By Dr. Samah Jabr
April 04, 2007

As I was specializing in psychiatry in Paris, I became familiar with the work of the ex-French-actress Brigitte Bardot and her foundation, which works for animal rights across the world. Bardot is especially famous or infamous for her annual denunciation of the Islamic ritual of slaughtering of sheep during the Muslim feast of Eid Al-Adha.

But, this story is neither about Bardot and her animals’ rights nor about the avian flu. It is about where my heart is: with the well-being of the children, especially in Palestine.

The other day a young man came to my clinic with a frown on his forehead: “Doctor, he did it again; he killed one more chicken in the same cruel way. Do something for him, please, doctor, we want him back to a normal mind,” said the uncle pointing at the boy that I later understood to be his nephew.

The uncle reported that this might be the sixth time they found a strangled, mutilated chicken in their backyard over the last three years. While they did not know who killed the chickens in such an awfully cruel way at first, Khaled was seen in an olive grove, far from the sight of people, with a chicken in his hands. Both, the chicken and Khaled were crying loudly; but Khaled cried louder and louder as he was holding the head of the chicken and turning it rapidly in a circular movement as if he was attempting to separate it from its body as the chicken’s cries gradually disappeared. Then Khaled took the silent chicken by its neck and kept beating the trees, the rocks and the ground with its body. When he finally finished, feathers, blood and a mutilated animal were left in the grove.

Khaled is today a 12-year-old boy. In May 2003, he lived in Hebron at the border of the Kiryat-Arbaa settler colony, and it was there that he lived through a horrible calamity that has affected his life from that moment on and that has changed him from a normally developing playful, friendly child to a withdrawn, rigid, inflexible, impatient, dependent, impulsive and aggressive one.

According to the uncle of the child, Khaled was playing with three of his friends as a military vehicle carrying a huge quantity of barbed wire passed by them. The wires swayed left and right with the movement of the vehicle and, accidentally, caught hold of the four children. The vehicle continued on its way until the wire was accidentally detached from the vehicle; the children were found approximately 500 metres away from their original place of play. The uncle provided me with photos, medical reports and news reports documenting that story.

All the kids were seriously wounded and hospitalized for their wounds at the governmental hospital of Hebron. Khaled had a serious head trauma and multiple cut wounds and abrasions on his back, arms and legs. According to the family, during that period, nobody spoke with Khaled about what happened to him because they were all worried about his physical health and overwhelmed by the incident.

When Khaled was finally discharged from the hospital and returned back to his home, it became obvious that his suffering was not over. The boy seemed socially withdrawn from his family and friends; he started wetting his bed every night and suffered from sleep disturbances. He has nightmares and wakes up agitated, crying and aggressively scratching his face with his nails. His shouts are incomprehensible; his words are gibberish, according to his family. “Other than that, the boy almost does not speak; if he talks, he complains about headaches,” adds the uncle.

At home, Khaled is destructive. He breaks all the toys and he often becomes aggressive with his younger siblings. He is particularly hostile when others ask him questions or speak about the incident he went through several years ago.

At school, they complain that he lacks discipline and concentration on any task. He is very slow and his learning performance is quite low. The family also reported a reduction in the personal level of cleanliness of the child.

According to the family, there were several periods of slight improvement of the general functioning of Khaled, but, every time, that improvement was soon aborted by other incidents involving violence with the soldiers, at which point the symptoms would recur more intensely than before. In July 2004, one of Khaled’s schoolmates was shot dead by the soldiers. In February 2005, the family house of Muhammad was invaded by soldiers of the army for routine reasons of investigation, and several months ago he was caught in the middle of confrontations between the settlers and soldiers on the one hand and the citizens of the Old City of Hebron on the other hand.

Khaled lives in a modest house with his family. He is the third child among eight siblings. The father is a 44-year-old schoolteacher; the mother is a 34-year-old housewife. Like many other Palestinian children, he is being taken care of by the extended family: grandparents, uncles and aunts, in addition to his parents. The uncle reports that since the incident, the mother became very protective, at the same time, very permissive. The relation of the child with his father has also changed. The father was severe in the past, now he is ambivalent; he is hesitating between showing an intrusive interest in Khaled and completely ignoring him.

During the interview, the boy was clinging to his uncle, refusing to speak or to play. He refused to remain alone with me. I explained why I was there. He almost did not speak during the interview except that occasionally he nodded in approval to some of what I told him; nor did he establish any spontaneous eye contact with me. He hid his face with his hands, especially when the uncle spoke about the enuresis. I invited him to draw. He started to put lines on paper and then proceeded to tear them apart. He looked sad and seemed tired. I told him that there seems to be a problem but I cannot help him if he does not want me to do so. He nodded his head in approval when I invited him to come back, and he pressed my hand in response to my initiative to shake his hand.

Upon physical examination of the child, I could see the large scars on his body as I could see the scratch marks on his face due to the auto-mutilation, but I could not measure the dimensions of the hidden scars beneath. The uncle tells me Khaled is perverse; he has no empathy whatsoever. I do not agree, and I do not know what is in the mind of that young boy.

To treat the root cause of the pathology of Khaled and others like him is not within my hands. But I hope to give him some support and treatment to ease his symptoms and to get him to speak, to draw and to express himself in order to communicate his inner feelings in a healthier way than mutilating the chickens.

Until those who are responsible for the war on our people stop their military machines, I can’t help but think about Khaled and other children like him in Iraq, in Lebanon, etc., wherever they are, inside or outside Palestine. In the meanwhile, I ask of you, who have on your supermarket shelves more animal food than baby food, to lend us some of your attention, if not for the children, then for the chickens of Palestine.

Samah Jabr is a psychiatrist living and working in occupied Palestine.

Source: The Palestine Times. April. 2007


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