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Spatial agency among children living in the Dheisheh refugee camp in the West Bank: a qualitative investigation of space and place as risk and protection factors from political and military violence.

  • Cavazzoni, Federica1
  • Kittaneh, Hala2
  • Veronese, Guido2
  • 1 "Riccardo Massa" Department of Human Sciences for Education, University of Milano-Bicocca, Milan, Italy. Electronic address: [email protected] , (Italy)
  • 2 "Riccardo Massa" Department of Human Sciences for Education, University of Milano-Bicocca, Milan, Italy. , (Italy)
Published Article
The Lancet
Publication Date
Jul 01, 2021
398 Suppl 1
DOI: 10.1016/S0140-6736(21)01507-5
PMID: 34227953


In Palestine, the ongoing Israeli occupation shapes and endangers all spaces that are used by children in their everyday lives. In this study, Palestinian children were considered active agents in their lives, both affecting and being affected by the world around them. Our research aimed to explore the role of resources, competencies, and attitudes of spatial agency in the lives of children in the occupied Palestinian territory. Specifically, we investigated how children use domestic and social spaces to actively maintain positive function and wellbeing despite an environmental backdrop of military violence. A convenience sample of 29 children aged 7-13 years (mean 9·66, SD 1·63) attending the primary school in Dheisheh refugee camp, West Bank, was selected. 17% (5 of 29) were boys and 83% (24) were girls. All children were asked to draw and describe a map of safe and unsafe places in the camp. Ten children were asked to continue the conversation outdoors using a "walk-along" technique, showing familiar places and narrating their experiences. Data were collected in April, 2018. All of the children's narratives were audiotaped, transcribed, and translated by a local bilingual researcher. Thematic content analysis was applied. Children who have been diagnosed with a physical or psychological disease were excluded from the sample. The study was approved by the ethical board of the University of Milano-Bicocca. Written informed consent was obtained from children and their families, who were informed of the scope of the research. Five themes emerged: using the mosque and the school to access spiritual and educational resources for subjective wellbeing; internal spaces as a safe place for growth and development (including domestic spaces to experience a sense of protection and security); community spaces to have fun and play an active part in the social and political life of the camp; enjoying the outdoor spaces of the camp despite environmental dangers and the violence of the occupation. Some children perceived risks and lack of safety in their lives. Children's narratives made plain the ways in which their ability to mobilise functioning resources (such as playing and socialising) were constrained by military and community violence, and environmental degradation. Overall, social and external places as spaces to restore a sense of normality and happiness were valorised more by boys than by girls, and girls were more active in internal spaces than in external spaces. Spatial agency is a key factor that potentiates wellbeing in children. Psychosocial interventions should aim to promote children's participation in transforming and reshaping spaces and places for their own protection and to improve the psychological wellbeing of the community. None. Copyright © 2021 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

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