276 houses have been destroyed and over 300 families displaced. House demolition forces families to seek refuge with their relatives and neighbors. The trauma and stress felt are thus shared with a wider audience. The loss of memories and possessions has grave psychological implications. Children, in particular, suffer from the lack of family stability and a sense of security that is created within the home. Normal life for thousands of families will take years to be restored and rebuilt.

Perceptions of the Conflict

A unique aspect of the conflict that must be taken into consideration is the Palestinian perception of death as martyrdom. The Palestinian view that dying while fighting the occupation results in instant martyrdom influences their attitude towards violence. Many Palestinians say they are willing to give their lives for the sake of the freedom and liberation of Palestine. This serves to taint the perception of the conflict and the need to keep it going by giving as many lives as necessary. It is well documented that when normal responses to stress and trauma are suppressed, and thus not experienced (as is the case with the "Martyr Effect"), serious psychological complications can develop, including PTSD. The "Martyr Effect" also affects family bereavement, how they grieve and mourn the loss of a loved one. The large number of families that have endured the pain of loss during the course of this Intifada is overwhelming. The "Martyr Effect" appears to serve as a coping method to justify loss, but further research of this phenomenon is required.
Contributing to people's perception of the Other, the media has become a powerful tool through which the population (on both sides) has been exposed to the conflict. Propaganda has been used to shape the collective consciousness of the viewers. The media continues to exacerbate the conflict through the projection of victimization, false statements, the justification of violent actions, and demonization. Technological advances and greater accessibility to communication media, such as the Internet, have also promoted the spread of propaganda. On the Palestinian side, the media has been used to muster national pride, assigning blame and working as a source of constant updates on the unfolding situation. To a level never seen before, the media has brought the violence into the homes of thousands of families, increasing the exposure to violence and trauma experienced by all. Propaganda on both sides has shaped a new image of the Other in light of the Intifada. The trend of dehumanization and reeducating the public into perceiving the Other as a malicious enemy that cannot be trusted has become the norm.
The view of the Other from the Palestinian perspective is shaped largely by the obvious. They see the Israelis as killing their people and using extreme military force against their civilian population. They see their homes and possessions being destroyed and their children suffering from the violence and trauma they witness on a daily basis. They see their people without jobs and unable to support their families. The death of one martyr causes an entire population to mourn. The Palestinians' perception of the Other arises from the reality around them and their perspectives change as the reality changes. Once the Intifada ends, the cumulative effects of the trauma and violence that have been witnessed will remain a serious concern. Even after the cessation of violence and the resumption of peace, the population will continue to suffer from the lasting effects of what they have experienced. Thankfully, when tensions, stress factors and restrictions are reduced, so will the anger and mistrust towards the Other. History has shown that the road to peace and understanding is a fragile and difficult process. However, it is only through understanding that peaceful coexistence can be attained.