- The Washington Times
Sunday, June 10, 2007

RAMALLAH, West Bank — More than nine in 10 Palestinians show signs of depression caused by despair over violence between Hamas and Fatah gunmen and the apparent demise of the Palestinian unity government, according to a West Bank pollster.

Jamil Rabah, the director of Ramallah-based Near East Consulting, said he found that 92 percent of Palestinian survey respondents suffer from depression-related anxiety, a jump of 15 percent compared with a poll in October and more than double the level from November 2005.

“The higher the level of depression, or discontent, the higher this score comes out, the higher the social fragmentation of society,” Mr. Rabah said.

Mr. Rabah said he built a depression index with questions used by the World Health Organization to study the Balkans.

The group polled 801 Palestinians from the West Bank, Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem for the latest survey, which has a margin of error of 3.4 percent.

The poll was taken last month, following a deadly flare-up between Hamas and Fatah gunmen that left dozens dead in Gaza and laid bare a dysfunctional unity government. The unrest cuts across region, political affiliation and social class, according to the poll findings.

Analysts fear the growing despair will cause more grass-roots Palestinians to be drawn into an internecine conflict, which has been largely limited to militias from rival parties and families. Other reactions include rising support for radical Islamic militant groups as well as increasing waves of emigration.

“There’s a high level of frustration. It’s getting dangerous. There isn’t any value to life,” said Ibrahim Habib, field-work coordinator for the Israeli chapter of Physicians for Human Rights. “A lot of people feel the [Palestinian] Authority is irrelevant.”

Cairo Arafat, a psychologist and an official in the Palestinian Planning Ministry, said that, though the survey doesn’t address levels of clinical depression among Palestinians, it indicates an erosion of Palestinians’ coping mechanisms developed over seven years of daily clashes with the Israeli army.

In addition to the internal fighting, Palestinians are hemmed in by Israeli restrictions on their movement, as well as an international aid boycott of the government.

The government is divided, with the presidency controlled by the secular Fatah movement and the Islamist Hamas, which refuses to recognize Israel, forswear violence and recognize peace accords.

“We’ve never [before] been a society where we’ve had any type of significant internal struggles,” Miss Arafat said. “Internal violence with the continuing levels of poverty and unemployment was a significant marker for many people that the situation was deteriorating further.”

Palestinians have become more critical of their leaders because of the chronic lack of security, but they also blame the international community for supporting parliamentary elections in 2006 and then turning their backs on the democratically elected Hamas government.

Though they realize the current Hamas-Fatah government is a failure, there’s little confidence that a new election will produce a more stable result.

“There’s a better diagnosis of the problem, but there’s no clear solution,” she said. “We’ve tried this, and we’ve tried that, and it’s not working. When you get in a position of not knowing what to do, it creates a situation of helplessness.”

Palestinians see the infighting as a significant blow to their decades of struggle for a sovereign state.

In Gaza, where the lawlessness is most acute, that situation has provided fertile ground for Islamic militants who are more radical than Hamas to lay down roots.

“The depression will move in more than one direction,” said Iyad Barghouti, a scholar who studies Islamic movements. “We will witness a multiplication of radical and fundamentalist groups.”

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