Gaza’s traumatised young deserve hope of a better future

Palestinian children are seen in a poor neighbourhood in Khan Yunis in the southern Gaza Strip on October 24, 2018. AFP
Palestinian children are seen in a poor neighbourhood in Khan Yunis in the southern Gaza Strip on October 24, 2018. AFP

This weekend marks exactly a year since protests first began on the Gazan border to mark the March of Return. It says much about how inured we have become to the cycle of violence which has become the reality of Gazans’ everyday lives that those wounded during the last round of protests on Friday (two killed, 181 injured, including 53 children) barely raised a flicker of outrage. But as Israel’s land, sea and air blockade stretches into a 12th year, effectively turning Gaza into an open-air prison, it is a young generation of Palestinians paying the price.

A report from the Norwegian Refugee Council found more than two-thirds of Palestinian children experienced psychosocial distress because of the violence they had witnessed. More than half said they had no hope for the future. Many had seen atrocities being committed and knew someone who had been injured or killed while eight in 10 traumatised children struggled at school. Gaza’s humanitarian crisis and the Israeli siege has left “an entire generation emotionally damaged”, according to NRC Palestine’s country director Kate O’Rourke. The UN says Israeli forces killed 34 children between March and December last year and injured another 1,642. But beyond the brutalities inflicted on the young, there are another 25,000 children damaged psychologically by what they have experienced.

Instead of a reprieve, Gaza is being pounded by Israeli airstrikes once again in the latest escalation in tensions. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has vowed a “forceful” response to an apparent rocket attack, cutting short his visit to the US to follow through on his promise. His willingness to sacrifice innocent lives in Gaza as collateral damage for achieving his electoral ambitions ahead of Israeli elections on April 9 is disgraceful. Nor is he the only one guilty of political expediency. Since Hamas, which denied it was responsible for the rocket attack, seized the Gaza Strip from Fatah in 2007, it has failed to improve the lives of ordinary citizens, who are frequently hit with price hikes and fuel and water shortages. The group has failed to reconcile with Fatah in the West Bank, leaving the Palestinian leadership weak and divided. Trapped between political in-fighting and Israeli aggression, it is ordinary, innocent Gazans who are suffering most. Palestinians schools and hospitals are set to be crippled further as US funding cuts of $200 million, intended for the UN Relief and Works Agency, start to bite. UNRWA has said the situation will reach “crisis point” in May.

Gaza desperately needs a reprieve and a lasting political solution. An entire generation will be lost without proper access to basic facilities, psychological support and a decent education. As one teenage girl wrote in a notebook, found in the grounds of a bulldozed school: “Hope is a great friend. It might go away for a while but it will never betray you.” Her words should send a wake-up call to the international community. As Gaza heads into a second year of protests, its traumatised young deserve to have more than mere hope of a peaceful future.

Published: March 26, 2019 07:10 PM


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