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Nadia Taysir Dabbagh, 'Suicide in Palestine: Narratives of Despair'

Hurst, 2005; ISBN 1 85065 790 4; Pb 266pp; £14.95

Suicide in Palestine: Narratives of Despair is the first book to deal with the increase in suicide among ordinary Palestinians living under occupation.

It is not about so-called suicide bombers, although this phenomenon is also examined by way of contrast. This work is about individuals in the general population, and the various circumstances which lead them to become depressed and, in greater numbers than in the past, commit suicide. This is what the author Dr Nadia Dabbagh refers to as the “ripple effects of war”.

Dabbagh is a British psychiatrist of Palestinian descent who works in London's Royal Free Hospital. This book grew out of doctoral research she was engaged in relating to suicide among those living in the Occupied Territories between the two Intifadas. In 18 months of research, which took in Ramallah and Jenin among other places, Dabbagh is able to look squarely at a problem that many would rather ignore.

One is struck forcefully by the difference between those “martyrs” who wish to commit suicide in a very public way, causing as much destruction as they can in their wake, and those who have nothing to gain from their actions but personal release from pain. For the latter, the action ideally takes place in complete privacy.

The stigma attached to suicide remains strong in the majority of the world. What the author skilfully shows here, though, is that for the Palestinians, suicide is especially shameful and wrong due to the fact that as a people they identify themselves centrally with concepts such as resistance and struggle.

For the depressed individual who no can longer share this common experience, the despair is increased exponentially.

From interviews carried out with those who had made unsuccessful suicide attempts, there is a big difference in why men and women attempt suicide. Many men expressed disappointment by the lack of progress after Oslo. This was often coupled with feelings of inadequacy as a result of being unemployed, and so unable to fulfil the traditional role of breadwinner. Women expressed more emotional reasons for their actions, from general pressure to feeling imprisoned and impotent.

This fascinating book makes for sadly compelling reading about one of the faces of war away from the frontline, in a place where despair is too commonplace.