Home WORLD “Wake up screaming”: Gaza children traumatized by the Israeli war | Gaza News

“Wake up screaming”: Gaza children traumatized by the Israeli war | Gaza News

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As Gaza tried to recover from the deadly 11-day Israeli attack, mothers and mental health workers raised concerns that the psychological effects of violence will persist in children in the Gaza Strip.

Hala Shehada, a 28-year-old mother from the Beit Hanoun area of ​​northern Gaza, told Al Jazeera that when the air strikes began to hit Gaza earlier this month, she found herself relived the tragic memories of the time. Israel offensive in 2014 It’s like “yesterday”.

“The latest offensive against Gaza has brought me back to the darkest memory when my husband was killed six years ago,” Shehada said.

“But this time it’s worse. My 6-year-old daughter, Toleen, was born five months after her father was killed and was terrified during the attack.”

When Israel recently took action on the besieged coastal enclave, young people were one of the most affected groups. Israeli air strikes and shelling killed 253 Palestinians, including 66 children, and injured more than 1,900.

During the same period, Hamas and other armed groups from Gaza fired rockets in Israel, killing 12 people, including two children.

The Israeli onslaught also completely destroyed 1,800 residential units in Gaza and partially demolished at least 14,300 other units. Tens of thousands of Palestinians have been forced to take refuge in schools run by the United Nations.

Although Israel and Hamas reached a ceasefire agreement on May 21, many families are still suffering.Most people have been affected by Israel’s 51-day The 2014 bombing of Gaza. The offensive killed more than 2,200 Palestinians, including 500 children.

The 6-year-old Toleen has never seen her father. She was killed in the Israeli attack on Gaza in 2014 [Courtesy: Hala Shehada]

Relive the trauma

On July 20, 2014, her husband, the journalist Khaled Hamad, was killed in an Israeli attack on the Al-Shuja’iya community, when Sheikhada had just married and was four months pregnant.

In the fierce Israeli attack, at least 67 Palestinians were killed and hundreds were injured, which was described by Mahmoud Abbas, the chairman of the Palestinian National Authority at the time, as a “holocaust.”

Shehada described her experience in these two wars. “Living in Gaza means having to relive the trauma time and time again. War is the ugliest thing in the world. The real war is the war you have to live with the memory of it.”

During an 11-day offensive against Gaza, a child stands in a clearing filled with debris from Israeli airstrikes [File: John Minchillo/AP]

Constant nightmare

Shehada said that the worst part of the latest offensive was “being a mother who should be able to calm her daughter”, but he couldn’t do it.

“Being a mother in Gaza is really difficult. I was frightened myself. My daughter’s mental state deteriorated badly during the attack. When she heard the bomb, she cried hysterically,” Shehada said.

“Even if the fire ceases now, Torlin will still have nightmares. She woke up screaming in the middle of the night. I tried to comfort her, but seeing her like this made me sad,” she added, sobbing.

Like many mothers in Gaza, Shehada said that she and her daughter both need psychological rehabilitation. “No matter what I overcome in the 2014 offensive, it bothers me again,” she said.

But there are not many mental health support services in Gaza. Shehada said that most people in the Gaza Strip are dealing with trauma alone.

“The suffering of my children makes me wonder how many children in Gaza have suffered from the trauma of war throughout their lives.”

Reem Jarjour’s three children are still shocked by the 11-day experience of Israel’s attack on the Gaza Strip [Courtesy: Reem Jarjour]

Parents try to stay strong

Reem Jarjour, 30, a social worker and mother of three children, told Al Jazeera that she has been trying to keep her children strong and stable since the Israeli attack.

“Children are severely affected by the mental health of their parents, so my husband and I have been trying to hide our trauma from them,” said Jarjour, who has a 6-year-old and a 5-year-old, and a five-month-old.

“I tried to apply the knowledge I learned as a social worker by keeping them busy with painting and painting activities,” but it didn’t work, she explained.

