Palestine Blog October/November 2017


 Trauma help is taking place there where the pepper grows!

Six days which were changing our world…



We Challenge The Present To Shape The Future – the guiding theme above the gate of the Al Nadjah National University could be transfered to the duties of the psychotherapy of children in Germany without difficulty. Or according to Kurt Tucholsky: „Life is understood backward but it is lived forward“. The whole story starts originally during a meeting of the German Bundepsychotherapeutenkammer for the supply of the refugees in September 2015. Some pilot schemes were presented there. But like it happened many times before nobody put the children in the focus once again. However the numbers don’t need any comment: 600,000 refugees under the age of 21 (a conservative estimate) with a expected number of 150,000 potential patients with trauma consecution disruptions are blowing up all limits. Everyone of us had to make a diagnosis and begin a therapy for 40 patients – and the whole affair within the next two years. That would be 1,200 hours for each „Kassensitz“ – a whole man-year only reserved for this group of patients.

Therefore a new plan is necessary. Based on the scientifically well informed experience at that time (working with groups, not to require a translator as a target, NET, the sandplay, EMDR, techniques of stabilization, the support for parents or laymen), we created two programmes (SPRINTS and PRTNERS). Meanwhile SPRINTS (= sandplay reprocessing integrating nonverbal trauma-interventions and self-stabilization) is strongly effective in that way we developed in the context of an outstanding field study about the first catamnesis of a year. In the meantime our offering is implemented in more federal states respectively regions in Germany. Especially Saxony-Anhalt and North-Rhine Westphalia are advanced in this process. Hamburg and Baden-Württemberg are joining this process. And we ourselves could certify the 1,000th trauma helper who was qualified according our concept in Weil am Rhein on the last weekend of October. That’s why we have satisfied the wish to arrange our concept at places around the world in the framework of two humanitarian actions where the misery of children and teenagers is particularly high.


Travel report of Prof. Thomas Loew and Beate Leinberger


29th of October: 

The adventure starts: Within the last six years nothing has changed surprisingly. The handling of the flights to Tel Aviv are still taking place at the most inappropriate part of the Munich airport. Of course there is a bus transfer after the security check firstly and many a Israeli of old age is inevitably remind here in this or that context of „transfers“ in his young days. Arrived at the waiting area, there is not even served a cup of coffee for the passengers in this morning in Munich. Oh well, the Germans still have to learn from their history. And it shouldn’t be the sole ckeck that will remind us on old customs on German ground during our journey.

The first day: after our driver has picked us up on time, we head for the West Bank. The biblical landscape seems to us picture-perfect: the settlements on the hills, between the settlements there are consistently olive groves and the whole scenario is surrounded by a mixture of North Amercia – but with bus stops – and a unbelievable however for Israelis normal working day rush-hour.

The border between Israel and the occupied regions isn’t be overlooked, whereupon the situation equals very much a border crossing from Texas to Mexico – rising up from orderly conditions the perceived chaos emerge with illegal house building, lacking infrastructure and scrimmaging people on the streets of every age.

Arabia fascinates us enormously. Our first meeting with the local organizers takes place in a pleasant atmosphere. We can hardly believe that these so typically casual looking Arabian men represent the staff in the department psychology of the National University. We talk shortly about the next days, sum up our wishes and explain that the screening of the children of the first group who we are going to examine has taken place actually – that is commented with the typical „Inschallah“.


The first day: 

We are picked up on time and we are very fast in the older buildings of the local university which is comparable to the University of Regensburg in size and located in a city that is as big as Regensburg and in which you can find though a refugee camp of more than 40,000 residents. Out of this huge camp of refugees a group of children shall be chosen and presented. The campus of the university in general makes an very well-kept impact of us: new faces of buildings, a modern Arabian architecture et cetera. The national pride is not only perceptible in every corner but actually also visible. In the building of the university it looks like quite different though. The auditorium which is allocated to us serves normally as common room for the students and the video projector is fighting painfully against the brightness in the big room. The room begins to fill slowly with people and instead of the 80 advertised participants 96 people finally come, so that the room is packed.

The high expectations in our speech of the handfull of present doctors, some students of medicine and psychology, several teachers plus some representatives of UN-working groups, who works in front of the refugee camp, are noticeable. We notice very fast that it is necessary actually, in spite of an ulterior assurance, to translate every phrase from English into Arabian. Beside Adham, our doctoral candidate from Regensburg who has contrived the whole project here on location, there are still three translators more available who share the work according to the content of our lecture.

