Psychological toll of covering everyday trauma
“On the very first day of the first war in Gaza back in 2008-09, I saw countless numbers of dead bodies. It was terrifying for me because I’d never seen something that gruesome. I went home, grabbed the only nail polish I had, & started painting my nails. It was so much shock. I wasn’t trying to make myself look pretty. I was just trying to make myself feel normal that I can just by painting my nails.”
War reporting is essential; it’s dangerous & difficult too. Journalists who cover conflict are faced with a traumatic situation that can lead to mental health challenges.
Eman says, “Fear is inevitable. I felt depressed so many times, for such long period of time. I still suffer from PTSD. It manifests itself in so many different ways. At the beginning, I kept on denying that I need any medical help or therapy. But I gradually learned how to embrace it. Sometimes it also helps me. Because I understand how people who went through traumatic events feel. But to say that I covered with a brave heart, I wasn’t brave. I felt terrified.”
Relying on faith helped carry her through. “I didn’t even necessarily know if will be protected. But I just knew I was doing the right thing. I was trying to give oppressed people who are subjected to a lot of unjust, a right to speak up, & to be seen, that doesn’t go for nothing,” she continued, “Even I do have PTSD till now. And It’s not a shame. I can say that a lot of my fears were manifesting itself in faith and prayers which I’m grateful for but it’s also not a magical wand. It takes time to get better.”
Navigate the disaster
Local journalists do not only tell the stories; they also go through them. During the war, it is an added stress for the hometown journalists to have to navigate the disaster themselves. They witness their own people suffering. And sometimes their own families are badly affected. That is when the news breaks the journalists.
“I did feel a lot of helplessness, agony, & pain when I saw my own people subjected to a lot of oppression. In addition to the fact, I always had to worry about my family. And that feeling doesn’t take away from you your ability to work. But it takes a lot from your soul. It really hurts you and makes it so much harder for you. Sometimes you even need to report about your neighbor who got killed. Someone you’re too close with that you can’t do it. Even though it took a huge toll seeing them being tortured like that, or walking into a mass massacre after the war, or living through the aftermath, it was a lifeline to tell the stories. Because my people were not voiceless. They were just unheard of. And working as a photojournalist, was like extending a lifeline to my people.”
Eman was not only facing danger from the outside but from the inside as well. A lot of her work got heat, including her Ted Talk. “The Israelis didn’t like it, Palestinians didn’t like it, the religious Muslims & the secular westernized people too didn’t like it. I felt like I couldn’t win with anyone.”
After her Ted Talk, the Government in Gaza took Eman’s mother into investigation. “It was very tough for me to be here in the US, protected and safe somewhat. And my mother to go through that because of something I reported,” she continued, “They subjected her to such agony and pain that no one should have been subjected to. She wasn’t tortured, she wasn’t taken into custody. But she was also an older woman.” After so many long negotiations, eventually, they let her go. “It tore my family so much and I felt so guilty. Because my mother had to go through that because of me. So, it’s also a whole different layer of things that a local have to worry about & a foreign photographer doesn’t.”
In an airstrike in 2014, Eman’s one-year-old daughter was injured. After which she had to move to the United States of America for her treatment. “She had internal bleeding. We tried to get her to a hospital in Gaza. But because its internal bleeding, they couldn’t see an injury, it was very hard to navigate. We had very limited medical resources as well as knowledge. So, they couldn’t really help her.”
Eman’s ex-husband was an American Palestinian, & so her daughter was a US citizen too. She decided to evacuate her that put her in such a situation that either she would lose her child or she would have to leave her mother behind. And she had to make the call to leave her mother behind. “I reached out to the embassy but they weren’t able to do much. Because the Americans didn’t want to annoy the Israelis. Eventually, we were able to evacuate her through Egypt. Treatment of my daughter lasted a whole year. So, after a year it was very hard to move back and forth because then I would lose a lot of my clients. I had to restart my career in the US. It wasn’t a choice, but a forcible migration to the US.”
Eman has a message for you
Eman says that women can have it all but they have to have hardships. “It’s a gap that we are not going to bridge overnight. But not let that discourage you. Just keep on working hard & get somewhere. If you never get to there fully, remember, life always teaches us by taking a little bit of what our dream is. And so, we could keep on chasing that dream. That’s the only way to keep going.”
She believes there should always be something to look forward to, something to chase, and we should enjoy every step we take towards reaching our goal. “We succeed in moments and we should live those moments. I know a lot of people say getting on top is hard but staying on the top is harder. Sometimes you don’t need to stay on the top. Overall if you are reaching somewhere, you are succeeding.”
She continued, “Also you must remember that you can always ask for help from other women. Even if they don’t. Because we all have those toxic women who don’t go by the code of sisterhood. That disappoints us, makes us never ask for help again, which is wrong. And not just women, ask anyone that you want to ask for help. Now would they interact and help you for that, that’s up to them. And that’s very hard to know because sometimes I look at my life and I’m like, my God! The person who helped me wasn’t even someone I thought of asking for help.”
Women always remain in their own never-ending combat. They get up every day fighting for their freedom, liberty, & justice. They live in a state of constant struggle in pursuit of individuality & equality, & are making a genuine difference. There’s also no shortage of brave & inspirational women who even risk life and limb to expose the truth. Eman Mohammed is one shining example. Against all odds, she turned the tide with reporting that shone a light on the plight of Palestinians. She refused to let human rights abuses go unheard, picked up the camera & break the longstanding cultural taboo around the role of women in Gaza.