Vulnerability and protection in settings of violent conflict

[Individual articles from the Summer 2016 issue of Intersections will be posted on this blog each week. The full issue can be found on MCC’s website.]

Children in Palestine (here referring to East Jerusalem, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip) are more vulnerable than children who do not live under occupation or in conflict situations. Child protection efforts in Palestine and in other conflict settings should focus not only on safety within the walls of schools and other organizations working with children, but must also provide children support to survive the hostile world beyond and help children heal from the trauma they have already experienced.

Factors that increase Palestinian children’s vulnerability include: military detention and arraignment before military courts; violence at the hands of Israeli soldiers; home demolitions and forced displacement; restricted movement; and compromised access to education, healthcare, housing and play. Whereas Israelis and Israeli settlers fall under civil courts, Palestinian children as young as twelve years old can be prosecuted in Israeli military courts, often for crimes such as stone throwing. According to Military Court Watch, as of the end of February 2016 there were 438 Palestinian children in Israeli military detention as “security” prisoners, the youngest twelve years old. [“Child” here refers to all under the age of 18, following the United Nations definition of child.] The process of arrest, detention, questioning, trial and imprisonment violates Palestinian children’s rights and can leave them traumatized. Palestinian children are often arrested
in violent, purposefully intimidating, nighttime raids. They may be physically harmed while being transported and during detention. They are interrogated without an adult present and often see a lawyer for the first time when they appear in the courtroom.

Many Palestinian children, especially in areas with heavy Israeli military or settler presence such as East Jerusalem or Hebron, must daily pass through militarized checkpoint crossings on their way to and from school. Other children in refugee camps around the West Bank experience heavy tear gas exposure from frequent, often unprovoked, incursions of Israeli soldiers into the camps. Clashes between Palestinian youth, who throw stones, and the soldiers who shoot bullets and throw tear gas, sound
bombs and stink water often end in injury, death or detainment for Palestinian children and youth.

The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) has reported that the demolition of Palestinian homes has dramatically increased in the West Bank in 2016. In February alone 330 people were displaced due to house demolitions, half of whom were children. Home demolition and forced transfer leave families extremely
vulnerable, homeless and robbed of savings, possessions and security. The Lajee Center in Aida Refugee Camp in Bethlehem provides a variety of educational and support programs for children, including: psychosocial support and trauma healing; opportunities to play soccer, learn music and dance dubka, the traditional Palestinian line dance; growing food on rooftop gardens; workshops on children’s and refugee rights; and more. It is a place where children are allowed to play and to dream alongside a community of supportive staff.

Last year Lajee, with support from MCC, trained its staff to work with children to learn about and heal from trauma, including daily traumacaused by the occupation. Lajee staff then asked the children about trauma in their own lives and even possible traumas or problems they were experiencing at Lajee. Based on this experience Lajee realized that
children must be able to heal from trauma and get help in any situation and decided to join a pilot project with the organization Defense for Children International, Palestine (DCI). This project, implemented with 70 organizations in 12 cities across Gaza and the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, was designed to help organizations provide increased protection for their participants, both within their programs and within the children’s
families, schools and communities.

Each organization chose six to eight children to be trained as liaisons, mediators, advocates and mentors for their peers. These children and a few staff learned how to respond to concerns. For example, if one of their fellow participants at the Lajee Center comes to them with an issue that involves the staff or members of the Center, they should report the issue to another local area organization that participates in the project, or, in
serious cases, alert DCI itself to be able to step in with more professional capacity and provide support for the child.

The trained children also help the other children learn about their rights and ways they can protect themselves from the occupation, including how to get themselves a lawyer if they are detained or arrested by Israeli forces.

The DCI project is very important because it is not common for Palestinians to accept and discuss their trauma. Often children do not want to talk with adults about trauma or problems, but they are more able to share their experiences with other children. In Aida camp one of the Lajee Center’s trained children recently helped a fellow student who was being hit by a teacher at school. The child alerted DCI and was able to make sure that the teacher, who had been physically punishing children for years, was fired and not allowed back into any other schools to teach.

One challenge encountered by the Lajee-DCI initiative is that, even though children are often more willing to talk to one another about problems, many are still inclined to hide their troubles. Children also fear repercussions for speaking or standing up for themselves. This is especially true for those who have been arrested by the Israeli army because they are afraid of being detained again or that the threats made against them
while they were detained will come true. The Lajee Center wants to give the children the space to speak about their traumas, but the children fear it will cause them more harm from Israeli soldiers.

The Lajee Center believes that participating in the DCI project offers children an outlet to express concerns, fears or problems within Lajee. Participation in the DCI initiative has resulted in children who attend Lajee being more open about their feelings and their opinions about the center, which in turn helps Lajee learn ways to better serve and protect
these children.

