Guardian story on mental health crisis, and lack of freedom, in Gaza ignores Hamas, & blames Israel

Angela Robson is a journalist covering development, gender and human rights issues.

So one would think that her Guardian report from Gaza focusing on social problems among Palestinians would at least touch upon the effects of life under an Islamist, despotic regime which denies its citizens democratic and human rights, and in particular upon the effect on women who suffer under what can at best be described as a government enforced culture of misogyny.

However, Robson (who was taken to Gaza by Oxfam) does not mention the word “Hamas” even once in her entire report (“Israeli blockade takes its toll on mental health in Gaza“, July 11th) – a fact even more remarkable in light of the fact that the strap line of the story cites the lack of freedom in the strip.

Robson, by use of unverifiable anecdotal evidence and questionable inferences, suggests a mental health crisis in Gaza totally of Israel’s making.

Typical are the opening passages, which recount the five-year unemployment by a Gazan named Abu Shawareb. Robson writes:

“Since the Israeli blockade of Gaza in June 2007, Shawareb has been unable to find another job. “We’ve been left to die slowly here,” he says. “I am just 40 but I feel as if my working life is over.”…He has been diagnosed with chronic depression and is on medication. The treatment is helping, but Shawareb still has days when he can barely pick himself up off the floor.”

So, by inference, the reader is to believe that Shawareb’s unemployment, and his depression, was caused by the blockade.

Leaving aside the fact that Robson completely ignores Hamas’s role in bringing about the blockade (the firing thousands of rockets into Israeli territory since they assumed power in 2006), the unemployment rate in Gaza in 2012 is 31.5% (per the pro-Palestinian NGO, Gisha) – a number considerably lower than it was during many quarters before the blockade.

In the first quarter of 2006, for instance (before the 2007 blockade), the unemployment rate in Gaza was nearly 40%. (See page 14 of this World Bank report.) Two years earlier, in 2004, the rate was 45%. While the unemployment rates fluctuated considerably in other quarters, there is no evidence of a statistical increase in unemployment as the result of Israel’s blockade on arms flowing into the strip.

Robson continues:

“Stress-related and mental health disorders are on the increase in the Gaza Strip, according to a recent report by the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine refugees in the near east (UNRWA). A combination of internal and external influences – including forced displacement, dispossession and occupation – have exacerbated the already high rate of mental health problems.” 

However, the report does not even attempt to demonstrate causation and provides no empirical evidence indicating that whatever increase in mental health disorders may exist are  indeed related to the blockade.

Robson then quotes an official from the Gaza Community Health Center, thus:

“Hasan Zeyada is a psychologist and manager of the Gaza Community Mental Health Programme. According to a study by the GCMHP, depression has increased by nearly 18% among Gazans since the blockade.”

A link to the GCMHP study is not included, so it is impossible to determine the veracity of the claim, or how they proved a correlation between the blockade and an 18% increase in depression.  However, it is important to note that GCMHP is an NGO with an extremely radical agenda.  

Per NGO Monitor:

  • Eyad Sarraj, president of the GCMHP is on the Board of Advisors of the Free Gaza Movement, which is working in conjunction with the IHH terror group to organize a flotilla to Gaza in May/June 2011. 
  • During the June 2009 Goldstone mission hearings in Gaza, Sarraj made antisemitic remarks: “. . . inside Israel there is an identification with the aggressor, the Nazis.” 
Robson concludes with the following passage about spousal and child abuse in Gaza:

“According to a 2011 study by the Palestinian central bureau of statistics, 51% of married women had experienced violence from their husbands in the previous 12 months. Approximately 45% of children between 12 and 17 in Gaza have reported experiencing physical abuse at the hands of their parents.”

Are we to assume that the blockade causes Palestinian men to beat their wives and children?  

Domestic violence in surrounding Arab countries would suggest that such abuse may be a product of Palestinian social mores, rather than any Israeli action.  In fact, within the Palestinian Authority, at present, there are no laws to protect women from domestic violence.  Further, honor killings of women have increased in recent years. (See reports on the abuse of women – including physical and sexual abuse, honor killings, and female genital mutilation – in other Arab countries, here, here and here.)

Indeed, completely missing from Robson’s report is any information on repression of Palestinian men, women and children in Gaza by the Hamas regime and the connection to systemic human rights violations in the territory may have with mental health disorders and other social problems.

For instance a summer camp for children, run by Hamas,  forces children to experience “first hand the daily lives of prisoners held in Israel”.  The camp guides explained that “the mock prison set up for the camp is divided into six rooms, each simulating the incarceration conditions of Palestinian prisoners”. The first room is an interrogation cell, which is where prisoners are first led once entering the prison.

Per Ynet:

“One of the main heroes of the camp is Ibrahim Hamed, who was the head of Hamas’ military wing in Ramallah and is responsible for murdering dozens of Israelis. The guides boastfully tell the children how Hamed, who was recently sentenced to 54 life sentences, has continually refused to give his interrogators any information, including his given name.

