Humiliation takes harsh health toll,

Humiliation takes harsh health toll,

Re­peat­ed hu­milia­t­ion can take a steep health toll, ac­cord­ing to a group of sci­en­tists who stud­ied the ef­fects what they called the hu­milia­t­ions of liv­ing un­der mil­i­tary oc­cupa­t­ion.

But some oth­er re­search­ers ques­tioned the stu­dy’s meth­od­ol­o­gy and called for fur­ther in­ves­ti­ga­t­ion.


The study was con­ducted in the West Bank, a Pal­es­tin­ian land un­der Is­rae­li oc­cupa­t­ion and plagued by al­most cease­less low-grade war and spi­ral­ling pov­er­ty.

Gun­men and su­i­cide bombers from Pal­es­tin­ian ter­ri­to­ries reg­u­larly try to slip in­to bor­der­ing Is­ra­el to at­tack their oc­cupiers.

To count­er this, the U.S.-backed Is­rae­li mil­i­tary oc­ca­sion­ally at­tacks al­leged ter­ror­ist cells in Pal­es­tine. On a more eve­ry­day ba­sis, it op­er­ates a per­va­sive net­work of bar­ri­ers and check­points both on its bor­der and in­side Pal­es­tin­ian lands, os­ten­sibly to catch ter­ror­ists.

These and oth­er con­trol meas­ures, such as de­clar­ing some roads and lands off-lim­its to the lo­cals, trig­ger reg­u­lar com­plaints of frus­t­ra­t­ion and hu­milia­t­ion from the popula­t­ion. Typ­i­cal sto­ries in­clude “wom­en in la­bor who are made to wait end­less­ly… wom­en who are forced to tell sol­diers that they are bleed­ing so their hearts will soft­en… the boy who tries to per­suade a sol­dier to let him pass so he can vis­it his grand­fa­ther,” Is­rae­li jour­nal­ist Gid­e­on Le­vi wrote in the Jan. 18, 2004 is­sue of the Is­rae­li news­pa­per Haa­retz.

In the stu­dy, Rita Gi­a­ca­man and col­leagues at Birzeit Un­ivers­ity in Ra­mal­lah, The West Bank, ques­tioned 3,415 high school cit­ies from their dis­trict. “Hu­milia­t­ion was sig­nif­i­cantly as­so­ci­at­ed with a high num­ber of sub­jec­tive health com­plaints, even af­ter ad­just­ing for sex, res­i­dence and oth­er meas­ures of ex­po­sure to vi­o­lent events,” they wrote in a pa­per de­scrib­ing their stu­dy, pub­lished in the June 11 ad­vance on­line is­sue of the re­search jour­nal Pub­lic Health.

Al­though pre­vi­ous stud­ies have found ill health ef­fects re­sult­ing from so­cial isola­t­ion or mar­gin­al­iz­a­tion or prej­u­dice, very lit­tle re­search has stud­ied the ef­fects of out­right hu­milia­t­ion, ac­cord­ing to the re­search­ers.

“The au­thors of this re­port de­serve spe­cial praise for in­ves­ti­gat­ing these ques­tions un­der the haz­ard­ous con­di­tions” of the Pal­es­tin­ian ter­ri­to­ries, wrote re­search­ers with Co­lum­bia Un­ivers­ity in New York in a com­men­tary in the same is­sue of the jour­nal.

But the com­men­ta­tors, Yu­val Ne­ria and Rich­ard Neuge­bauer, ques­tioned some of the meth­ods used. For in­stance, they said, re­search­ers asked chil­dren wheth­er they or their rel­a­tives had been “hu­miliated,” but nev­er of­fered a very pre­cise def­i­ni­tion of hu­milia­t­ion. Hu­milia­t­ion is largely in the eye of the be­hold­er, the Co­lum­bia pair not­ed, so it’s not clear that one per­son’s ac­count of be­ing “hu­miliated” cor­re­sponds to any clear, ob­jec­tive def­i­ni­tion of what hu­milia­t­ion is.

Gi­a­ca­man’s team count­ered, in a pub­lished re­sponse, that pre­cisely be­cause it’s in the eye of the be­hold­er, the best per­son to ask about it is the be­hold­er—the tar­get or wit­ness of the al­leged hu­milia­t­ion. There can be no pre­cise def­i­ni­tion be­cause what con­sti­tutes de­base­ment varies by cul­ture and by in­di­vid­ual, they ar­gued.

Study par­ti­ci­pants were asked simply wheth­er they had been hu­miliated, seen a family mem­ber hu­miliated, seen a friend hu­miliated or seen a strang­er hu­miliated. There were few ques­tions about the ex­act cir­cum­stances of the al­leged vi­ola­t­ions of dign­ity.

Par­ti­ci­pants re­porting four or more forms of hu­milia­t­ion were more than se­ven times likelier to suf­fer from a high num­ber of sub­jec­tive health com­plaints as people who re­ported no hu­mil­iat­ing in­ci­dents, Gi­a­ca­man and col­leagues wrote. Health com­plaints in­cluded head­ache, stom­ach ache, back­ache and sleep dif­fi­cul­ties. “What is hap­pen­ing here,” Gi­a­ca­man wrote in an e­mail, “is really trag­ic.”

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