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Normalising the abnormal: Palestinian youth and the contradictions of resilience in protracted conflict

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This qualitative study explores the construct of resilience by Palestinian youth in the 10th to 12th grades at school living in and around Ramallah in the West Bank. We look at how adolescents themselves interpret and give meaning to the concept of resilience in dehumanising and abnormal conditions. The aim is to ‘problematise’ the construct to go beyond quantitative research and objective inquiry. Focus groups were conducted with 321 male and female Palestinian students in 15 schools in Ramallah and the surrounding villages. This study presents findings that are consistent with previous research on the value of supportive relationships such as families and friends. Political participation and education are vital to a sense of identity and political resistance. However, a key finding reveals the normalisation of everyday life in fostering resiliency within abnormal living conditions. Palestinian youth, nonetheless, paint a picture of resilience that reveals contradictions and tensions. This study underlines the fluid and dynamic nature of resilience. Despite the desire for order, Palestinian young people complain of emotional distress and boredom. Feelings of desperation are intermingled with optimism. We also argue that the concept of resilience developed in predominantly Western settings ignores a local idiom of communal care and support. International and local organisations providing psychosocial care rely on trauma programmes based on a Western style of counselling. An over-emphasis on individualised intervention overlooks the notion of collective resiliency and fails to build on existing social capital within communities. Policy-makers should do more than ‘tweak’ preconceived projects to fit the cultural context or to replicate them from one conflict area to another. We should also keep in mind that the search for psychological well-being and justice are not mutually exclusive.
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Keywords: Palestinian youth; health; normalisation; policy; resilience; social care

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: Institute of Community and Public Health, Birzeit University, Ramallah, West Bank, Occupied Palestinian Territory, and 2: Social Program Evaluation Group, Faculty of Education, Queen's University, Kingston, Ontario, Canada

Publication date: May 1, 2008

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