Ahmad Rantisi, one of the organizers of the summer camp, said that its goal is to allow children to get a tangible experience of the suffering of Palestinian prisoners, and strengthen their belief in the protection of Palestinian land and the high price that must be paid.

In addition to the mock prison, the children participate in different activities, including military training, religious studies and walking on boards with rusty nails and knife blades.”


Such abuse of Palestinian children, which certainly could explain some of the social problems in the strip, would likely never be reported by the Guardian.

Further, it is stunning that a report on the mental health “crisis” in Gaza would ignore the supremely relevant factor of the Hamas regime’s systemic abrogation of Palestinian human rights.

Per Freedom House:

  • The media are not free in Gaza.  Journalists were harassed, detained, and summoned for questioning by security forces.
  • Freedom of religion is restricted in Gaza. Personal status law, which governs matters including marriage and divorce, is based on Sharia (Islamic law). Under Hamas, the authorities—including quasi-official “morality police” and Hamas-affiliated volunteer dawa groups—increasingly enforce orthodox Sunni Islamic practices and conservative dress. In addition, security forces and militants routinely harass worshippers at non-Hamas-affiliated mosques.
  • Due Process: Security forces and militants continued to carry out arbitrary arrests and detentions.
  • Women’s rights: In August 2009, the Education Ministry began requiring female students to wear hijab (headscarves) at school. In 2010, Islamist militants burned down UNRWA summer camps, accusing the organizers of teaching young girls “dancing and immorality.” Under Hamas, personal status law is derived almost entirely from Sharia, which puts women at a stark disadvantage in matters of marriage, divorce, inheritance, and domestic abuse. Rape, domestic abuse, and “honor killings,” in which relatives murder women for perceived sexual or moral transgressions, are common, and these crimes often go unpunished.  Under Hamas, women’s dress and movements in public have been increasingly restricted by the so-called morality police, who are tasked with enforcing orthodox Islamic customs.

Robson’s piece is thoroughly consistent with Guardian reports about life in Gaza – ignoring the fact that Israel’s legal blockade was necessitated by Hamas’ decision to prioritize firing rockets at Israel (and launching cross border terror attacks), over the more mundane tasks of social and economic development. 

The view of Palestinians – even those possessing the most extreme, violent and reactionary values – as perpetual victims of Israeli oppression is so ingrained in Guardian Left thought – and such an article of faith – that competing narratives regarding the “root causes” of Palestinian suffering are rarely – if ever – considered.

At the Guardian, Israel’s villainy is predetermined, and simply immutable.

17 replies »

  1. I wrote the following here previously and I stand by it

    “Eyad al Sarraj is well known in the psychotherapeutic community for his one-sidedness and blinkered views about the effects on Palestinians of their successive governments’ terror policy and attitude to Israel (ie he is stuck firmly in the “they can’t help it” camp, rather than being capable of presenting both sides of the narrative).

    This could be because he is afraid for his own safety if he were to do anything to undermine Hamas, but somehow I think that this is not his main driver. All his statements about the Israel-Palestine conflict lack the sense of professionalism one would expect from a psychiatrist and are emotion- rather than reason-led and evidence the same “Israel causes the terrorism” brand of moral cowardice one hears from Hamas leaders . That his son behaves in the way you describe is therefore not surprising.

    In all the learned journal articles I have read about him I can find no evidence that he has once said that Palestinian children should not be brainwashed into hatred by Hamas. Instead he resorts to the “they can’t help it” default and bystands, and in bystanding adds to the incitement and the psychological damage to the very children and adults he claims to care about. Whatever he may pretend he is certainly not a man of peace.”

    And elsewhere: “… And El-Sarraj makes no secret of his “scientific” opinions in other matters, too. He is on record as opining, “Are they evil by nature, these Jews? Or are they stupid, born mentally subnormal? I found after long, long thinking about it that they are not born evil. And they are not stupid. They are psycho-pathologically disturbed”
    Note also that he refers to “Jews” rather than “Israelis.” ” (emphasis added here)

    • Not just any Jews, but “These Jews”.

      My guess is that his defence team (from the PSC) are already preping a statement saying he was refering to the Jews from “Habarbanel” mental institution in TA.
      Mind you, they’ll huf and puf about what he meant but, just like with Ahmedinejad statements, he’ll never feel the need to explain himself.

      And they call us spin Drs.

  2. The source for El-Sarraj’s fulminations

    Note the date. Note how long this campaign of obsessive vilification has been going on. Note that nowhere in this latest CiF article is any attempt made to offer an even-handed explanation of what might have caused this, nor is any mention made of the psychological damage caused by shelling to the children of Sderot in southern Israel.

    Were El-Sarraj qualified in the UK, then I would not hesitate to make a formal complaint to his professional body.