In the meanwhile we are pretty experienced relating to the process of the lectures and the English lectures click like clockwork now. Also this time the participants are impressed visible by the videos regarding the „Mother-Child Interaction“ or the methodical backgrounds. It crystallises as a big advantage that we document filmic the whole presentation and even allocate the filmic material on location. The subsequent evening starts adventurously because the big gate of the university that is controlled by security forces is closed and … no security guard is far and wide in sight. Another half an hour is passing by. During this time it is not possible for our Palestinian doctoral candidate to launch his trip home to his homevillage which is 20 kilometers far away. But still after all an embarressed security guard appeares and enables us the moving out of the university centre finally. Confronting with so much Orient at once we need a little diversion and so we are deciding finally for a „typical Arabian“ dinner – pizza at Domino's ;). And everything is always non-alcoholic of course. It absolutely doesn’t matter in which restaurant you are –whether it is Subway or a location for having something for lunch, traditonal or western style –the shisha besides is offered everywhere and this offering is used (from about 20 per cent of the guests). As we have the feeling that it is getting dark very fast, the evening is not so long.


The second day

We are picked up by two young women who both are wearing niqab, speaking English pretty good and are driving us confidently through the traffic jam in the morning. From time to time our female driver hits shortly the side mirror of another car, but so what…On the second day we start immediately with the children who all come from the huge refugee camp here. Our Palestinian trauma helpers still have to correct their homeworks because the clinical diagnostics is not complete (DAS, UCLA-Child –traumatic stress inventory, DSRS and CRIES8 still have to be finished).

Initially two sandboxes are still missing but two cardboard boxes are organized very fast, and instead of ten children twelve children between the age of 8 and 12 are coming. Afterwards the participants divide again in two groups: Prof. Loew intensifies the techniques of self-stabilization and introduces beside the self-regulation of the trauma helpers the functional regulation in the Middle East for the first time. In Beate Leinberger‘s group each participant develops his lifeline, in a second step the trauma landscape and the inner safe location that the participants in Palestine draw too. After the alternation a lifeline paper and the trauma handling are demonstrated by means of EMDR in the plenum finally. After the work is done we are going to a typical restaurant where we make plans how the further cooperation could look like. The director of the institute prefers in this connection the offering of a MBA programme which shall be installed under the designation „art therapy“.


The third day:

After a short night and a breakfast offering that – how we already became acquainted with at the different places of the world - ranges from very sweet to sour (in short: you can eat all that in the morning what you could also during the day), our driver pickes us up with a delay of about 30 minutes. Nablus is almost as big as Regensburg – according to the population figure, however it is distributed on a much smaller area. The city is located between two steep hills (the altitude difference in the city averages about 300 meters) and the houses are partly built breathtaking steep in the hillside. The National University Al Nadjah, whose president we have met for a half an hour on the first day, is about as big as the University of Regensburg and offers eleven different faculties on two campuses. On the way out of the city on maximal two-lane, pretty crowded roads we are passing the National University Al Nadjah. Around 8.00 am in the morning students and pupils are swarming to their destinations. Accompanied by only little traffic we are driving across the country and are passing many a time wavy olive groves because the export article number one in this region are olives. Indeed it is a picturesque drawing that features us, only interrupted by a few Israelis settlements that decants very much from the townscape, as the houses of the settlements which are equipped with pitched roofs look like Western European newly-built quarters. However we don’t see any Israeli military, just as we didn’t see any Israeli police in the last days. After about an hour we arrive the first checkpoint where we are welcomed with very unfriendly faces and where our VW-bus – in the truest sense of the word - is sniffed for explosive substance. Shortly after this we arrive the freeway where we experience the usual rush-hour. At this juncture it is interesting that most of the cars are manned only with one person. We drive around Tel Aviv and arrive via deserted roads and by 26 degrees and sunny weather, - passing another police checkpoint that is located about five kilometers in front of the border crossing Erez where we are asked if we came here in order to take photos (very soon we will understand the sense of the question) -, a deserted terminal at Erez finally (the picture looks like an airport). Only a lonely international television crew has established his equipment here. We already forebode that something is different today. Finally a reporter explains us: today it is a historical day because the control of the border between Egypt and the Gaza Strip is transferred from the Egypts to the local police in the Gaza Strip and the question was, how the armed fractions of the Hamas would react to this act. It seems that they have withdrawn and therefore followed to the instructions of the administration in Gaza-City. In front of a running camera we are asked where we come from, what we are doing in the Gaza Strip and if we are afraid just due to the fact that there were dead persons here again in the last days. Our answer was an explicit no.

