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“Where Olive Trees Weep”: Dr. Gabor Maté & Ashira Darwish on New Film Exploring Trauma in Palestine

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A new documentary, Where Olive Trees Weep, explores Palestinian loss, trauma and the fight for justice over decades of life under Israeli occupation. We speak with two people featured in the film: Ashira Darwish, a Palestinian journalist and therapist, and Dr. Gabor Maté, an acclaimed Hungarian Canadian physician whose work focuses on addiction and trauma.

“I was only 16 when I was taken,” says Darwish, describing the first time she was beaten and arrested by Israeli soldiers, which motivated her to become a journalist in order to both document and fight against the occupation. “What’s happening in Palestine is devastating, and what’s happening in the West Bank and Gaza has been going on for 75 years.”

Maté, a Holocaust survivor born in Hungary, recounts his own trauma as a child and says “that same horror” is being inflicted on Palestinian children today.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman.

We turn now to that new film, that explores the struggle of the Palestinian people under Israeli occupation through themes of loss, trauma and the fight for justice. It’s called Where Olive Trees Weep. It features people like renowned trauma doctor Gabor Maté, Israeli journalist Amira Hass, Palestinian activist Ahed Tamimi and Palestinian journalist and therapist Ashira Darwish. This is the trailer.

ASHIRA DARWISH: I heard the stories of the pains of how people were tortured in these spaces. I never believed it until I saw. And when I saw, I couldn’t unsee it.

NETA GOLAN: It’s so important for people to understand colonization in order to understand what’s happening in the world. And here in Palestine, you know, it’s happening now.

AMIRA HASS: So, how does the world completely turn a blind eye to the Israeli continuous violence and says Israel is the victim? This is the big — this is the big question.

ASHIRA DARWISH: I would see it and still get surprised every single time, that how could this soldier just shoot me? We are so dehumanized, to the point where they can come and they can exterminate you, because, to them, you’re nothing but a rat.

DR. GABOR MATÉ: I’m not pro-Palestinian, but I’m pro-truth. And the truth is, the Palestinians have been oppressed and suppressed and murdered and controlled and dispossessed for decades. That’s just the truth. There’s no post-traumatic stress disorder here, because the trauma is never post.

ASHIRA DARWISH: Your brother and your sister being in chains will not make this experience on Earth acceptable. Your chains will be still held by my chains. And unless I am free, you won’t be free.

AMY GOODMAN: The trailer of the film Where Olive Trees Weep, that premieres today. That last voice, the voice of Ashira Darwish, Palestinian journalist and trauma healer. She’s joining us from Newton, Massachusetts. She previously worked as a journalist and as a researcher for the BBC, for Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International. And we’re joined by acclaimed Canadian physician and author Dr. Gabor Maté, who’s also featured in the film. He is a Holocaust survivor, Order of Canada recipient and a Hungarian Canadian retired physician known for his work on trauma, addiction and childhood development, the internationally best-selling author of five books published in 40 languages on six continents. His most recent visit to the West Bank was in 2022, when he led a healing workshop for Palestinian women who had been imprisoned in Israeli jails. He’s joining us from Provence, France.

We welcome you both to Democracy Now! I’m wondering how you each got involved with this film. And also, Ashira, as a journalist and a therapist, your response to the latest footage showing young men attacking and surrounding a Palestinian journalist named Saif Al-Qawasmi, attacked on duty, beaten on the head, a video, Haaretz journalist Nir Hasson also said attacked by a group of Israeli nationalist youth and posted video showing the violent scenes? What’s going on right now in the West Bank, which this film, Where Olive Trees Weep, focuses on?

ASHIRA DARWISH: Good morning, Amy. I’m glad to be here with you from [inaudible] land.

What’s happening in Palestine is devastating, and what’s happening in the West Bank and Gaza has been going on for 75 years. What happened to the journalists is not something new. This happens every single day. It just caught the cameras this time. We have hundreds of journalists incarcerated in Israeli prisons. And my friends and colleagues who were attacked in Jerusalem, and I know them personally, and it’s just horrific to watch them getting beaten.

