Overview July 2021 | Trauma among Palestinian children
In the month of July 2021 Staat van Beleg could list 2,414 human rights violations (and 146 reports/analyses). (see our archive and the monthly violations reports of the Negotiations Affairs Department). This month we write about trauma among Palestinian children.
Mental health in the occupied Palestinian territories (oPt)
Palestinian children have grown up in a state of military occupation, conflict and political uncertainty. Most have experienced traumatic events such as the loss of loved ones, movement restrictions, settler violence, house or school
demolitions, humiliation or harassment. The oPt has the highest burden of mental health issues in the Eastern Mediterranean. In a 2005–2008 study of Palestinian mental health patients, more than a quarter of children under the
age of 15 (26%) met the criteria for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Another study from 2014 that looked specifically at Palestinian youth of Hebron found high rates of suicidal ideation among Palestinian girls and boys aged 13–17. Approximately 30% of Palestinian boys and 20% of Palestinian girls had “seriously considered attempting suicide in the last 12 months” and similar rates had “made a plan on how to attempt suicide in the last 12 months.”
It is worth noting that many Palestinian mental health experts do not agree with the diagnosis of PTSD in this context, because it does not take into account the fact that traumatic events are ongoing, and there can therefore be no ‘post’.
In the beginning of July The Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Monitor reported that 91% of children in the Gaza Strip suffer psychological trauma following the latest Israeli aggression on the Strip. The report stated that 9 out of 10 children in the Gaza Strip suffer some form of conflict-related trauma about a month after the end of the Israeli military attack on Gaza.
Psychiatrist and lecturer at Al-Quds Open University Youssef Awadallah told Al-Monitor that the psychological impact of the war remains stuck in children’s minds, and it will deeply impact their souls for years to come. “Children who have lost family members or loved ones are more likely to develop PTSD,” he said. Most of the psychological problems children suffer from because of the war are nightmares, involuntary urination, hostility, low academic achievement, change in appetite and isolation.“Psychological scars may not be visible, but they severely affect human health,” he explained. “Children are more affected by war due to their lack of life experience and their inability to interpret events as adults,” Awadallah said. He said teachers will notice a decrease in academic achievement, an increase in students’ distraction and feelings of abandonment, as well as an increase in cases of violence and aggressive behavior — the most affected age groups are between 6 and 12.
Suzy’s mother, her two brothers and two sisters – ages 9 to 2 – died in the May 16 Israeli attack on the densely packed al-Wahda Street in Gaza City. Photo source: The Inside Palestine
Silwan, Occupied East Jerusalem
Palestinian children in the occupied East Jerusalem neighbourhood of Silwan have been traumatised by Israel’s ongoing ethnic cleansing campaign, including threats to demolish their homes. In a video report, the Maydan Al-Quds TV channel showed children who said they were afraid of displacement and are haunted by the idea of losing their homes and memories. One child said: “Here, I used to water the plants, relax, sit, play and enjoy my time. After the demolition decision, I am afraid. I am afraid for myself, and I am afraid that the memories will disappear.” Another said: “I can’t imagine that we will leave this house and not return to it again. The idea is very painful. I cannot believe we will lose our home.” “My grandchildren ask me many painful questions. They ask me how settlers have the right to force us out of the house and take over it, although it had been built by their grandfather,” one grandmother said. Many children have asked their parents where they will go if they are forced out of their homes but no one has an answer.
Israeli restrictions and aggression against trauma relief
It is not only that the Israeli occupation of Palestine is the cause of trauma among Palestinian children but attempts to give some relief to the mental health of children are also targeted through restrictions and aggression.
Destroying a children’s center
Al-Tafawk Children’s Centre in Jenin refugee camp in the occupied West Bank which is run by local volunteers, is the only one of its kind in the camp, which hosts around 14,000 Palestinian refugees made homeless by the establishment of Israel in 1948. It provides around 120 children aged three to 16 with play, education and food, as well as a warm welcome. It is the only source of amusement they have to turn to in the bleak surroundings of the camp, which in 2002 during the Second Intifada lost dozens of residents in an Israeli army massacre and more than 400 homes in a brutal bulldozing campaign in yet another act of Israeli collective punishment of Palestinian civilians. The camp has been subjected to regular military incursions ever since. On the night of May 15, the Israeli military raided Jenin Al-Tafawk Children’s Centre and completely wrecked it. Their pretext was that they were looking for arms but of course, they found none. First, they started to shoot from outside the centre. Then they blew up the front door and entered the centre. They threw everything around. Damaging everything of value.” Apart from damaging furniture and equipment, the soldiers deliberately destroyed the centre’s infrastructure, making the building unsafe and unusable. They destroyed the water pipes and taps, cutting off its water supply, wrecked the electricity safety box, cutting off electricity, damaged the stairs and the doors, forcing off the handles. In all, the damage amounts to thousands of dollars. They did not even spare children’s books. According to a witness, a soldier who was doing this said out aloud that Palestinian children did not need to read books since they would grow up to be murderers and be killed. These words of the Israeli soldier reminded us of the Palestinian trainer and circus performer, Mohammed Abu Sakha.
Detaining a circus performer
Abu Sakha was working as a circus performer and teacher at the Palestinian Circus School in Birzeit, the occupied West Bank, where he taught kids with learning difficulties. He said through his work, he attempts to give kids hope for the future to reduce the possibility of them partaking in violence.
The work of Abu Sakha must have been a thorn in the eye of the occupation authorities. In December 2015 he was arrested on his way to work while crossing a military checkpoint near Nablus, in the West Bank. He was placed in administrative detention shortly after, which has been extended twice. A moment before the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha in 2017 Israel decided to release Abu Saha from administrative detention. In the blink of an eye, after two years of imprisonment with no trial, he was no longer a threat.
Banning the screening of “Shivering in Gaza”
In September 2015 the city of Yeruham yielded to pressure, became the third Israeli city to cancel its scheduled screening of “Shivering in Gaza,” a short documentary by Dutch filmmaker Geert van Kesteren about Palestinians coping in the aftermath of the war. Sderot and Beersheba canceled their screenings in July after city officials faced similar pressure.
The film follows trauma specialist Jan Andreae, who discusses trauma, mourning and fear with local aid workers in the months following Israel’s war with Hamas that devastated the coastal enclave last year.
Invading the headquarters of a leading child rights organization
In the early hours of Thursday 29 July Israeli soldiers raided the headquarters of Defense for Children International-Palestine (DCI-Palestine) in Sateh Marhaba neighborhood in al-Bireh city near Ramallah. Heavily-armed Israeli forces smashed the main door of the child rights organization’s premises and barged their way inside, violently searching the offices and confiscating several computers.
The DCI-Palestine is an independent, local Palestinian child rights organization dedicated to defending and promoting the rights of children living in the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem al-Quds and the Gaza Strip.