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.”