Living in the midst of the conflict in the Middle East entails plenty of suffering, but it also challenges people to look for coping mechanisms. For many Palestinians, voluntary work and family are sources of meaningfulness in life. Furthermore, humour, nature and maintaining everyday routines are also important factors supporting coping, according to research from the University of Eastern Finland. In his doctoral dissertation, Mikko Häkkinen, MSc, analysed data collected in fieldwork, shedding light on the experiences of suffering and psychosocial coping among Palestinians.
Instead of addressing the psychological damages caused by the prolonged conflict, the study deliberately focuses on Palestinians' experiences of coping. Conflict-related psychological symptoms are well documented in earlier research, whereas analyses of everyday coping remain scarce.
"There is no point in looking at people living in conflict areas merely as passive victims of the circumstances. They remain active and capable of creating the frameworks for their own coping," says Häkkinen. He is a trained psychotherapist, and has worked as a relief worker in conflict and disaster areas.
For his PhD study, Häkkinen lived and experienced the everyday life of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza for a period of three months. The majority of the data was collected using snowball sampling, a research method in which the person being interviewed selects the next interviewee. The method took him all over the Palestinian territories, from big cities to small villages. Furthermore, data was also collected by group interviews, questionnaires, and observing.
Coping is a sum of cherishing hope and everyday routines
Experiences of imprisonment, restrictions to free movement, bombings, as well as frightening and humiliating situations in military-operated checkpoints constituted sources of suffering for people living in the occupied territories. Moreover, inhabitants of the Israeli colonies were seen as a threat..
However, the study shows that Palestinians have a wide arsenal of coping mechanisms they can resort to in the midst of the prolonged conflict. The data reveals ten different coping-related themes: participating in voluntary work, humour, putting things into proportion, an idea of Palestine, family and community, spirituality, cherishing hope, nature and other revitalising environments, power of routines, as well as tobacco and substance use. The study describes the ways these themes are present in Palestinians' everyday lives.
"For young adults, voluntary work is a way to do something meaningful for the community. Furthermore, voluntary work also offers opportunities for creating relationships and feeling unity with others. This is extremely important for young adults who are unemployed or who have just gotten out of prison, for example."
Häkkinen hopes that the results will broaden the conceptions of life in conflict areas and help in the planning of psychosocial support measures aimed at people living in these areas. "It is justified to assume that supporting existing coping mechanisms and making as extensive use of them as possible is a good foundation for various psychosocial support measures in conflict areas."
The doctoral dissertation, entitled Psychosocial Coping in Prolonged Conflict. An Ethnography of Palestinian People in the midst of Ongoing Volatility is available for download at:
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