But this is the reality every single march in Jerusalem, where the Israelis take over the streets, and they harass, terrorize the population there. And they are, of course, not friendly to the journalists, because they don’t want anyone filming them as they chant “Death to the Arabs” and as they attack the Palestinians. Every day on this day, for a Jerusalemite like me, I would walk through the streets of Jerusalem just to say that “we are here, and this is our right to be here.” And we get attacked, and we get fought back, and we have the army supporting these settlers as they march in our streets attacking us. And we basically get put on lockdown. We’re not allowed to walk in our streets. The shops are all closed. It’s just basic terror on this day in Jerusalem.

But to be honest, it has been like this since before 7 October. Jerusalem has become a city of ghosts. Armed soldiers have closed down the main entrance of Damascus Gate. Our streets have become death traps. Going to Al-Aqsa Mosque is one of the most spiritual, but also, for me — as a child, I grew up next to Al-Aqsa Mosque — it’s my playground. Not being able to walk there, being — every time that we walk, we’re always in fear of soldiers that are walking, and they’re just waiting for you just to make a smile at some point, just to be caught, strip-searched, stood on the walls. And it’s just becoming more and more terrifying to be there.

AMY GOODMAN: In the film, Ashira, you describe your own experience being beaten and arrested by Israeli security forces. Can you describe what happened?

ASHIRA DARWISH: So, on that day, my mom woke me up. I used to — we used to live, at that point, closer to Ramallah.

AMY GOODMAN: When was it?

ASHIRA DARWISH: And she wanted me to go to this peaceful protest. Sorry?

AMY GOODMAN: When was it? What year?

ASHIRA DARWISH: This was in — it was in 2001. It was at the closure of the Orient House in Jerusalem. And it was a time where we had protests in the West Bank most of the time, and it was more of clashes. And my mother wanted to take me to a protest to show me that there is another way of resistance. And it was a joint protest between Israelis, Palestinians and internationals, and it was a singing protest. So, in the beginning, I was like, “My god, Mama. What do you think this is going to do? It’s like, what is our singing going to do to liberate anything or help anyone, for that matter?” And I went very, like, skeptical. And then, when I saw the people chanting, and I was like, “Oh, this is beautiful,” because I love to sing, and we started singing.

And I did not even imagine. Like, when we are in protests in Ramallah, soldiers are far. They shoot and fire at you. You’re lucky you get, like, tear-gassed. If you’re not lucky, you get a live bullet. And there’s distance between us and them. This one, it was very close. And the soldiers just rammed us with horses in the beginning, and then they put these, what they call Musta’ribeen, Israeli soldiers undercover. And one of them grabbed me. And I thought we were doing a human chain, but then I realized everybody was moving further.

And that was my first experience of being held down and attacked by the soldiers. And I was on the floor, and the cameras were flashing. And they were beating me with sticks on my knees, trying to break my knees. And I would just remember waking up and closing my eyes and just not understanding why the cameras are just taking pictures of me. And I was only 16 when I was taken. And I knew — I was shouting when I got into the Jeep, and then the other activists were like, “Calm down. They will take you and beat you,” until I saw a kid, where they dragged him and they put his head into — they smacked his head into the Jeep. And then I was like, “OK, this is, like, not — like, this is — this is serious.”

And when we went to the police station, naive me thinking the police — at that point, I still didn’t really realize the levels. So, I thought the police will be better than the soldiers. And then, of course, it wasn’t better. And I was slapped in the police station to sign a paper. And I basically gave away my mother. I told them that it was my mother’s fault, she took me, I had nothing to do with this, and that I would never go there on my own, and — just so I can get out of that wretched place. And it was the Muskubiya. It’s one of the most horrific places on planet Earth. If there’s one dream that I have in my life, it’s that to turn that place into a museum, where we can just mark what has been done to people in that place. And that was my first experience there. And then I was detained two other times. But, yeah, that was the first time.

AMY GOODMAN: And then, can you talk about how that experience led to your desire to become a journalist and why you believe that journalism can play a role in peacemaking?

ASHIRA DARWISH: So, for me, it was an almost immediate reaction because of the cameras. I was really upset that the cameras were filming me and none of the journalists decided to, like, pick me up or help me. And I wanted to do music before. That was my thing. I always wanted to chant and sing, and I used to play the qanun. And that moment, I think, a few months later, I had to register in college, and I was like, “I’m going to do journalism, because I want to do journalism differently. I want to be the journalist who documents and tries to help.”

