Psychology of the Oppressed: Encounters with Community Psychology in Palestine
Birzeit University, Palestine
In this presentation I explore and discuss the importance and relevance of community psychology as a paradigm in understanding the dialectics of oppression and mental health in occupied Palestine, specifically in the occupied West Bank and Gaza. I survey key historical turning points in the Palestinian context and advance an argument for a critical and liberating community psychology. I end by presenting a program of community psychology we are in the process of developing at Birzeit University.
Rather than presenting another review of the international development of community psychology, for the purpose of understanding the specific context of Palestine it is suffice to state that community psychology as praxis involves the scientific study of people within their particular socio-political environment while using this knowledge to help improve the mental health of individuals, groups and communities (Orford, 1992).
Community psychology, as a sub-discipline within psychology, emerged when critical psychologists realized that the genesis of mental health disorders among members of the oppressed and marginalized communities are rooted in the objective conditions of oppression, discrimination, injustice and social deprivation within their social environment. Similar to Paulo Freire’s (1970) pedagogy of the oppressed and liberation education, community psychology may as well be perceived as the psychology of liberation of the oppressed. The Latin American model of liberation social psychology (Burton, 2004) provides an ideal framework to understanding and arguing for the necessity of critical community psychology in occupied Palestine.
In 1948, the state of Israel was established consequential to an ethnic cleansing campaign leading to the mass explosion of more than two thirds of the indigenous Palestinian population, leaving a fragile minority behind (Morris, 1989). In 1967 the remaining of historical Palestine, namely the West Bank and Gaza Strip, were occupied by the Israeli invading army. Since 1967 the two populations of Palestinians in historic Palestine have been divided by the virtual “green line” living under two contradictory political conditions; one group as formal Israeli citizens and one under military occupation. Palestinian refugees in exile account for the remaining half of the Palestinian people and they are about five million today spread between refugee camps in neighboring Arab countered and in the west. In this paper we discuss community psychology and mental health among the Palestinian population in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip.
During the first two decades of resisting occupation, the Palestinian people in the West Bank and Gaza Strip have managed to establish an extraordinary network of grassroots organizations and community level committees, including student unions, women groups, labor unions and a wide variety of professional organizations. In the foundation of this sense of community and collective responsibility was a spectacular drive for volunteerism and contribution to the public good and the national cause. When the first Intifada erupted in 1987, it was these grassroots organizations and community groups that carried out and sustained the struggle and provided the needed social and psychological support to victims of political violence.
Birzeit University, Palestine