This paper presents a brief history of Palestinian mental health care, a discussion of the current status of mental health and health services in the occupied Palestinian territory, and a critique of the biomedical Western-led discourse as it relates to the mental health needs of Palestinians. Medicalising distress and providing psychological therapies for Palestinians offer little in the way of alleviating the underlying causes of ongoing collective trauma. This paper emphasises the importance of separating clinical responses to mental illness from the public health response to mass political violation and distress. Palestinian academic research reframes the mental health paradigm utilising an approach based on the broader framework of social justice, quality of life, human rights and human security. Recognising social suffering as a public mental health issue requires a shift in the emphasis from narrow medical indicators, injury and illness to the lack of human security and human rights violations experienced by ordinary Palestinians. Such a change in perspective requires a parallel change in mental health policies from short-term emergency humanitarian aid to the development of a sustainable system of public mental health services, in combination with advocacy for human rights and the restoration of political, historical and moral justice.