And there’s no such thing as being on the — this whole Western theory about balanced reporting. If you’re being balanced in a situation of a genocide, then you’re complicit in genocide. There’s no white and black in this. Journalism is a profession that’s supposed to open the eyes of the people, and so that they can do something to put the governments in check. And, of course, the situation right now is the governments and the capitalists basically control the media, so it’s all one thing. But that was when I made the decision. And yeah, I also paid for it afterwards, because I was arrested for my journalism, as well, detained the two times.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to turn to another clip from Where Olive Trees Weep that features the longtime Israeli journalist Amira Hass, the daughter of Holocaust survivors, a Haaretz correspondent for the Occupied Palestinian Territories. And then we hear from our next guest, Dr. Gabor Maté.

AMIRA HASS: The issue is the present-day, ongoing settler-colonial project, that, by definition, is meant to take the land and create a political system that excludes the Indigenous people. Two hundred years ago in the States or New Zealand or Brazil, it was not considered violations. It was the norm. Now, because Zionism is an anachronistic settler-colonial movement, the world understands it’s not according to the norm, but the world accepts it.

DR. GABOR MATÉ: In this Holy Land, there’s always been a lot of violence and oppression and injustice, going back to ancient times. And then, the foundation of the state of Israel, which could only have been accomplished by denying the rights of the local population. So, in that sense, it’s just another colonial project. In 1917, when [Arthur] Balfour, the British foreign minister — who the hell was he to promise a foreign land to anybody else?

AMY GOODMAN: That’s Dr. Gabor Maté, the acclaimed Canadian physician and author, Hungarian Canadian, going back to Hungary. Today you’re in Provence, in France, Dr. Maté. In Normandy, world leaders have gathered for the 80th anniversary of what’s known as D-Day, where more than 150,000 Allied troops forged a beachhead for the liberation of Europe from Adolf Hitler’s Nazis. You yourself had your experience in the Holocaust, fled from Hungary. Can you talk about how that connects to your deep concerns about what’s happening in Palestine?

DR. GABOR MATÉ: First of all, thanks for having me back on your program, Amy. And thanks for your coverage of this issue over the past months.

There was a study done in 2005 reporting many studies done on the mental health of Palestinian children. And a large percentage of them, long before Hamas became the ruling government in Gaza, a large percentage of Palestinian and Gazan children were suffering symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, which included nightmares, aggression towards the parents, bedwetting. Now, I wet my bed 'til I was 13 years of age, because I was born the same year that D-Day happened — I was born in January — as a Jewish infant under Nazi occupation and bombings and all the stress and trauma. How could I not relate to the experience? And my mother took me to a psychologist when I was 8 or 9 years old for the bedwetting. And I remember what the psychologist said. She said, “Madam,” she says, “if bedwetting is the only symptom this kid has, you're very fortunate indeed.” Well, it wasn’t the only symptom that I had. And if you look at the studies of Palestinian children published in 2005, again, long before Hamas took over — if anybody thinks history began on October the 7th, they should read that study in the journal of World Psychiatry. The most prevalent childhood exposure of traumas were witnessing funerals, witnessing shooting, seeing injured or dead strangers or a family member being killed or injured. And a large percentage of these kids had PTSD symptoms. This is 20 years ago in Palestine, in the West Bank and especially in Gaza. So, now that it’s the 80th anniversary of D-Day, which was the beginning, at least on the Western Front, of the defeat of the Nazi empire, how can we not relate that to what’s going on right now, when these children in Gaza are witnessing all the things that I just described that people in Gaza have been witnessing for decades, and that I myself experienced as an infant? And the resonance is just too powerful.

And this beautiful film — and, actually, the most beautiful part of the film, as much as I love my friend Ashira, is not the part about her, although she plays a major role in it. It’s just when the filmmakers show the experience of Palestinian peasants and shepherds and ordinary people, and what it’s like to live under this, in the grips of this brutal and relentless occupation. And so, I went there to work with that. And yeah, this anniversary of D-Day really resonates for me. Again, it’s the 80th anniversary of my own birth, that year, but also that same horror being reenacted now on Palestinian children and Palestinian people.

