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The Red Rose of Palestine. Laila Atshan
© Hugo Hørlych Karlsen, NordØsten Forlag NordOsten Books 2012
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NordØsten Forlag NordOsten Books
By the same author about Palestine:
The Palestinian Boy Who Would Not Die. Jamil Abu-Kabir, NordØsten Forlag 2012
NordØsten NordOsten Books’ English ebooks:
Table of Contents
Part of a Whole
Symptoms of Deeper Issues
The Questions of a Child
External and Inner Enemies
Resistance, Legitimacy, Rights and Moral Duty
The Wolf Is Coming
What’s in the Universe?
The next mails are from Laila Atshan during the 22 Days of Big Killing in Gaza 27th December 2008 till 18th January 2009 when the Israelis invaded from sea, air and land with heavy shelling and destruction of any kind
The Chickens and the Guns
I Can’t Write More – Incidents behind the Scene
Hugo Hørlych Karlsen
Literature and Notes
O rose of blood! let your petals open
in the body of the bird,
in burnt children,
in the rivers of corpses.
Like a hidden seed,
be open to the cycle of the seasons.
this is the pollen,
this is the trembling of the fields.
Adunis (Ali Ahmad Said)
I know exactly what she was doing when the killing in Gaza began that day, 27th December 2008. She was sitting at her computer in Ramallah, East Palestine, and was just about to write a mail to me. As she is blind, the text voice program on her computer had just managed to say my name as the addressee of her mail when the first call interrupted her.
Blinding flashes of white light exploded out of the sea, the air and the earth on children, women, old and young men, killing and wounding thousands of innocent and defenceless people in the course of 22 days of bombardment and invasion by tanks and troops into the part of Palestine that the Israelis had turned into the world’s biggest concentration camp and that they had been besieging for several years, thus denying sufficient food, medicine and fuel for the people there.
After she had finished taking calls from friends and acquaintances about the events in Gaza and had managed to digest the shock over the horror there, she got round to sending me a mail. It was 30th December 2008.
Who Is She?
Who is she – this woman fighting to survive and trying to find some kind of inner peace and reconciliation in order to write a mail in the midst of horror? She is a Palestinian, a psychologist who has studied in the USA and who for 20 years has worked with the rehabilitation of victims of ethnic cleansing, colonization and torture in Palestine. Working for the UN, for UNICEF mostly, she has also been in countries such as Sudan, Iraq and Denmark. Her clients are children and families.
Her name is Laila Atshan. She is one of those people who – in the midst of ethnic cleansing and colonization and the terror they produce – try to comfort the oppressed and relations of the oppressed by giving them some sanity in the midst of insanity, committed as she is to protecting and supporting humanity until the day Palestine/Israel becomes a democratic society with equal rights for all kinds of religious as well as non-religious people – Muslims, Christians, Jews, Atheists, and Agnostics.
Laila Atshan’s parents are from the village of al-Haditha, which was situated on the west bank of Wadi al-Natuf, eight kilometres north-east of al-Ramla. It had an elementary school for boys which had been founded in 1924 and which had 42 students enrolled in 1945. The Zionists attacked al-Haditha on 12th July 1948, whereupon along with the other villagers Laila Atshan’s parents were driven out by a Zionist gang.
Laila Atshan was born into this refugee family in Ramallah, one of ten children, three of whom are blind, herself included. She grew up in a missionary boarding school in Jerusalem. She then completed high school in a school called Dar Altifil. She took a B.A. in Sociology at the Bir Zeit University and a Masters in Clinical Social Work in the USA, at Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey. After graduating she worked for a year, and then she was called to supervise the rehabilitation program for youths who were injured by the Israelis in the first Intifada in Beit Sahour, a Palestinian village near Bethlehem.
Her response to the job was to invent what couldn’t be done for her. She made it clear to herself what the real situation was, and then she applied her understanding of the political situation in order to rebuild people’s lives. Thus, by effecting a change for the better in the lives of ordinary Palestinians, she has contrived to confirm her own Palestinian identity.
Her most important philosophy in life was, and still is, that every person has access to great resources and needs a safe environment for these to flourish. Psychological and social help is paramount in helping people to move on after a trauma.
Her second principle was, and still is, that if people with a trauma or a disability are to be helped, then they need to maintain contact with their community. People need roots in order to fly. Thus working with the families and the community has been, and is, equally important for the individual’s rehabilitation.
Laila Atshan has worked in Denmark on several occasions. And her work in Denmark with Palestinian refugees was motivated by these same issues of acceptance and belonging. Because she herself is blind and comes from a country where colonization and occupation has raised seemingly insuperable barriers, she is able to relate to the lack of appreciation and nurture that refugees are bound to experience. On troubled boys she showered compassion and care, thereby showing them that she believed in them. In speaking to the families of these youngsters she emphasized that the principles of culture and identity are heartfelt entities. Families in exile often feel excluded and incompetent, which results in the parents behaving aggressively and forcefully towards their children, thereby creating a bigger gap between them.
Back in Palestine, she worked with the Palestinian Ministry of Education to help children who felt school was like a permanent jail on account of how much time they spent there. Here again, her work was directed towards changing judgmental attitudes about children when they behave badly or are poorly motivated. She worked with teachers to create a more positive environment. Humanizing teachers through personal disclosure is important for change. Sympathetic people in positions of power are important assets for change.
She then worked in Sudan, which was a personal challenge for her, and here again she tried to transform a traumatic situation into positive strength. She worked in Darfur for a month, and then in South Sudan for another month.
She also did something similar in Iraq with university teachers. She worked on healing their own traumas so that they could create balance and peace in what was a very hostile environment.
After the Israeli incursions into Jenin and the country as a whole there was a great demand for mental health workers in Palestine, where, as an extra disincentive, check points prevented people from reaching each other. Through UNICEF Laila Atshan started a psychosocial team in Jenin. It consisted of existing GOs and NGOs. The idea was to create a local team to support the community. Another idea was to create a spirit of cooperation rather than the negative competition that is often the case in traumatized communities. The team worked well, and she then organized another ten teams in various Palestinian cities.
Her motto for these teams was: “If you can’t get what you want, use what you have and improve it.”
The teams function like a supportive family, and thanks to their great motivation they have to date been a great help to their communities. Just recently in Salfeet Laila Atshan experienced a counsellor who came in late and started crying the minute she opened her mouth. Her husband had been suffering from undiagnosed pains, and his brothers had been so out of their minds with frustration and helplessness that they had had an argument with both the doctors and the security men. The team was very supportive. Many cried with her, as her pain brought out the pain of others. Only then, by way of examples such as this one, could the team move on and be useful to the community that so desperately needs them.
Emotional belonging and people’s resources are important in Laila Atshan’s work. Colonization, occupation and injustice sometimes lead to disasters that could have been prevented by personal healing. Connectedness is essential for healing as part of moving on.
While she knows that human need is great and that she is only a small part of it, she does believe one thing:
Lighting a candle is better than cursing the dark.
She herself is very playful, which is something that helps keep her candle lit. Love is her ammunition in doing anything or going on any mission. Love for oneself with all one’s limitations is an important start. She swims, plays music, plays with children, travels, and makes a fool of herself. This keeps her sane.
From 2011 till 2012 Laila Atshan took up a scholarship at Harvard to complete a Master's Degree in Public Administration from the Kennedy School of Government. And preparations for the English version of this book, in July 2012, find her back in Palestine to resume her work there.
This book quotes several mails Laila Atshan sent to a Danish friend in the three years following 22nd April 2006. They were never intended for publication, but with Laila Atshan’s permission they have been included here.
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