Overcoming trauma in Palestine’s Beita

Life in the occupied West Bank town of Beita, near Nablus, has been turned upside down ever since Israeli settlers re-established the Evyatar outpost on Palestinian land in May 2021.

Weekly protests against the land grab have resulted in clashes with Israeli forces. According to the UN, 10 Palestinians, including two children, have been killed by Israeli forces’ live ammunition, and 6,800 have been injured. The Israeli army has also carried out search and arrest campaigns to quash the unrest.

Israeli authorities designated some 60 dunams (15 acres) as ‘state land’ in October 2021. A freedom of information request filed by the Israeli NGO Peace Now revealed that Israel allocates over 99 per cent of state land in the occupied West Bank for Israeli use only. According to international law, this public land should be preserved and developed for the benefit of the occupied population.  

In response, the then-attorney general Avichai Mandelblit approved legalising the outpost under Israeli law. All settlements are illegal under international law and condemned, virtually unanimously, by the international community.

The violence has affected the daily life of almost every single resident of the town, including children. Since July 2021, the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC), with the support of EU Humanitarian Aid, has implemented psychosocial support to children in Beita. The partnership with EU Humanitarian Aid allowed NRC to provide psychosocial support after the first killings to 593 students. 

Our psychosocial support programme for children is named the Better Learning Programme (BLP). It is a classroom-based psychosocial approach to supporting children who have been exposed to traumatic experiences because of conflict and displacement. The programme creates the right conditions to improve children’s ability to learn. It mobilises children’s support networks of caregivers, teachers and school counsellors – and takes a broad approach to helping to restore a sense of normality and hope. 

BLP was jointly developed by NRC and Jon-Håkon Schultz, a professor of educational psychology at UiT The Arctic University of Norway in Tromsø. With the support of EU Humanitarian Aid, it was first launched in the occupied Palestinian territory in 2012. Some 63 per cent of children in the West Bank reported improvements in their ability to do homework, and 92 per cent reported reductions in nightmares after participating in the programme. 

Students of Beita Mixed Elementary School participate in the morning assembly, 6 September 2022. NRC’s Better Learning Programme, which trains teachers on how to deal with traumatised students, has supported two schools in Beita.
Teacher Anwar Bani Shamseh leads an English language class at Beita Mixed Elementary School, 6 September 2022. “BLP has mainly trained teachers of major subjects, since we spend more time with the students on a daily basis,” says Bani Shamseh, who tries to integrate these techniques in her classes, in addition to separate psychological support sessions she runs every week.
School social worker Basma Omair leads a psychological support class at Beita Mixed Elementary School, 6 September 2022. “It is great to have many teachers trained on how to deal with students’ psychological pressures, which is usually the school social worker’s duty,” says Omair, who has been working as a social worker for 12 years.
Principal Blance Omar in her office at Beita Mixed Elementary School, 6 September 2022. “Four fathers of students at our school were killed by the Israeli army in the past year. As for injuries or detention cases [of students’ family members], this is countless,” says Omar, who has been managing her school under extraordinary circumstances recently.
Student Maisan Sharafa, 11, in her classroom at Beita Mixed Elementary School, 6 September 2022. Sharafa lost her father in July 2021 who was shot dead by the Israeli army. For months, Sharafa’s safe place was her father’s grave. “My teachers helped me to find another safe space, which is the balcony of my house, where I meditate while looking out over my town,” Sharafa says.
Student Janat Khdair, 11, in her classroom at Beita Mixed Elementary School, 6 September 2022. Khdair witnessed her uncle’s workplace burn down in a suspected settler arson attack. Although Khdair was sad, she held back sharing the incident with her school community, including her teachers. “During a BLP session, I finally felt fine about sharing, which was a good decision that helped me a lot,” says Khdair.
Teacher Hani Bdair leads a geography class at Beita Elementary Boys School, 7 September 2022. In the past year, Bdair has noticed that the protests taking place in the town and the escalation by the Israeli army have occupied boys’ minds. “It is healthy to have students discussing such matters, but as a teacher, I also had to help them to focus on their studies, at least during the classes,” Bdair says.
Student Habib Tayeh, 11, poses for a picture at Beita Elementary Boys School, 7 September 2022. Tayeh says BLP sessions have been helping him to better focus while studying. “Not all boys believe that these exercises benefit them. They think it’s for girls only. They think they are not weak, and they don’t need help,” says Tayeh, who personally believes that BLP benefits both male and female students. “I was also sceptical at the beginning. Once you enrol, you like it very much,” he says.