Sunday,17 December, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1209, (14 - 20 August 2014)
Sunday,17 December, 2017
Issue 1209, (14 - 20 August 2014)

Ahram Weekly

When children pay the price

Nearly 400,000 children in Gaza display signs of trauma from Israel’s recurrent wars on the Strip, with Palestinians believing their targeting is on purpose, writes Ahmad Al-Sayyed in Gaza

gaza
gaza
Al-Ahram Weekly

Since the war on Gaza started, hardly a day goes by without news of children killed in an air raid, rocket shelling, or gunboat fire. The youngest so far was Mayada Mohamed Aslan, a six-week-old infant who died when shells hit her home.

In less than six years, the children of Gaza bore witness to three wars on their cities and villages. Experts say that the traumatic effect on children is no less severe than the damage to their homes and neighbourhoods.

Rami Abdou, chief of the Geneva-based EuroMed Observatory for Human Rights (EMOHR), believes that the Israelis target children as a means of collective punishment.

“The Israeli occupation authorities are following a strategy of purposely inflicting trauma in this war. Having failed to punish the resistance leaders, Israel is hurting the children to get back at them. It is letting Palestinian leaders know that the future confrontation will always take its toll on civilians,” Abdou, who lives in Gaza, said.

“The main targets in these wars are women and children. Now the Palestinians say jokingly that if one wants to avoid shelling, he should stay away from areas frequented by children,” he added.

According to Abdou, there is a “racist tone” in the current war, with the Israelis targeting the young, as in the case of Mohammad Abu Khodeir, who was abducted and killed by Jewish extremists in Jerusalem just before the Gaza war started.

One Knesset member, Ayelet Shaked, urged the army to target Palestinian women so as to stop them from “breeding”.

“The targeting of children is not an act of negligence but rather a systematic assault, as we have seen in the case of the attack on the Bakr family children who were playing on a Gaza beach,” Abdou stated.

Ahed Bakr, 10, Zakariya Bakr, 10, Mohamed Bakr, 11, and Ismail Bakr, 9, were killed in gunboat shelling as they played football on a public beach on 16 July.

“No place in Gaza is safe. The bombs fall anywhere, more so in areas where children congregate, such as the schools run by the UNRWA to house refugees,” Abdou remarked.

Over the past few weeks, Israel’s occupation army shelled dozens of Palestinian homes, killing nearly 300 people inside. Many of the victims were children.

Children exposed to violence on that scale might be traumatised for life, according to experts.

Dr. Khadr Rasras, a psychiatry professor at Birzeit University, says that exposure to violence is traumatising to people of all ages, especially children. “How do you expect a child to feel when he sees his mother or father or brother die under the rubble, or when he sees a missile hitting his home or a nearby mosque, or when he tries to find his friends and discovers that they died in the shelling?” he asked.

Children constitute 60 per cent of Gaza inhabitants, and in the recent Israeli offensive, nearly one third of the casualties were children.

Israel started its assault, dubbed Operation Protective Edge, on Gaza on 7 July. Its constant bombardment of the Strip has left 1,939 Palestinians dead, including 468 children. Nearly 10,000 were injured, of which 3,000 were children.

“The conditions in which children live in Gaza are abnormal, there is a high level of insecurity and danger,” Rasras said.

The EMOHR conducted a study of 340 children from Gaza to assess their emotional condition. It found that 96 per cent suffered from sleep disturbance, 87 per cent from shock, and 89 per cent from eating disorders.

After such a war, there is always a need for immediate psychiatric assistance to the children, preferably by trauma specialists, Rasras pointed out.

His advice to parents was to try to stay calm in front of their children under all circumstances, “so as to lessen the possibility of traumas turning into lasting illness.”

UNICEF, the UN agency specialised in promoting the interests of children, says that nearly 400,000 children living in Gaza are now victim of war-related trauma.

Pernille Ironside, head of the UNICEF field office in Gaza, said that rebuilding the children’s lives would be no less hard than rebuilding the cities wrecked in the war.

“It is abnormal to live in this condition and to see incredibly destructive weapons killing and maiming people before the eyes of children and also of parents,” she said at a press conference in Geneva.

In the last six years, Israel waged two other full-fledged wars on Gaza.

The first war, dubbed Operation Cast Lead, lasted from 27 December 2008 to 17 January 2009 and left 1,400 Palestinians dead, 350 of whom were children.

The second war, dubbed Operation Pillar of Defence, lasted from 14 to 21 November 2012 and left nearly 160 Palestinians dead, 35 of whom children. 

The third war, which began on 7 July, left over 1,900 Palestinians dead, including 468 children.

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