  3. I note that neither al-Sarraj nor Angela Robson choose to mention the vicarious traumatisation which must have been caused to these children by Hamas’ violent behaviour to its own people and their being brainwashed into wanting to die, as I describe here at

    For children to have to witness this from the very people who are supposed to take care of them makes the world feel a very unsafe place.

    • Robson is a journalist who reports from Gaza.

      CIF Watch writers are not journalists and they report from their homes, not from Gaza. They cannot verify the “information” that they post online, which is why it is often preposterous and even sometimes a source of comic relief for the reporters who actually file from Gaza.

  4. Unbelievable. Not a single mention of either Hamas or Egypt (re. the blockade)

    Plus this:
    According to a 2011 study by the Palestinian central bureau of statistics, 51% of married women had experienced violence from their husbands in the previous 12 months.

    If the author wants this report – and the allegations against Israel – to be taken seriously, she should include comparative figures from previous years/other locations.

    I don’t have any data available, but I could well imagine that living under Hamas is not exactly conducive to mental well-being.

    And this bit …

    Many men think that [tramadol] will help sexual performance, which often deteriorates under stress

    … is just bizarre.

    • “I could well imagine that living under Hamas is not exactly conducive to mental well-being”

      Certainly. So imagine how worse your mental well-being can be when you’re also living under Israeli blockade and torn apart from your family living in the rest of the Palestinian territory (West bank, East Jerusalem).

  5. One must wonder what sort of mental support did the family members (mainly the children) of those fatah members pushed to their death from the tower blocks in Gaza must have received in the Hamas ran health facilities.

    • Itsik, do you ever wonder what sort of mental support did the family members of the victims of terrorist Baruch Goldstein receive after this man killed their relatives in mass murder while they were praying in a holy place?

      • I’ll bet they were offered it, Benyamin.

        Palestinian children witnessed Hamas Fatah violence – it wouldn’t occur to barbarians who teach them that it’s glorious to die (while never putting themselves in danger at all) to be aware enough to shield them from it. This, added to the stories they are told about Jews would lead to their traumatisation.

  6. Oxfam has a long history of antipathy to Israel and has flirted with antisemitism. In 2002 they were forced to withdraw a poster which drew upon the blood libel.

    So no surprise that their paid-for stooge Angela Robinson found exactly what they wanted to hear.

    I got a call from Oxfam last week incidentally. I told the young man at the other end of the phone I was not interested in Oxfam, and had no time for them. He asked why. I said they were highly politicised. He said he’d be interested to hear more. I told him I objected to their Middle East policy. He said he was interested in my opinion. I said Oxfam are very anti-Israel. His voice changed. Suddenly he wasn’t my friend any more.

    This is the ugly face of Oxfam.

    • Oxfam has a long history of standing for human rights. You cannot expect them to stand by the side of Israeli settlers living in illegal settlements built in the neigbouring Palestinian territory in violation of international law, can you?

      • Are you being deliberately obtuse? Oxfam colludes with the malignant self-pity of Palestinians, the world’s richest refugees, and sends out the message that it’s OK to remain spongers rather than work towards peace!

        Oxfam has no right to have opinions about settlements or any other government issues, but its cloying and misplaced pity for Palestinians sticks them in the role from which they get the most sympathy, and wrongly, of manipulative victims.

      • Which ‘international law’ do the settlements violate? Who says the settlements are illegal? Only those who want to deny Israel the right to exist in peace. Perhaps you could quote the actual law – the statute and the jurisdiction which passed that statute – instead of merely bandying words around.

        Just because you don’t like them does not make the settlements illegal. They are built mainly on territory captured from Jordan in Israel’s war of survival in 1967. Israel offered to hand this territory back to Jordan in keeping with UN Resolution 242 which all the Arab nations rejected because it included a condition which required them to accept the right of Israel to exist in peace (the bit which Israel’s enemies somehow see, to forget when citing this resolution as an example of Israel’s refusal to accept UN resolutions). In fact, of all the countries involved, Israel was the only one to agree to this resolution. The Arab response was no peace, no negotiation, no Israel.

        What’s more, there is no such thing as ‘international law’ – another phrase bandied around by Israel’s enemies. There are international agreements between countries but these apply only to those countries which sign up to them. There may be a consensus of opinion amongst countries, but that doesn’t make it law. Supposing all the governments in Arab / Muslim countries agreed that the only religion which could be practised in the UK was Islam, would that make it law? Would Britain be in breach of ‘international law’ if it refused to adhere to this ‘law’?

        Now I don’t know if you use words and phrases such as ‘illegal’ and ‘international law’ out of ignorance or malice, But if you continue to use them without providing substantiation by quoting the appropriate statute(s), then we will know that it is malice and that no-one interested in contributing towards a peaceful resolution of the whole Middle-East situation should take any heed of anything you say.