One year on, Gaza children still bear scars of war

Three-quarters of children surveyed still suffer from high levels of distress, says charity on the anniversary of the 50-day war between Israel and the Palestinians

Gaza’s youngest residents still bear the consequences of last summer’s war with Israel, with many showing higher levels of trauma and poor mental health than would be expected one year after the conflict.

Children caught up in the conflict still suffer from severe nightmares, bedwetting, withdrawal, and poor school attendance, according to a study released by Save the Children on Monday.

Three-quarters of young children and teenagers surveyed wet the bed regularly and seven out of 10 suffer regular nightmares, revealing high levels of distress, the charity said.

“The results of this survey are extremely alarming for those of us who work with children in Gaza,” said David Hassell, co-country director, occupied Palestinian territories, Save the Children. “They have lived through events that would give even the most hardened adult nightmares. The continued blockade and threat of renewed conflict makes it very difficult for children to recover from the trauma they have experienced.”

The NGO released the study on the anniversary of the 50-day war between Israel and the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip. The 2014 conflict left more than 2,200 Palestinians dead and damaged or destroyed 96,000 homes. The war was particularly brutal for the territory’s children, killing 551, injuring more than 3,400 and leaving 1,500 orphaned.

Save the Children assessed the mental health of children aged 6 to 15-years-old in some of the hardest hit areas for its report, ‘A Living Nightmare: Gaza one year on’. Some 75 per cent of children interviewed experienced regular bedwetting, while in the al-Shoka area, nearly half the children wet the bed every night. Nearly 90 per cent of parents reported their children suffered consistent feelings of fear.

Worryingly for the territory’s future, more than 50 per cent of children in some areas refuse to go to school, too afraid to leave their homes, said Save the Children. Youth joblessness in the strip stood at 60 per cent at the end of 2014.

Save the Children called on donors to step up funding for specialist counselling and psychosocial support in Gazan schools and communities. The Washington-based Center for Mind-Body-Medicine estimates one third of Gaza’s children showed signs of post-traumatic stress disorder even before the 2014 armed conflict, according to the World Bank.

“Why do Gaza’s children have no rights? Why does no one can feel our pain? I want one human to come and live in Gaza just for two hours… There is no food, no electricity, no water. Our future is gone,” one 14-year-old Gazan boy told the charity’s helpline, according to the study.

Returning to normality is near impossible for Gaza’s youth as the territory continues to be afflicted by the blockade, movements are restricted and schools and homes have not been rebuilt. The UN’s Gaza reconstruction appeal has so far received $216m in pledges, far short of the $720m needed, according to UNRWA, the UN’s agency for Palestine refugees.

Photo credit: Save the Children