As bombs fall silent on Gaza and Israel, 'whole generation' of children face long-term trauma

As bombs fall silent on Gaza and Israel, ‘whole generation’ of children face long-term trauma

The airstrikes may have ended, but the trauma continues.

While the ceasefire between Israel and the Palestinian militant group Hamas holds short term, parents like Randa Yousef fear the long-term effects the latest wave of violence will have on their children.

His 5-year-old daughter Kinda “used to play and laugh” at their home in Gaza, but now “she cries and screams and calls me,” Yousef told NBC News by phone last week.

A video she recorded during the fighting shows Kinda crying on her bed, telling her that she is afraid they will die and their house will be destroyed.

Now even the slightest noise terrifies her and she fears it may be another Israeli airstrike, Yousef said.

Elsewhere, in Khan Yunis – a town in the southern Gaza Strip long impoverished and under blockade – Fadi Ali Abushammala said he used paint to distract his sons – named Ali, 11; Karam, 7 years old; and Adam, 3 years old – from the conflict. Now they are drawing pictures of corpses.

“I asked my child, ‘What did you paint?’ He says “he is a dead man and his son, his child, is crying,” “Abushammala said on Monday.

Fadi Ali Abushammala and his three sons Ali, Karam and Adam at their home in the town of Khan Yunis in July 2020, 10 months before the start of the conflict. Fadi Ali Abushammala

Of the 243 people who died during the conflict, 66 were children, according to the Gaza health ministry.

Residents of the densely populated Gaza Strip were particularly vulnerable to lightning airstrikes as there were no bomb shelters and most of its 2 million people were nowhere to be found.

“Everyone is talking about the lack of safe places,” Dr Samah Jabr, head of the mental health unit at the Palestinian health ministry, said on Tuesday. “There are no bunkers. People don’t know where to hide. “

While Hamas’s rocket attacks are terrifying, Israel has a comprehensive system in place to protect its citizens. All public buildings – such as shopping malls, hospitals, places of worship and theaters – are to have bomb shelters, as well as some children’s play areas in the south of the country.

Modern homes and private buildings must also have safe rooms, and cities operate public shelters that are opened during times of conflict by the Israel Defense Forces Home Front Command.

Many of the thousands of rockets fired by Palestinian militants from Gaza were also destroyed by Israel’s Iron Dome missile system. Israelis are also alerted to incoming ammunition through sirens and app notifications. Schools send videos on how to talk to children and explain what is going on to try to relax them.

The IDF said that while continuing its aggressive military campaign, it was trying to “minimize civilian casualties.”

A Palestinian child stands amid the rubble of buildings destroyed by Israeli strikes in Beit Hanun, northern Gaza Strip, on Saturday. Emmanuel Dunand / AFP – Getty Images

Nonetheless, Israeli psychologist Mooli Lahad, who has 40 years of experience working on both sides of the border and around the world, said: “You have a whole generation of children who know nothing but to live under. these sporadic and sometimes intensive bombardments. . “

“We are witnessing a level of trauma and destruction that is beyond belief,” added UNICEF Special Representative to the State of Palestine Lucia Elmi. “This is something that we will continue to see for generations to come.”

Before this wave of violence, the United Nations Children’s Fund reported that one in three children in Gaza needed psychosocial and mental health support. Now he fears the number will increase, Elmi said.

Eleven children were already receiving trauma care under the Norwegian Refugee Council’s psychosocial intervention program, the independent humanitarian organization said on Tuesday.

NRC’s education coordinator in Gaza, Asad Ashour, said the escalation of violence had exacerbated symptoms the organization was already trying to treat.

“It’s hard to convince them that the future is bright,” he said last week.

Download the NBC News app for the latest news and politics

Ashour and Lahad said children on both sides of the border suffered from low concentration, nightmares, personality changes, restlessness and the constant fear that death might be imminent for them or their friends and their family.

“When you go to a park, you take advantage of it. You don’t always think, “A missile might fall on my head,” but for them, it’s always part of their mind to be on guard. It’s exhausting for the system, ”Lahad said.

As a result, he said he found children in Israel and Gaza “regressing” by avoiding school and visiting friends, and they are less likely to try new things.

“It takes a while to realize that a sudden noise doesn’t mean a threat,” Lahad said.

President Joe Biden said on Friday that there had been no change in his commitment to Israel’s security, but insisted that a two-state solution including one state for the Palestinians remains “the only answer ”to the conflict.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who has been in close contact with regional leaders, also plans to travel to the region to meet with his Israeli, Palestinian and other counterparts in the coming days to discuss “recovery efforts and to work together to build a better future for Israelis and Palestinians, “State Department spokesman Ned Price also said on Friday.

But the unpredictability of the region and the constant threat to security have led Jabr of the Palestinian Ministry of Health to believe that the trauma suffered by the Palestinians cannot be defined as post-traumatic stress disorder.

“PTSD best describes the experience of soldiers returning to the safety of the home and completely disconnecting from the traumatic experience,” she said.

“For Palestinians, the traumatic threats are repetitive and continuous,” she said, adding that there is no “post-trauma” and that fears for security and feelings of helplessness persist. even after a ceasefire.

In the meantime, all mental health professionals can do is try to heal generational scars and provide what she calls palliative care through therapy, she said.