Efforts to protect children in school and informal educational programs in Palestine must be supplemented by legal and political advocacy against military detention, violence and torture faced by Palestinian children. Military Court Watch, for example, acts as a witnessing presence for children in Israeli military detention and, when necessary, litigates to uphold children’s rights under international law. The No Way to Treat a Child campaign calls on the United States to put all available pressure on Israel to stop its abuses against children in Israeli military courts and prisons. MCC’s advocacy office in Washington, D.C. has supported this campaign, calling on MCC’s constituency to urge members of Congress to curb Israeli violations of Palestinian children’s human rights.

Child protection efforts in Palestine must thus respond to the increased vulnerability of living under Israeli occupation. In this context, MCC partners are attempting to provide more hope, healing and protection for Palestinian children through social and educational programs, psychosocial support, legal protection and international advocacy campaigns.

Amani Ashad works for Lajee Center, an MCC partner. She wrote this article with Catherine Keating, a former MCC worker.

Learn more:

Military Court Watch website:

UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in the Occupied Palestinian Territories website:

East Jerusalem YMCA website:

No Way to Treat a Child Campaign website:

Lajee Center website:

Defense for Children International-Palestine website:

UNICEF booklet on children in Gaza:

Gideon Levy, “Israel Sentenced a 13-Year-Old Girl to Prison,” Haaretz (April 14, 2016).
Available at:

Community-based land management in the Israeli-occupied state of Palestine

Palestinians have a long history of community-based natural resource management. Since 1967, Israel’s military occupation of the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, including East Jerusalem (the State of Palestine recognized by 193 countries and the United Nations General Assembly), has threatened these traditional management approaches and endangered Palestine’s natural resources. This article argues that the Israeli occupation has denied Palestinians the sovereignty to manage their own land and other natural resources, resulting in negative consequences for their livelihoods and well-being, along with harmful impacts to the land itself. The Applied Research Institute-Jerusalem (ARIJ) has therefore focused on investing in CNBRM initiatives in Palestine aimed at increasing the sustainability of Palestinian agriculture in the face of an Israeli occupation regime that denies Palestinians sovereign control over their natural resources.

Historically land management in Palestine was practiced by local communities according to customary traditions. In 1918 communal land represented 70% of historical Palestine (what is now the state of Israel and the occupied territories of the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, including East Jerusalem). Most land thus belonged to local communities, meaning that land was managed in the common interest by a group of people, usually the whole population in a given village. Rights for grazing, access to water resources and wood harvesting were shared. Village elders had the right to divide land into portions and distribute it among farmers.

Following the onset of the Israeli occupation in 1967, however, land ownership patterns, particularly of communal land, witnessed a total transformation. The Israeli occupation authorities ordered a halt to land registration and started confiscating Palestinian land and resources. In the West Bank, for example, Israel confiscated 43,100 hectares of land under the pretext of absentee land ownership (i.e. owned by Palestinians not present in the West Bank). Additional land was confiscated for security reasons and public use. This land confiscation paved the way for the construction of 196 settlements and 232 outposts in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem.

The Oslo accords between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization divided land in the West Bank according to a division of territory into areas A, B and C. The Palestinian National Authority (PNA), created by the Oslo accords, was to have civil and security control over area A, while in area B the PNA assumed full control in civil matters, with Israel remaining in charge of security. In the areas classified as area C, Israel retained full control over land, security, civil affairs and natural resources. In Gaza, meanwhile, 24% of land is declared a prohibited border zone from which Palestinians are blocked from access to land and other natural resources.

While the United Nations envisions the State of Palestine encompassing the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip, this territory has been carved up by the Israeli occupation into discontiguous islands. The jagged distribution of areas A, B and C, coupled with the 771 km long wall constructed by Israel in the West Bank, turn West Bank lands into isolated cantons, physically separated from each other and from the Gaza Strip. Prolonged years of Israeli occupation have disconnected Palestinians from the majority of natural resources in Palestine. Area C in the West Bank, to which Palestinians have extremely limited access, contains 87% of the West Bank’s nature reserves, 90% of its forests, 48% of its water wells and 37% of its water springs. Lack of sovereignty over land and natural resources has denied Palestinians the right to manage those resources.

The lack of Palestinian land sovereignty has also resulted in ecological decline and prevented effective natural resource management. For example, indicators of desertification appear clearly in the eastern slopes of the West Bank, an area characterized by steep hills where agricultural activity is limited to animal grazing. The closure of 85% of this zone by the Israeli occupation authorities for military purposes has led to severe overgrazing of the remaining areas accessible to Palestinian herders. This overgrazing has resulted in the loss of the vegetation cover, along with soil erosion and desertification.

