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CurrentMiddle East

The Children of Gaza Live in Constant Fear

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More than 50 years of occupation and 10 years of the blockade in Gaza have resulted in thousands of children suffering from PTSD. The children of Gaza’s memories are full of violence, war, death, and loss because that is what they have endured during their existence.

During Israels’ relentless attacks on Gaza in May 2021, 257 people were killed – including 75 children. For many surviving children, the repetition of war means they suffer major trauma. 

Gaza has an overwhelmingly young population in comparison to other countries worldwide. There are 1 million children living in Gaza and over 40% of them are under the age of 15.

These children experience horrific atrocities including bombardments, mass ethnic cleansing, and family members being killed and maimed. This undoubtedly has a knock-on effect on the innocent children of Gaza. They experience poor mental and physical health, inadequate access to education, and homelessness.

Many have argued that Israel’s latest bout of attacks was a strategic tactic of psychological abuse. After 11 days and nights of relentless bombing, children were unsurprisingly unable to sleep. According to Ghada Redwan, a psychotherapist at Palestine Trauma Centre UK:

There are a number of cases suffering from severe panic and intense fear. There are also children whose psychological symptoms are showing up in strong emotions and vomiting.” 

Children in Gaza ‘are displaying worrying signs of distress, such as constant shaking and bedwetting…The fear of violence has become a way in which children understand the world,” said Luma Tarazi, Mental Health and Psychosocial Support advisor for Save the Children. Children had already been traumatised by Israel’s 51-day bombing campaign of Gaza in 2014, which killed more than 2,200 Palestinians, including 500 children.

In May 2021, families revived a heart-breaking old tradition, exchanging children between homes in Gaza to prevent whole families from being massacred. 

In 1991 Israel ratified the UN’s Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC), which stipulates all children must have the fundamental rights to life, protection from violence, and education that enables children to fulfill their potential. But Israel has regularly breached the UNCRC. In addition, a recent UN report has revealed that Israel committed hundreds of “grave violations” against Palestinian children in 2020.

The annual Children and Armed conflict report states at least 361 children were detained by Israeli occupation forces, 294 children were maimed, and 8 children were killed in the occupied territories of West Bank and East Jerusalem. 

Four out of five Palestinian children whose homes were demolished say they have lost faith that anyone can help or protect them and “feel abandoned by the world”, according to a Save the Children report. The report was published on Monday as Palestinians living in the Sheikh Jarrah and Silwan neighbourhoods face forced expulsion from their own homes.

Save the Children have called on Israel’s new Prime Minister Naftali Bennett to halt the practice and uphold the rights of Palestinian children.

“These demolitions are not only illegal under international law, but they are also an obstacle for children to fulfill their right to a safe home, and to be able to safely go to school,” Lee said. “As the occupying power, Israel must protect the rights of those living under occupation, especially children.” 

The Israeli government also hinders Palestinians rights to education, making it harder for them to find secure employment thus stuck in a never-ending cycle of poverty. Gaza needs to create 200 more schools but they cannot be built due to Israel’s restrictions on importing building materials. This has meant schools are severely overcrowded resulting in 70 percent of schools running double or triple shifts so children receive half a school day rather than a full one.

In addition, lack of electricity reduces the students’ ability to learn. Israel has also banned the import of basic school supplies into Gaza, including textbooks, pencils, lab equipment, computers, and paper at points throughout the blockade.

Many children in the West Bank also face daily abuse and humiliating searches by Israeli occupation forces when traveling to and from school. Despite all this, literacy rates are highest in the Gaza Strip, with a literate population of 96.8%, compared to 96% in the West Bank. The illiteracy rate in Palestine is one of the lowest in the world, which is a testament to the resilience of Palestinians.

The blockade also means that young students and academics are prohibited from leaving Gaza to further pursue their education. Gaza has the world’s largest unemployment rate. For those between 15 and 29 years old, the unemployment rate has risen to 62 percent. Today, the people in Gaza are 25 percent poorer than they were when the first part of the Oslo agreement was signed in 1993.

More than 50 years of occupation and 10 years of the blockade in Gaza have resulted in thousands of children suffering from PTSD. The children of Gaza’s memories are full of violence, war, death, and loss because that is what they have endured during their existence. There is not an abundance of mental health support services available in Gaza, so most children will not get adequate treatment to deal with their trauma.

It is not just the loss of family members that has a dire consequence on children. The loss of their schools and homes means they lose a sense of community and security. All children deserve unfettered access to education and to live safely in their homes.

Another generation of Palestinian children needs to be protected to stop this vicious cycle. The children of Gaza should never feel like they have been abandoned by the world, ever again.

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