Israel’s attack on Gaza will be felt most severely among the Palestinian children, a top United Nations official said on Tuesday.
Addressing a UN conference by phone, Pernille Ironside, who runs the UNICEF field office in Gaza, said the agency estimates that roughly 373,000 Palestinian children have had some kind of direct traumatic experience as a result of the attack and will require immediate psycho-social support. This is in addition to the 408 children reported as killed and the thousands left wounded after three weeks of heavy shelling by Israeli forces.
“Public health conditions in Gaza are getting worse by the hour, and with water running out the threat of disease is spreading fast. The ceasefire alone will not be enough to end Gaza’s suffering—the blockade of Gaza must also end if there is to be real recovery and lasting peace for both Israelis and Palestinians.” –Nishant Pandey, head of Oxfam in the Occupied Palestinian Territory and Israel
“How can a society cope with this? This is a deep, deep, deep wound,” Ironside said.
In a piece published in +972 Magazine on Tuesday, Olivia Watson, advocacy officer with Defense for Children International-Palestine—which is independently verifying all child-deaths in the conflict—writes that for even those children “who manage to escape physical injury, the psychological effects of this latest operation will be hidden, but severe and resounding.”
“Many have lost one or both parents, or other family members. Some have lost their entire extended families,” Watson continues. “All have experienced violence, fear and instability at close quarters.”
Relief workers who have spent time with Palestinian children after the wars in 2008-9 and 2012 say that children who lost family members exhibit real physical manifestations of their trauma including: night terrors, inability to sleep, loss of bladder control, as well as refusing to eat, and aversion to eye contact or physical touch.
Danny Muller, a coordinator with the Middle East Children’s Alliance, told Common Dreams that in addition to the direct trauma of losing a loved one, children also experience more indirect trauma like the loss of a playground, a mosque, or a home.
Muller explained that because of the ongoing blockade and repeated attacks by Israel, children in Palestine sustain “ongoing” traumatic stress. The blockade has made families in Palestine food insecure for years, Muller said, as he cited a consistent lack of access to drinking water and high rates of unemployment, “all of which directly impacts the level of safety and security they feel in their homes and communities.”
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