Gaza: Childhood in ruins

More than 1,400 Gazans were killed in the 23 days of the Israeli assault, including several hundred children. The actual number is in dispute. The Palestinian Centre for Human Rights (PCHR) documented 313 deaths, almost 40% of them less than 10 years old. Other Palestinian groups say the toll was much higher. More than 1,600 children were injured.
But the 23-day war is only part of the story. The long history of Israeli assaults on Gaza, and the two-and-a-half-year-long blockade of the territory after Hamas took power, has exacted a toll on almost every aspect of children's lives: schooling, housing, leisure time, what they eat, what they wear, how they see the future.
A Gaza Community Mental Health Programme (GCMHP) survey earlier this year found that about 75% of children over the age of six were suffering from one or more symptom of post-traumatic stress disorder. Almost one in 10 ticked off every criteria.
"The majority of children suffer many psychological and social consequences," says Dr Hasan Zeyada, a psychologist with GCMHP. "Insecurity and feelings of helplessness and powerlessness are overwhelming. We observed children becoming more anxious – sleep disturbances, nightmares, night terror, regressive behaviour such as clinging to parents, bed wetting, becoming more restless and hyperactive, refusal to sleep alone, all the time wanting to be with their parents, overwhelmed by fears and worries. Some start to be more aggressive."
Dr Abdel Aziz Mousa Thabet, professor of psychiatry at al-Quds university in Gaza, says the conflict has a different impact on boys and girls. "Girls have more anxiety and depression, boys are more hyperactive."
Some children no longer look on their homes as a place of safety, security and comfort. Others don't even have a home to go to. The Israeli bombardment damaged or destroyed more than 20,000 houses, forcing some families into tents and others into crowding in with relatives. Hamas distributed money to displaced families to rebuild their homes but the Israeli blockade has created a desperate shortage of materials. Almost one year later, some children still have no roof over their head.
Hanan Attar, a slight 10-year-old wearing flip-flops several sizes too big for her small feet, is wistful as she recalls the house destroyed by an Israeli tank shell. "We had land, my father is a farmer," she says. "We used to grow watermelons, but the land was too close to the border and we can't get there now."
Home is now a tent on a patch of scrubby sand, shared by 10 members of her family, including a 50-day-old baby sister with a pinched face and a tin of formula milk perched on her rusting iron crib. The baby, Haneen, is seriously underweight at only 3kg, and is not growing. Her mother, Arfa, 40, cannot breastfeed because she is taking medication for back problems; the formula costs 45 shekels (£7.50) a tin, money that the family has to borrow. The father, too, is sick as well as unemployed. He reaches on top of a tall fridge that dominates the tent to pull down a sheaf of x-rays showing how his leg, broken in the conflict, is pinned together with metal.
Click on the title to read more from The Guardian

No comments:

Since March 29th 2006