We are feeling safely and add that we are used to borders in Europe because we also had to live with a heavily guarded, almost insurmountable border in Germany for almost 30 years. And indeed the construction with all its elements (for example the repeated control of one and the same passport) reminds us of old border crossings of the DDR (German Democratic Republic) – however this time there were friendly faces. After an corridor enclosed with grids of circa one kilometer that we cut short with the help of a motorcycle-transfer (the price for this: 20 shekels),we arrive in Gaza-City. During the hour we needed for crossing this border, we saw three more persons who travelled in the same direction (they were young people with backpacks). Actually you can only cross this border legally if you can exhibit a reason, for example an invitation – as we did it – or if you work for one the many attendant aid organisations here (for example UNICEF). On the contrary tourism is not possible. At a parking area in Gaza-City many television crews were already waiting for us. The excitement was perceptible because the border crossing was still not organized on the part of the Palestinians. After another perceived kilometer our driver was simply let to pass at the border crossing – as the Palestinians here know among each other. Now we have finally arrived in the most compacted settled area on earth (4000 people are living here per square kilometer). The contact came off via a Palestinian doctoral candidate who is also taking care of the project with the Syrian children in Regensburg. The project was supported by PalMed, a German-Palestinian medical scientist organisation and the Palestine Children Relief Found (PCRF), an American NGO (Non-Governmental Organization) accredited to the UNO which makes sure that for about 40 years that children from the occupied Palestinian territories get the opportunity for example to be performed surgery abroad because these kind of surgeries are not possible in the occupied Palestinian territories, and could help thus about 1,000 little patients until now. Lastly we arrive the local campus of the new Medical School at the Islamic University after a car ride of circa 20 minutes where we are going to conduct our course for 80 participants mainly for medical and psychology students. After a short conversation with the dean and some academics, many of them speak German because they have studied in Germany and after a short guidance through the classrooms, our course starts.

One in three nice and technical well equipped lecture rooms is avalaible for us. Normally this lecture room is available for one study year of approximately 45 students. In this class room the male students sit on the left side, the female students on the right side and the professors in the first row then. Now we are starting with our common programme: Introduction in the theatre of war regarding the brain, symptomatology, clinical diagnostics – but everthing still in English now because the knowledge of the English language of the participants seems to be good. Clever and interesting interposed questions especially by the female students but also by the teachers impress us. It’s very important for the participants to have lunch break on time - also in order to perform their prayers for which they distribute in the corridors and in the offices. In the afternoon we proceed as normal that means the participants are divided in two groups and are spread in two rooms. Theory and self-experience in the sandplay, parallel to that the instruction regarding the techniques of self-stabilization continues – however now partly via sequential translation. The following evening gets then also very illuminating. After having a dinner with fresh fish that derived from tanks as the offshore sea is too polluted, we visit a refugee camp and are able to get a picture of the desperate situation of life there. Quickly we are surrounded by at least 50 children and young people. All of them are very friendly and willing to provide information although there is an unemployment rate of 40 per cent. In this connection we notice that there are also other groups here which are making offers regarding trauma therapy relating to children, for example the psycho- playwrights who are offering trainings here as well and therefore aslo a kind of a „multiplicator-model“. However it is unclear for us in this connection how the programmes are evaluated. For this we provide our help and our offering is accepted in thanks.


The fourth day: 

Today we are on the main area of the Islamic University because the children of the refugee camp can reach us there easier. It is Thursday – however it’s a feeling like being on a Saturday in Germany and the students have no lectures. Therefore it is quiet in the university, only our participants are attendant. Today we continue our working groups, whereupon the classification in gropus was easy this time: it was sorted by sex. After lifeline and EMDR respectively techniques of stabilization and functional regulation (the premiere in the Gaza Strip) we obtain a guidance across the campus and are able to see in this connection also the facilities of the neurological-orthopedic rehabilitation which is very oriented to inclusion and productive at the same time. The objectives which are produced by a team of disabled persons in the context of the occupational therapy are evidence of high quality but unfortunately they could not be easily exported. After having a fast lunch out of box – such a thing is also existent in Arabia – we dedicate ourselves again to the children. However this time they are already diagnosed and there are more children than we have expected: 22 in number. After our course that we finish on time, the places of interest of Gaza City are still shown to us. At the subsequent dinner in a restaurant that could also be located in Izmir or Tunis, we still find out a lot of things about the population’s situation of life in the Gaza Strip. In this context the discussions are getting more and more very personal. Among other things we find out that it is practically forbidden to travel for the Palestinians who are living in the Gaza Strip. In addition 60 per cent of the Gaza Strip’s population are under the age of 18: in order to express it casually, children are jailed here thus who are and were all confronted with the worst stresses and strains. The last intifada for example – a different word for riot – took place in 2011, associated with bombing raids, selective explosions of houses and supersonic jets in low-altitude flight over densely occupied areas – with all consequences for the population.

