War and trauma: Addressing mental health in Palestine

published 3 July 2024 updated 8 July 2024

The toll of war on teachers, students, and their communities in Palestine, is reaching catastrophic levels. Education International, with the direct support of affiliates around the world, continues to support its members, as they face the uncertainty and trauma of a devastating war.

According to the latest reports from the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) more than 34,900 people have died in Gaza since Israel began a bombing and ground campaign in response to Hamas’s deadly Oct. 7 attack. The figures include 7,797 children and 4,959 women killed and more than 10,000 yet to be identified. In addition, about 96 percent of the population in the Gaza Strip (2.15M people) face high levels of acute food insecurity and 22% are on the brink of starvation.

Acting on the many donations received for its Palestine teachers initiatives, Education International has transferred additional funds to its member organisations in Palestine to develop tools and training on teachers’ mental health amid the ongoing war.

The Teachers Empowerment Initiative, which began in January, provides social-emotional support for teachers and students in the West Bank, along with direct support for teachers in Gaza and the West Bank. In Phase 2 of the program, approximately 80 teachers were trained to design and integrate social-emotional activities into their curricula, significantly enhancing their skills. This phase, led by the General Union of Palestinian Teachers (GUPT), also included collaboration with the Palestine Early Childhood Education Union (GUWKPS), training about 20 private school and kindergarten educators.

The trauma of war

The initiative's necessity stems from the ongoing conflict's devastating effects on Palestinian teachers and students. The war has also inflicted severe psychological trauma, leaving many individuals anxious, tense, and depressed.

Since October 7th, 2023, education has been under relentless attack in Gaza and the West Bank, with hundreds of thousands of children deprived of their right to education, tens of thousands of teachers having lost their jobs, and hundreds of schools in the Gaza Strip totally or partially destroyed. The death toll amongst pupils and teachers continues to rise daily as Israeli military forces bomb the area and block humanitarian aid.

Teachers in both Gaza and the West Bank have not been paid since October 2023. W ages have been withheld due to the interruption of the payment of tax revenues to the Occupied Palestinian Territory by Israeli authorities. Despite the horrific conditions, teachers continue to be present and engaged with their students.

In June, EI member organisations in Palestine began imparting skills in social-emotional learning. This training is vital for developing teachers’ competencies in well-being, including self-management, self-awareness, social awareness, relationship skills, and responsible decision-making. Providing psychological support is crucial to improving the educational environment, which is essential for students' well-being and interest for their academic journey.

The long-term goal of the GUPT-led Teachers Empowerment Initiative is to benefit thousands of students and teachers in Palestine by alleviating the effects of trauma, rebuilding psychological well-being, and fostering resilience. The program aims to establish a network of trained facilitators to expand its impact.

Additionally, the initiative seeks to increase attention to mental health within Palestinian society, particularly within the Ministry of Education.

Global Unions solidarity

From 28 to 30 May 2024, leaders of the Global Union Federations (GUFs) and the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) travelled to Ramallah in Palestine to convey their solidarity to unions and workers in the West Bank and Gaza.

Working with Palestinian affiliates and others, the GUFs pledged to intensify efforts to help local trade unions navigate these difficult times for workers and fulfil their role as key drivers of change in Palestine.

The delegation expressed its deep concern over the grave humanitarian crisis faced by the people of Gaza, and renewed the global union movement call for peace, equality and justice. The delegation declared: “Trade unions are part of the global peace movement. We stand for peace alongside such important values as democracy and humanity. That’s why we are here.”

Education International continues to advocate for an end to the war between Israel and Hamas, the release of all hostages, and an end to indiscriminate violence.