No safe place: When israeli (apartheid state) airstrikes hit, Gaza’s children have nowhere to run

When Israel strikes, Gaza’s children have nowhere to run

No safe place: When Israeli airstrikes hit, Gaza's children have nowhere to run

Charlie Hoyle

No safe place: When Israeli airstrikes hit, Gaza’s children have nowhere to run

Most children in Gaza have experienced a major war during their lifetime. [Getty]

A sense of normalcy returned to life in the Gaza Strip on Wednesday after a ceasefire agreement between Palestinian political parties and Israel ended a major escalation in violence.

But for children in the besieged territory, it is simply a momentary break in a lifetime of trauma.

Up to 45 percent of Gaza’s population of two million is under the age of 14, with most having experienced at least three major Israeli military operations in their lifetime.

The crushing decade-long siege on the densely populated territory means children have nowhere to play, nowhere to escape, and, during intensified conflict, nowhere to hide.

“There are no safe places to go in times of attacks. We stay at home and pray we are not killed,” Maher Abdullah, a Senior Programme Officer and spokesperson for Save the Children, told The New Arab.

Abdullah and his family huddled together for safety in their apartment as Israel’s military pounded targets in Gaza over the past 24 hours.

Huge bombings punctuated the night at 15-minute intervals as families across Gaza hoped their homes would be spared.

They were asking ‘are we going to die? ‘Why do they want to kill us?’ ‘What did we do for them to kill us?’ Unfortunately, we don’t have an answer for the children
Maher Abdullah

In the most recent 2014 war, Israeli military strikes destroyed over 20,000 homes. More than half a million Palestinians were displaced and over 2,200 killed – including around 500 children.

“They were asking ‘are we going to die? ‘Why do they want to kill us?’ ‘What did we do for them to kill us?’ Unfortunately, we don’t have an answer for the children,” Abdullah said of the most recent Israeli strikes.

“We don’t feel safe and so it’s difficult to make our children feel safe, all we can do is pray.”

Always under threat

Health professionals in Gaza estimate that as many as 50 percent of children suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) due to their experiences of war.

According to a survey by Save the Children, over 95 percent of children displayed symptoms of depression, hyperactivity, aggression, and a preference for being alone.

Abdullah says the brutal 51-day war in 2014 has left children scared of loud noises and thunder, afraid of the dark, and experiencing constant nightmares.

Children waking up screaming and crying in the middle of the night is the norm in Gaza, he says, a consequence of constant panic amid an unending cycle of conflict.

“Our lives are always under threat”, he says.

Up to 45 percent of Gaza’s population is under the age of 14, with most having experienced at least three major wars in their lifetime

The interminable presence of violence means children and adults alike can never recover from their past traumas, and parents cannot isolate them from threats.

The United Nations estimates that more than 300,000 children are in need of psychosocial support.

But Gaza’s health infrastructure cannot even begin to cope with the mental health crisis.

Hospitals lack medical supplies, while severe underfunding means schools and the United Nations refugee agency can often only provide one counsellor for hundreds of children.

Beyond a simmering mental health crisis for children, the physical threat posed by Israel’s military has proved devastating.

Since protests began in March to demand an end to the blockade and the return of Palestinian refugees, more than 5,000 children have been wounded in demonstrations.

More than 40 children have been killed, while over 1,000 have been shot by live ammunition.

“What we are asking here is just to find a peaceful way to end all of this, to ensure that no more harm will happen to all affected children by these escalations in Gaza,” Abdallah said.

“We want to build our future, and our country’s future.”

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