Increasing number of Gaza’s children need mental health support, UNICEF says

A Palestinian man carries a wounded girl at a hospital after Israel carried out air strikes over Gaza (Mohammed Abed - AFP)

Middle East Monitor  /  May 26, 2021

Screams, air raids, scattered pools of blood and constant fears and nightmares, this is how the children of Gaza live their lives. With every war they witness, the feelings and scenes are repeated in their minds and work to distort their view of the world, which they see as a place of war and in which they must constantly prepare for losing their lives, homes, their loved ones at any moment.

Samah Jabr, head of the mental health unit at the Palestinian Ministry of Health, says that the authorities do not have enough shelters and safe locations to protect citizens from the Israeli strikes, which force children to live in a constant state of fear. Even the slightest noise can cause panic, she explained.

Lucia Elmi, UNICEF’s special representative in Palestine, said what is happening in Palestine is a severe manifestation of trauma and destruction, adding that this will affect the children who live there and the future generations.

Elmi emphasized that before the last wave of violence inflicted on the Palestinians by the Israeli occupation, UNICEF stated that one in every three children in Gaza needs psychological and social assistance, however the recent bombing will increase the numbers. Gaza’s children, she said, are living in a battlefield.

Asad Ashour, education coordinator at the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) – Gaza, said that the escalation of violence exacerbated children’s fear, increased their negative perception of the world, and exposed many of them to trauma.

He asserted that a large number of Palestinian children suffer from an inability to focus, nightmares and constant personality shifts, in addition to irritation and constant fear of death, whether for themselves or their families.

Ashour stressed that children in Palestine are unable to enjoy a normal childhood, have fun, visit each other, and go to parks, because they fear with every outing they risk losing their loved ones to a missile strike. As a result, they live in constant fear of doing anything.

Gaza’s children, Clinical Professor of Psychiatry and Global Health Sciences Jess Ghannam explained, suffer most from having no safe place to go and no escape from the trauma.

Ghannam indicated that many studies shed light on the extent of the impact of Israeli violence on Gaza’s children, including a study published in the Swiss scientific journal Frontiers in Psychiatry last year, which confirmed that 90 per cent of Palestinian children and adolescents in the Gaza Strip had experienced personal trauma, and more than 80 per cent had witnessed trauma to others.

Israel’s 11-day bombardment of the besieged Gaza Strip killed over 270 Palestinians, including nearly 70 children, and injured thousands more.

According to the Palestinian Ministry of Health, Palestinian hospitals in East Jerusalem received more than 400 wounded, 22 of them in a critical condition, while the other facilities in the West Bank are treating hundreds of injured persons.