To say nothing of the prevailing disastrous economic situation in general, the arbitrary power cut-offs as well as wonderful but contaminated by excrement coastal waters that is therefore inappropriate for bathing and for the supply with fresh fish. Besides the coast sector in front of the Gaza Strip is concentration area for Israeli speedbaots which shall „protect“ the coast. As bad as the situation seems to be here, the advantage of these structures or „non-structures“ is, that ideas, if they are seen as good and meaningful by the relevant people, can be implemented non-bureaucratic and fast. 

Therefore several things can be launched very quickly what would be just impossible here in Germany because of the many administrative barriers, for example an area-wide screening, in order

to convey the demand for therapy – something that we have realised now in parts of Hamburg after hard effort. By the way the former health minister of the Gaza Strip is also attendant at this very interesting and illuminating dinner who takes a subordinated but neverheless influential position in this region in the framework of restructuring the Palestinian government. He speaks fluently German too.


The fifth day: 

We are driving back cosily to Palestine. The next destination is Ramallah where we meet Adham again, our doctoral candidate from Regensburg. He in person is not allowed neither to enter Israel nor the Gata Strip. The Israeli take themselves time by controlling our luggage until we get back our rifled and open suitcases after one hour again. Apparently they were interested in each and every sheet of paper because we have also the screening and clinical diagnostics sheets from Gaza-City and Nablus in our luggage. They aks us very detailled why we visited the Gaza Strip. However we have already experienced more unfriendly controls. It’s a pity that the draftees in Israel – young women have to pass military service fort wo years, young men even for three years – are instructed not to establish personal realtionships to the persons that they control every day. It seems that smiling is forbidden and many of them seems to be in a snit. About 13.00 pm we have arrived the destination of Ramallah finally. However a honking parade of cars turns out not to be a wedding community or celebrating soccer fans but as a family who is celebrating the disimprisonment of a arrested related. But back to the fact: Ramallah, the seat of government, is about as bis as the city of Kassel in Germany, there are many new buildings, also a few quarters with a percentage of 60 Christians that you can feel in the alleys therefore and alltogether an international flair prevails. We visit the Palestine National Museum and the grave of Jassir Arafat which is also a museum in principle and which presents the history of Palestine. Our clue: if someone should visit Ramallah one day, take the time for both buildings for at least three hours because they are really worth seeing.In the evening we still have an excellent dinner in a restaurant in which also most of the foreign politicians are fed who visit Ramallah. However we can’t talk our doctoral candidate and his cousin out of inviting us for the dinner. But the evening is not untroubled – also the related of Adham (he is 26 years old and by profession architect) has already spent three months in an Israeli jail without existing an official reason for the imprisonment. We ingest the subsequent tea in a café which could also be located here in Germany due to the presentation and the public. Our conversation is mainly focused now on the issue what is different between and similar in our cultures and what is presupposed Arabian and what is caused by the Islam.


The sixth day: 

On the last day of our programme we have planed a trip to Bethlehem so to speak as a reward for our effort. In Bethlehem we are going to visit again a refugee camp and a hospital in addition to the Church of the Nativity and the city which has surprisingly little residents (only about 30,000), however it represents a kind of „Little Jerusalem“ (we have already got to know Jerusalem). The way there would be short by itself, however it is prevented by the checkpoints and the walls. Therefore we have to drive around Jerusalem once and thus we are on the move for almost two hours – and all that for only 20 kilometers as the crow flies. Arrived in Bethlehem, a crowd chases through the churches. We can identify predominantly Russians, Americans, Poles and Italians. In the alleys it is rather quiet on the contrary – the Saturday is the Sunday here. About 16.00 pm we drive through the local refugee camp. Political slogans and portraits of Jassir Arafat decorate the walls of the houses, the houses itselves seem to be meanly and the tents gave way to firm buildings long ago. It is getting dark very fast. By reason of the holiday we relinquish to visit the local hospital also because our contact person on-site from PalMed could not arrive from Hebron unfortunately. On our return fare to Ramallah we get into a long traffic jam finally – and then our journey is already over again. The next morning we are picked up at 4.00 am in our hotel, in order to fly back to Germany about 7.00 am with a lot of impressions.

Our feeling is – it will go on.