The 11-day violent Israel Palestine conflict between the Israeli army and Hama has pushed the Gaza strip into chaos. With hundreds of people dead, including children, the country is still mourning, but the brutal bombings, demolished buildings, and the fiery night skies have started showing its concerning impacts on Gaza’s young population. The armed conflict has deteriorated children’s mental health; nightmares, anxiety, and restlessness have grown to become a common occurrence in Gaza.
How bad is the situation?
The most intense fight between the two rivals in the last six years cost Palestine an estimated 275 lives, including 52 children. According to a UN report, two children have deceased during the current escalation. The killing of civilians, especially children in a region where 45% of the population is younger than 18-years old, has diverted international attention to Gaza. Both sides have to pay for human right violation and killing innocents, but experts believe that more immediate attention is needed to the traumatized surviving children.
Israel Palestine Conflict: Suffering of Innocents
“What do you expect me to do? Fix it? I’m only 10.” This plea of mixed anger and horror by a 10-year-old girl in Gaza while standing in front of remnants of a building fallen by bombing is widely shared over different social media platforms.
“Mummy, my love, I am very very scared. If we all die, put us in the same grave all together so I can stay in your arms”. These are words of 10-year-old Zeina Dubious which she wrote in a letter and slipped under her mother’s pillow after an airstrike by Israel on a security office near her home.
The above cases are just two examples of thousands of Palestinian children petrified by bombings, blasts, and deaths. Though a ceasefire has halted further damages, experts fear that the mental scars will persist for years to come, especially in children living in the besieged coastal strip.
Though both Israeli and Palestinian children in the conflicted zone will suffer from short and long-term mental health issues, Palestinians are likely to suffer more because of the population, as more than 40% of Gaza’s children are under the age of 14.
Parents on both sides face similar problems concerning the mental health of their children, but the pictures are vastly different. Israelis have access to proper mental healthcare, facilities to move their children to safer places. Furthermore, the Iron Dome halted most of the Hama’s missiles to reach the targets. Thus the damage is minor. On the flip side, the poverty-stricken parents in Gaza fall apart; for them, finding shelter to spend the night is a far bigger necessity for now.
The Arduous Life of Children in Gaza
With Hamas, a militia group’s control over Gaza since 2007 and constant clashes, children of Gaza are exposed to violence and humanitarian crisis at every step. Jess Ghannam, a Psychiatry professor at the School of Medicine, University of California, says, “children in Gaza are exposed to on a regular basis exceeds anything, anything that any children anywhere else in the world experience.”
50% of the region’s population lives under extreme poverty, the unemployment rate peaks at 55% coupled with a severely underfunded health care system, children in Gaza are stuck in hell and cannot escape their harsh reality. According to UNICEF, every one out of 3 children in Gaza was already in need of mental health assistance due to the conflict trauma even before the current violent escalation. A report published by the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) highlighted that 12 out of 66 deceased children were part of programs aiming to help them overcome their mental trauma.
Many children have started showing symptoms of severe mental trauma in the form of lost appetites, speech disorder, and bedwetting. How a child deals with a mental trauma majorly depends on the caregiver’s support. In this moment of crisis, parents are the only hope of these children to escort them out of their emotional misery. But, times are tough for parents too. Along with children, parents are also in immediate need of mental health programs to deal with the situation.
The Elusive Dreams
According to Al Jazeera, the conflicts, poverty, and devastating humanitarian crisis have pushed 90% of Gaza’s population to be on the verge of their mental tolerance. They are in immediate need of professional help. But lack of money, food, and a constant threat to life, mental health stands last in the row for many Palestinians.
UNICEF serves the humanitarian need on the ground with food, clean water, medical supplies, and psychological support to families and children. UN believes that no place near Gaza is safe for children, as for many older children, this 11-day conflict was the fourth conflict they witnessed in their lifetime.
Hope is an essential component, the hope of a better future is crucial for carrying on, but people in Gaza are struggling to affix hope into anything. For parents who want their children educated and pursue a better life, seeing their children living amid violence, their dreams feel elusive.