The conditions in Gaza are leaving a trail and legacy of trauma and mental health issues for those able to leave.
By Salsabeel H. Hamdan | +972 | Nov 5, 2019
‘I have developed a strange belief that things might go wrong. I am afraid that I will be questioned or stopped. I am seriously unable to believe that I have the right to move.’
— Ahmed Almassri, 25, studying in Australia
For a Palestinian, Gaza is a place from which escape is nearly impossible. Israel has, for the past 13 years, denied all but a tiny number of applicants the right to travel outside the congested, blockaded strip of land that is often described as the world’s largest open-air prison. For those fortunate few who manage to attain a permit to depart, the extreme shock of life outside Gaza is almost unbearable. Freedom is painful: it triggers the release of long-suppressed emotions, and the realization that a lifetime of unending psychological trauma has rendered them unable to normalize the understanding that their lives can be free of fear, scarcity, and helplessness.
Aamer Arouqi, 26, a Palestinian journalist, said that finding asylum in Belgium felt like being released from prison. “It was my first time ever to see, talk, and touch other human beings outside Gaza!” During his first six months in Belgium, Aamer suffered from intense culture shock, as he grappled with his emotional pain. He was haunted by what he described as “a scarcity mindset,” or the inchoate sense that he needed something he did not have. “I still feel the blockade around me, and a sense of limitation, even in my thinking.”
“The first time I heard the sound of a civilian plane I thought it was an Israeli warplane coming to bomb Gaza,” said Aamer. He was sleeping at the time; the sound jerked him awake, screaming as though from a nightmare. After that, he found that his whole body seized up every time he heard a plane flying overhead. Eventually, he moved to an apartment that was further away from the airport.