Trauma Vortex: Voices of Palestinian Mothers under Occupation

The paper Crows on the Cradles: Palestinian Mothers at a Frontline Vortex by Judy Roth and Salwa Duaibis, was published in the International Journal of Applied Psychoanalytic Studies. Judy Roth, PhD, is a Clinical psychologist and psychoanalyst, The Society of New York University, Postdoctoral Program in Psychotherapy and Psychoanalysis, Inc., New York, USA, and a member of Psychologists for Social ResponsibilitySalwa Duaibis is a Human Rights Advocacy Officer, Women’s Centre for Legal Aid and Counselling, Ramallah. Co-founder Military Court Watch, New York, USA.
Below Dr. Roth zeros in on the highlights of the paper and the questions from which the paper evolved


Crows on the Cradles: Palestinian Mothers at a Frontline Vortex, strives to capture the experience of mothering under occupation blending different approaches to witnessing [1]. The mothers brought us into the eye of a traumatic storm that is both external and internal.

The paper evolved from the following questions:  Do the stories of Palestinian mothers matter?  And, to whom?  And, is there any value to bearing witness, if there is little we can do to change things?  And as witnesses, do we have any responsibility to disseminate what we learn?  And if so, what are some of the possible artistic and educational mediums we might use to engage others and to convey realities that we know challenge collective identity and, as one colleague said, “flood the psychic floor”?

While this article is about trauma that infects and contorts, it is also about life—life that can galvanize and lay claim.  It is in this spirit that we take our work to the streets, so to speak.

Some points about our work:

Trauma:  It is commonplace on the Israel-Palestine slope to talk about trauma in terms of the generic symptoms of posttraumatic stress. But these mothers are telling a story that is anything but generic, and their anguish is not post-trauma:  It is cumulative, sequential, and continuous traumatization.

We believe that these women’s stories speak volumes about the damaging impact of this particular occupation at this time in history. The anticipatory terror around night raids, the arrest and detention of children, and the repeated incursions into homes, penetrate the most private realms of family and marital life and the deepest recesses of a woman’s psyche. Over time, we hypothesize, these mothers have to “die” more inside in order to manage emotionally, a means of coping that Robert Jay Lifton termed, “psychic numbing”.  We believe that Palestinian mothers are facing a trauma vortex that threatens the family unit and by extension the cradle of community life. The extreme violence and life endangering situations might overburden even the strongest, impeding an ability to create a protective space for families [2].

While the paper is about Palestinian mothers, we tried to bear in mind the Israelis who carry out harsh policies— many of them young adults—and their mothers/fathers. The paper ends with a link to an infamous Breaking the Silence clip that captures the psychological dangers that are hovering over Israelis who perpetrate such violence.

The challenges throughout, which so many face, remains:  Is it possible to step out of silence and disrupt denial constructively and with hope, in the face of opposition and delegitimization?

Judy Roth, PhD

[1] Ullman, C. (2011) Between denial and witnessing: Psychoanalysis and clinical practice in the Israeli context. Psychoanalytic perspectives. 8:179-200.
[2] Qouta, A., Punammaki, R, El-Saraaj, E, (2005). Mother-child expression of psychological distress in war trauma. Clinical child psychology and psychiatry. 10(2): 153-149.
Full citations:Roth, J., & Duaibis, S. (2014). Crows on the Cradles: Palestinian Mothers at a Frontline Vortex, Reflections on the Psychology of Occupation. International Journal of Applied Psychoanalytic Studies.

Silwan, 2012. Photo: Judy Roth

Silwan, 2012. Photo: Judy Roth

ArrestsHouse incursionsMothersNight RaidspsychoanalysisSilwantraumaWitnessingwomen