She said that when the Al-Jawhara Tower where her father lived was the target of an Israeli attack on May 11, she was “completely destroyed”.

“When I thought about my family and where they were going, I cried and cried,” she recalled. “Due to the chaos at the time, I couldn’t even reach them.

“But what forced me to stop was seeing my children looking at me while I was crying. I felt I needed to be strong for them,” Jarjour said.

Jarjour and her husband decided to sleep in the same room with the children throughout the attack, in an attempt to comfort and appease them.

“I never left them. But I knew they were scared by looking into their eyes. The children knew everything that was happening around them,” she said.

Jarjour said that many mothers in Gaza complained that their children had also begun to show symptoms of trauma.

“My friends told me that their children have no appetite, while others have problems such as language barriers and bedwetting,” she explained.

“In this war, everyone has lost power, including parents. Children are the weakest link. This is too cruel,” Jarjour said. He hopes to launch special mental health care programs across Gaza soon to help Support children and their parents.

Jarjour said she hopes to provide a special mental health care program in Gaza, which is ravaged by war. [Courtesy: Reem Jarjour/Al Jazeera]

Trauma is “not new”

Ghada Redwan, a psychotherapist at the Palestine Trauma Center in the United Kingdom, said that several families in Gaza contacted the center during the offensive and asked for mental health support for their children.

Redwan provides focus-based training widely used by mental health professionals to treat trauma and post-traumatic stress disorder. She provides skills for families and children to help them change the way they relive continuous trauma.

“There are many cases who suffer from severe panic and intense fear. There are also some children whose psychological symptoms are manifested as intense emotions and vomiting,” Redwan told Al Jazeera.

She said they recommended that mothers try to stay calm in front of their children, especially during the bombing, which is obviously easier said than done.

Redwan said that although dealing with the trauma of the Israeli attack is not new in Gaza, the ability to provide help is limited and the need for care is great.

Redwan shared her own experience as the mother of two 6-year-old and 3-year-old girls. She told Al Jazeera that it was difficult to get rid of the offensive experience.

“I keep my kids away from the news, watch cartoons and do age-appropriate activities. Whenever they are frightened by bombs, I hold them to calm them down,” she said.

“This is a difficult task for me and my husband, but we have tried it. I’m a bit lucky to have experience with mental health treatment, which helps me support my children. But what about thousands of families who haven’t done this? ?”

Children gather by the crater where houses were destroyed by air raids in Gaza [File: John Minchillo/AP]

“The service gap is huge”

According to the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC), 12 of the 66 children killed in Israeli airstrikes participated in its plan to help children in Gaza overcome the trauma of previous wars.

In a recent statement, the NRC stated that children who survived the offensive may relive the bombing experience every night, adding that children in Gaza have an average of five nightmares per week.

NRC Gaza Regional Manager Hozayfa Yazji said the statistics highlight the extent of the suffering of many children caused by the recent 11-day attack on Gaza.

According to Yazji, since the NRC launched trauma treatment services for children in Gaza in 2012, the NRC has worked with 118 schools to provide support to 75,000 children.

“But after the recent aggression, we are now facing a huge gap in psychological support services,” he said. “The number of children in need of psychotherapy is expected to triple.”

‘urgent need’

Yazji said that the severe humanitarian conditions experienced by children in the Gaza Strip have exacerbated their mental health, but the military attacks have the most serious impact on children.

He said that Israel’s 14-year siege of coastal enclaves, rising poverty levels of 50% of the population, 55% unemployment rate, and dilapidated health care system all made children’s suffering worse.

Children under the age of 18 make up 45% of the population of the Gaza Strip. “This makes the intervention of the psychological first aid program an urgent need,” Yazgi told Al Jazeera.

He said that due to repeated military attacks and destructive humanitarian conditions in the Gaza Strip, at least 90% of Gaza residents need mental health support and treatment.

“The demand is beyond our capacity. We are working with several governments and international organizations to expand our program,” Yazgi said, adding that the committee hopes to train more people who can provide mental health support throughout Gaza. people.



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