Within this context Palestinians continue to practice agriculture, mostly on small land holdings, 90% of which range between 0.5 and 5 hectares. Palestinian farmers face numerous constraints and challenges in their attempts to manage natural resources effectively in the context of occupation. Lack of access to water means that rain-fed farming is the dominant type of agriculture in the West Bank. Farmers are subsequently vulnerable to fluctuations in rainfall and to changing climate patterns. To protect their lands from confiscation by Israeli military authorities under the pretext that land is not cultivated, Palestinians began planting olive trees in the 1970s to replace field crops. In response, however, Israel engaged in a massive campaign of uprooting trees. ARIJ estimates that since 1967 more than 1.8 million trees have been uprooted in the West Bank and Gaza.

Together with local communities, ARIJ is working to promote sustainable development in Palestine through community-based natural resource management. ARIJ partners with local communities to prioritize small and smart interventions, ranging from rain harvesting systems, land reclamation, field crops improvement, climate change adaptation and the promotion of urban agriculture. Additionally, ARIJ works to help small-size farmers protect themselves by organizing into cooperatives. One successful example of a social business intervention is Al-Jalemeh Women’s Cooperative, where ARIJ worked with the cooperative to improve its production, management and good governance capacities. Some women planted home gardens with luffa (commonly referred to as loofah), sweet pumpkin and safflower, while others worked to produce jam, dried safflower and loofah scrubbing sponges. Consequently, each woman managed to generate additional income of $560 per year. ARIJ has also worked with local communities to introduce plant-water production systems such as hydroponics and wicking systems, new agro-technologies suitable for both rural and urban areas. These systems take up limited room (10 square meters) and use less water, making them appropriate for small household farmers. Farmers who have adopted such systems can produce four or even five seasons of vegetables per year, fertilizing and managing their crops with natural solutions and fertilizers. These new plant-water production systems utilize half the water resources used by traditional irrigated systems and increase crop produce three times more than conventional agro-systems, with less effort. Such systems help improve food self-sufficiency, give opportunities to poor families to generate more income and help communities manage what limited resources are available to them. While the Israeli occupation places severe constraints on Palestinian access to and management of natural resources, ARIJ is committed to supporting rural and urban Palestinian communities in sustainably conserving and managing the resources to which they still have access.

Jad Isaac is director general of the Applied Research Institute-Jerusalem (ARIJ), an MCC partner organization.

Learn more:

Hrimat, Nader and Munif Doudin. “Adopting Hydroponic and Wicking Agro Food Production Models in Palestine.” Applied Research Institute-Jerusalem, 2014. Available at

Bassous, Roubina. “Biodiversity and Human Rights from a Palestinian Persepctive.” Applied Research Institute-Jerusalem, 2014. Available at

“Agriculture in Palestine: A Post-Oslo Analysis.” The Council for European Palestinian Relations, 2012. Available at

Reynolds, Kyra. “Palestinian Agriculture and the Israeli Separation Barrier: The Mismatch of Biopolitics and Chronopolitics with the Environment and Human Survival.” International Journal of Environmental Studies 72/2 (2015): 237-255.

EMDR and trauma healing in Palestine

Palestinian society has been and continues to be profoundly shaped by the trauma of political violence, both through mass displacement in 1948 and ongoing military occupation since 1967. In 1989 the East Jerusalem YMCA, a long-standing MCC partner, founded its Rehabilitation Program, aimed at meeting the needs of the many Palestinians who sustained lifelong, disabling injuries during the first Palestinian intifada (uprising), including their physical, mental and livelihoods needs. Mona Zaghrout has worked with the Rehabilitation Program since its founding. Over the past quarter century, Zaghrout has become a leading practitioner in the Arab world of a trauma healing approach called Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR), finding EMDR to be an effective therapeutic tool in helping traumatized clients cope with and heal from traumatic incidents.

The East Jerusalem YMCA Rehabilitation Program utilizes a holistic approach to rehabilitation, supporting interventions ranging from home or school modifications for persons using wheelchairs, to vocational assessments and trainings, to awareness workshops in schools for teachers and students about how best to support classmates with physical disabilities. The program’s holistic approach includes psychosocial support both for persons who are traumatized by political violence and for persons with disabilities coping with trauma.

The program started by using an eclectic approach to trauma healing, trying everything from psychoanalysis to behavioral therapy to gestalt therapy. While each therapeutic approach had its strengths, Zaghrout and her colleagues found that the real challenge they faced came with providing clients with maintenance support that would reinforce resilience in the face of new disruptions in clients’ lives. Seeking to respond to this challenge, Zaghrout started searching for approaches that would be suitable for persons living in ongoing conflict situations. This search led her to EMDR.

