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The Psychological Adaptability of Palestinian Citizens of Israel to the Pandemic of Coronavirus

by Khawla Abu Baker*

Citizenship and Trust. The responses of Palestinians citizens of Israel (PCI) to the pandemic of Covid19 Virus depended on ecological aspects that included: national, cultural, religious and economic notions of affiliation from the exosystem that intersects with family dynamics in relation to couple and family functionality. These variants constitute measurements for their reaction to the stress generated by the pandemic. PCI who believed that the state would take responsibility on them and treat them equally to the Israeli Jewish population were more compliant with the authorities’ instructions and directions.

The pandemic hit Israel during an unstable political period when the state was busy with an election campaign. Groups who had no faith in the government suspected that all information regarding the virus that was disseminated by the authorities was a political manipulation. Contradictory information regarding the pandemic was translated from many languages into Arabic and was widely spread over social media platforms stressing that the information offered by the government was fake and all its suggested solutions aimed to secure the government, and not the citizens.

Subcultures, Minorities and Trust. The pandemic had spread immediately after the Jewish holiday in Israel, especially among Haredi ultra-orthodox Jewish believers. Since the majority of the two populations live separately, Palestinians have not experienced its immediate influence on their daily life. A few weeks later, when the holy month of Ramadan began, Moslems were asked to celebrate the month with the nuclear family who live in the same household. This instruction contradicted with the religious expectations from believers: to rebind with family, extended family, community and people in need during the holy month. Moslems celebrated the month according to religion and traditions and the virus spread widely among extended families.

Leadership during a Stressful Period. The official instructions to the population were not consistent nor efficient. Contradictions regarding the population’s behaviour between health and pandemic experts from the one hand and politicians from the other hand caused a crack in people’s faith. Israel forced 4 lockdowns on the populations that caused the loss of a treasured of financial, educational and cultural activities with very little compensation. Lack of clarity and inconsistency of the instructions to the population contributed to the notion that authorities wanted only to suppress and control Palestinian citizens, with no clear program to eradicate the pandemic. This caused people to carry on with their personal, religious and social celebrations. Later on, Palestinian professionals were appointed to talk directly to Palestinians via all media platforms in Arabic language.

55% of Palestinians citizens of Israel live below the poverty line . Most of the poor work in daily labor or live off unemployment pension. Some of them were not registered as employees in small businesses; therefore they were not eligible for any financial support. Palestinians witnessed the army distribute food, according to a government decision, to the ultra-Orthodox cities that were under total lockdown due to the outbreak of the Coronavirus. Palestinians’ criticism and feeling of alienation towards the state increased and their noncompliance was reinforced.

The Consequences of the Pandemic on the Palestinian Family in Israel. Norms: About two-thirds of the Palestinians live in the same household or neighborhood with their parents and extended families. Lack of land and poverty bring men to build their own houses as extensions to their parent's. This factor, an intersection with religious and norms’ expectations bring men to maintain a daily visitation to their parents, especially when they become sick or elderly. As a result, the pandemic hit many members of the same extended family at the same time.

Poverty: The pandemic shone a spotlight on poor families who lived in small poor houses, with almost no internet connection or enough devices to allow all children to access zoom classes or parents to work from home. In crowded small houses children and parents suffered from the noises of other internet sessions, a fact that caused disputes and tension among family members. In addition, family members muted their sessions and refused to put on cameras in an attempt to protect their privacy and to hide scenes of poverty in their houses. This act caused some sanctions from teachers who had no previous training to deal with such circumstances. A few weeks after the transition to remote schooling, poor children got new devices (PC, IPad etc.) from local authorities and they were able to re-join classes. Digitally illiterate parents were not able to guide their children to operate class zoom meetings, let alone to help them with their homework. The school achievement of this group was extremely poor in comparison to their previous achievements and to other groups. This, in addition to extra private lessons that rich students could afford, widened the educational gap between social classes.

Marital Disputes and Violence. Due to 4 total lockdowns, families experienced -for the first time- spending weeks together with no ability to go out or to have visitors. The affect was differential on various types of families: it constituted a good period for highly functional families, as parents shared together home tasks and children's responsibilities so they would be able to continue to focus on their own jobs. As a result, marital relations of this group improved. Families posted photos on their Facebook accounts praising the period that allowed them to live this experience and suggested activities in favor of family closeness. As for families who suffered from previous problems, marital disputes increased and for some, domestic violence was exacerbated. Cases of cyber affairs, virtual sex and gambling addiction, increased as well. Statistics of the Ministry of Welfare indicate that the rate of new cases that suffered from domestic violence and individuals who needed therapy during the pandemic had increased by 35% compared to the previous year. Police statistics indicate an increase in the number of complaints that had been registered, some of which were attempted murders within the family. One could predict that other unfiled cases will surface in the near future due to severe family problems.

Women: In general, the sense of welfare of women working from home has worsened, as the responsibility of regularly caring for their children in school has been assigned mostly to them. Additionally, they were expected to prepare meals for their families during their working day as the concept of "working from home" vs. " working at home" has not been fully rooted in Palestinian families. Coronavirus also offended women emotionally vis a vis their relations with their families of origin. As most Arab women move to live close to the husband's family of origin, during the long lockdowns they were unable to visit and take care of their own parents, especially those in need of special care.

The pandemic challenged Arab value systems and traditions. In cases of losing elderly parents, their children and close relatives were not able to be with them at their last minutes nor to pursue the same traditional ceremonies after the death leaving the family without alternative new behaviors. Many mourning people live without suitable closure to their losses. Contrary to this situation, especially in the remote towns where there is no constant police oversight, people broke all laws of the pandemic to be very close to their extended families, spreading the virus and increasing the number of deaths within their own extended families, in-laws and among acquaintances, which shaped the situation of double bind where the individual was in an emotional crisis, regardless of his or her behavior during the pandemic. Muslims, who constitute about 80% of Palestinians in Israel, believe in predestination. This facilitates their agonies in time of illness or death of beloved ones. Immediately after the loss, they blamed the state for its failure to manage the pandemic while taking Arab culture, religions and traditions into consideration.

Politics Managed the Pandemic. The pandemic coincided with the Israeli overthrow of the government, followed by three election battles, whereby Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu did not succeed in forming a stable government. The swift decision to give all Israeli citizens the vaccine was among the election tools. Rumours were spread indicating that the state would implant, through vaccination, a tool to spy on Palestinians. This caused the rejection of the vaccination, and to the continuation of the high rate of sick and dead Palestinians. The personal and community stress among Palestinians worsened.

In summary, one could find similarities in the analysis of reactions to trauma and to the coronavirus pandemic. When intact families experience a traumatic event, usually its positive process causes more cohesion and strength to its individuals and to it as an entity. For dysfunctional families, trauma exacerbates its dismantlement and then exacerbates their problems. On the community level, when it possesses proven and culturally appropriate tools to support the traumatized, their recovery will be fast, and this will increase their cohesion and confidence in their society. During the coronavirus pandemic, because the state did not recruit the appropriate tools at the right time with Palestinians, it caused individuals, families and communities to feel lack of cohesion, lack of trust, and a longer time for communities to recover from the multiple effects of the epidemic.

*Khawla Abu Baker, (Ph.D, LMFT), is in private practice. She is President of “The Society for the Palestinian Couple and Family Therapists in Israel" (R.A)

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