Gaza Children Traumatized After Latest Israeli Assault

The children of the Gaza Strip are traumatized after the latest Israeli assault on the Palestinian coastal enclave, adding to the years-old negative effects of a crippling blockade and frequent aerial raids. A Global Post article by reporter Erin Cunningham, based in Gaza City at the moment, sheds more light on how the children of Gaza have been affected by Israeli bombardments and shelling.

Cunningham reports that “the vast majority of Gaza’s roughly 950,000 children already suffer from psychological and behavioral symptoms associated” with post-traumatic stress disorder, according to the Gaza Community Health Program. The symptoms include “aggression, depression, bedwetting, flashbacks and ‘clinging’ behavior like physically latching onto their mother.”

The latest Israeli assault will only exacerbate these problems. According to statistics compiled by the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights, 34 children were killed in the week-long air operation against Hamas in Gaza. 274 children were wounded as well. And this year’s assault comes about four years after an even deadlier Israeli assault on Gaza, dubbed “Operation Cast Lead.” That assault killed an estimated 352 children, according to the NGO Defence for Children International.

Cunningham’s report tells the story of Fatima Qortoum, who was only 9-years-old when she witnessed her brother’s brains fall out after being hit by shrapnel after an Israeli airstrike. That was in 2008, but four years later Qortoum’s 6-year-old brother “was critically injured when an Israeli attack knocked him to the ground, leaving a nearly three-inch-long gash in his torso and damaging his lungs.” Qortoum now suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder.

There are also internal societal problems that arise in the context of PTSD. As Cunningham reports, “men, and young boys in particular, often resist seeking help, and the community is not always ready to accept or assist in the treatment of a trauma victim.”

“We were not very afraid — we are used to this. My father told us in our home: ’The Israelis are trying to terrify us, but we have resistance that will terrify them.’ And we remember the last war,” one 12-year-old boy, Mohamed Shokri, told the Global Post.

But there is work being done on breaking the stigma of mental illness in Palestinian society, Cunningham reports. “More Gazans are beginning to reject to the stigma attached to mental illness in this conservative society,” according to the Gaza Community Mental Health Program’s Eyad Sarraj. “The celebrations of victory following the cease-fire are therapeutic processes for adults and children alike.”

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