Playing on Stairs with no Banister: Manal Abu Haq tells “Born Equal” about a paper she is writing on being a therapist in East Jerusalem

A different perspective on the children of the “knife Intifada”: I heard from Manal Abu Haq about a paper she is busy writing as a therapist who worked in East Jerusalem. She told me “During that period I had a dream in which children were playing on a flight of stairs with no banister. I was standing at the bottom of the stairs and I said “I can’t. I know I’ll fall. Maybe the children will survive, but I won’t.”

“I understood the missing banister as the support of holding needed in all circles – needed by children, by their parents and by therapists. I also understood how threatened and missing this holding was in the reality of East Jerusalem. The dream echoed an experience that sent me to look for a space of recognition and holding through writing.”

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“The lack in holding is related to the fact that the services in East Jerusalem are less developed and there are less trained and experienced professionals. The professional framework of supervision and seminars which provide holding is missing. The families in East Jerusalem are missing the desirable systemic support. It’s a kind of no mans land, where authorities are less inclined to enter, and less services are available. In addition, parents are dealing with basic survival and an experience of helplessness in confronting their situation. The children have less holding because of the weakened holding capacity of the parents and because of the political situation which creates a reality that attacks the secure space.”

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“Children need a potential space in order to develop. The roles of the parents is to identify where this space can be given and where they need to give protection, because the dangers have heavy repercussions. For example a child who wants to go out and throw stones with his friends. The work with the parents is to help them see his will not only as a difficulty with boundaries, but also as a developmental need, a positive drive to belong. It’s important to emphasize especially with a child who is dealing with social difficulties and a feeling of being different. On the other had letting him go out might endanger him and parents need understanding for their concern for their child’s wellbeing.”

“When I can give this understanding parents can feel more calm, and a space for thinking opens. Then they can find a solution themselves, for example letting the child join a resistance activity that doesn’t endanger him.”

“It’s not easy to keep a professional, observing stance, without taking an opinion, without falling into an educational position; to clear a space for thinking in a space constantly under attack, so parents can have a choice about raising children; and not to leave them on their own in there places.”

“Working in East Jerusalem is working with children living in an area suffused with danger, violence and trauma. For example, a child in whose extended family someone did a terror attack, and as a result the child’s father lost his job, the house next door was demolished ect. The experience of the father as a strong figure who can provide for the family and protect their home was harmed. The child came with a symptom of banging his head against the wall. The family arrived in a state of chaos, bombarded with things to cope with on many fronts. The role of therapy was first of all to create a space which would allow for dealing with the different topics in their parenting; to strengthen the father for reaching out for help despite the chaotic situation, and doing an active step coming from a concerned parental stance. His motivation to give his children a better live stood out. It was also important to give him a space where he could recognize his son’s aggression and be with his concern for him. It was important to see and empower his parental stance as a father.”

“Going back to the stairs with no banister – as a therapist I do work to open up a space and I need to know that when I do this motion of opening there will be something I can lean on, a banister to hold me from falling. Under the conditions in East Jerusalem instead of this support, there is something which pushes one to close, to narrow, to survive and move on. The psychotherapist’s work is to stop, to observe, to recognize things and this is very difficult without the different circles of holding. It’s these processes which I would like to explore further in the paper I am now writing.”

I am keenly waiting to read her paper.

Naama Hochstein (Born Equal)

*Thank you Maada Center, Silwan, for permission to reprint the drawing.

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