AMY GOODMAN: In this clip from Where Olive Trees Weep, that’s premiering today, we hear psychologist and human rights activist Helena Beatriz Manrique Charro of UNRWA, the U.N. agency for Palestine refugees. She works with schools in Bedouin communities in the West Bank.

HELENA BEATRIZ MANRIQUE CHARRO: You are not in a situation where the traumatic situation had happened and now people have a safe space where you can work on that. So you need to understand that working on trauma will be in a context of ongoing traumatic situation. You cannot make a normal life if you are all the time in touch with the pain and the sorrow and the grief.

AMY GOODMAN: And in this clip from Where Olive Trees Weep, Palestinian Ahmad Saleh Barghouth describes being displaced from Al-Walaja village during the Nakba.

AHMAD SALEH BARGHOUTH: [translated] I was born in the village Al-Walaja in 1947. The Israeli occupation took over our village and deported us. We were displaced into the hills, and we settled here, temporarily, in caves and tents, hoping to return to our village, as was promised by the United Nations. We lived the life of refugees, displaced with no home, land or income. Being a stranger in your own homeland is a dreadful feeling, a feeling that is not easy to accept, but what else can we do? This is the reality we live in.

AMY GOODMAN: Dr. Gabor Maté, if you can take it from there? You were born three years before this. You’re 80 years old now. And talk about what it meant for you to flee Hungary and then what you see when you return to the West Bank just two years ago.

DR. GABOR MATÉ: Well, you know, there are some such sad parallels. In a few days, I’ll be visiting Hungary. I’ll be showing my children for the first time the very spot, the very paving stones in Budapest, where my mother gave me to a total stranger to save my life, and I didn’t see her for five or six weeks. You can go through Hungary and Eastern Europe and not know that there used to be Jewish life there, Jewish villages, buildings, synagogues, schools. You can go through Israel and not know that there used to be Palestinian life there, villages, schools, graveyards.

Now, in the West Bank, which is my third visit there, two years ago, to work with these women, many of them who had been tortured in Israeli jails and have had all the typical symptoms of what we call post-traumatic stress disorder. But what I can tell you is that the atmosphere in the West Bank two years ago, when I was there, was much heavier than even when I had been there for the first time during the First Intifada. At that time, in 1992, when I first visited, there was still an air of hope. The world seemed to be paying attention to the Palestinian cause at that time. There was a fair bit of sympathy internationally for the legitimate rights of the Palestinians. Two years ago, there was despondence. People felt alone, abandoned. The pressure of the occupation, the intensity of the — there’s hardly any family whose members had not been jailed at one time or another. There was the intensity of the occupation, the checkpoints, the surveillance, that terrible wall that you can see [inaudible] of the Occupied Territories. It had all combined to create such an air of despondence and sense of aloneness.

At the same time, I had to be very impressed with the resilience, the ongoing willingness to endure amongst Palestinians. And I actually also should mention here the sympathetic and brave Israelis who stand up to all that, Amira Hass being one of them. And some of them helped to organize my visit, as well. So, it’s not a question of, you know, Jews versus Arabs or Palestinians versus Israelis. It’s a question of a system that has imposed itself like a monster, suppressing and squeezing the life out of Palestinian national, cultural and personal life. And that’s what I saw when I was there two years ago.

And the women I was working with, what was interesting is the commonest symptoms, you might say, was a sense of guilt that they hadn’t been strong enough to resist, that they hadn’t rescued their friends. It’s a typical trauma response that these things, it’s all my fault. But it was, you know, as somebody who works with trauma, to witness all this on such a massive scale, even for me, was shocking. And what little could I do to help them? At least what I could do, and what this film does, and what your program does so consistently, is to witness, is to witness so they don’t feel so alone, so Ashira doesn’t have to feel so alone with her experience.

AMY GOODMAN: We want to thank you so much for being with us, Dr. Gabor Maté, acclaimed Canadian physician and author of many books, now heading to Hungary, where as a child he was handed by his mother to a stranger as he fled the Holocaust; Ashira Darwish, Palestinian journalist and trauma healer — both featured in the new film, premiering today, Where Olive Trees Weep.

Next up, we speak with New York Representative Jamaal Bowman. Some are calling him the most endangered Democratic congressmember in America. Stay with us.

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