EMDR is an evidence-based approach designed by Francine Shapiro in 1989. The World Health Organization recommends EMDR as one of the best approaches for addressing trauma. Zaghrout explains that when people are traumatized by a specific incident, something may become stuck in their brains, and then, she continues, “the self-healing of the brain is stuck as well.” In EMDR sessions clients recall and focus on distressing, traumatic images, while receiving different types of bilateral stimulation, such as side-to-side eye movements. Through these sessions, Zaghrout notes, “we try to reach the touchstone event, which may go back to childhood, and when we solve it, when we reach it, everything else will be solved or ‘un-stuck’ and the self-healing process of our brain will go on.”

An asset of the EMDR approach is that it gives space for clients to re-live and see what happened in traumatizing incidents they underwent while allowing their brains to process those events. Zaghrout has found that EMDR is an effective therapeutic treatment for “people who did not want to speak about the details or felt there was something that they did not want to share with anybody.” EMDR enables such persons to process traumatic events without talking in depth about those incidents.

As the Rehabilitation Program started using EMDR, Zaghrout encountered skeptical criticism that suggested EMDR was a Western approach that could not be applied in Palestine. Zaghrout countered that EMDR could be successfully modified for the Palestinian situation and pointed to EMDR’s positive results in providing maintenance therapy to clients. Zaghrout and her colleagues were particularly struck by the positive therapeutic results they saw using EMDR. She notes that when “we (Zaghrout and her colleagues) were trained in EDMR, when we practiced it on ourselves at the beginning, we could see that it was very useful, very effective, very quick.”

Zaghrout grants that using EMDR in home visit settings in Palestine poses specific challenges. Most of the Rehabilitation Program’s psychological counseling work is done in clients’ homes. Some clients’ homes may consist of only one room. These conditions present an obstacle, because privacy is needed to carry out EMDR sessions. “With EMDR, you expect many things to come out, things that the client might not even be aware of,” Zaghrout states. For that reason, “it is best to have a setting of privacy and to ensure that whatever the client sees or says will be confidential.” Zaghrout acknowledged that Rehabilitation Program staff sometimes found it difficult to convey to clients’ families the need for privacy. However, she continued, “when the parents and the family see the difference that it is having with their children they would voluntarily collect themselves and sit outside until the session is finished.”

YMCA staff started seeing the effectiveness of EMDR through clinical observations. When visiting clients, they heard stories about how EMDR had changed their lives for the better. Zaghrout shares that she could see the positive impact of EMDR “in the eyes of the clients and the counselors. It is very rewarding when you succeed with a client, they can move on with their lives, they can face anything else and can handle it.”

Zaghrout notes that rural Palestinians typically do not care much about the names of therapeutic approaches: “They only know: ‘I’m not feeling well, I have symptoms, I cannot sleep and I want you to help me.’” Yet as they have started being treated with EMDR, they have begun asking for it by name. “People began asking, ‘What is this? What are you doing with me? What is the name of this?’ Then people started referring to each other as ‘EMDR.’ It was the first time that people were saying the name of the theory or the approaches that have been used.”

The Rehabilitation Program has also found EMDR effective when working with children. Staff counselors have used an EMDR-related technique called the group protocol butterfly hug and have trained school counselors in the technique through the Ministry of Education. Zaghrout has heard from several of the counselors that children will informally tell one another about the technique’s effectiveness and specifically ask counselors to do the butterfly hug with them.

According to Zaghrout, the Rehabilitation Program’s use of EMDR is not an instance of an outside intervention but rather represents Palestinians supporting other Palestinians. “It’s not that I’m coming from the outside and helping people who are suffering here,” she explains. “We are all living under what is happening, so it is not easy for us and for the counselors to do the work and to help others while we also have our own situations.” The Rehabilitation Program is accordingly intentional about caring for its counselors. They have structured retreats and stress releases to help them be more aware of potentially traumatic stresses in their own lives and of how to manage that so they will be able to continue helping others.

Zaghrout is the first Arab EMDR trainer and is now taking what the YMCA counselors have learned and accomplished using EMDR for trauma rehabilitation and sharing those learnings more broadly within the Arab world. Zaghrout says that she advises practitioners across the region to build on the YMCA’s experiences and not start from the beginning. She has recently led trainings in Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey, Libya and Iraq, as well as for Syrian refugees. “We are trying to take this approach which has proven very effective in responding to traumas, especially in ongoing situations, and show how people can use it and how they can heal the traumas of their communities with it,” Zaghrout states. “So we are not creating new things but building upon what we have learned.”
Krista Johnson Weicksel interviewed Mona Zaghrout Hodali, Head of
the Counseling and Services Department of the East Jerusalem YMCA
Rehabilitation Program.