Jenin’s children need urgent psychological care after Israeli attack, say social workers

Qassam Muaddi

The New Arab  /  July 11, 2023

“We know the pattern, and we know that the occupation violence makes it impossible to offer a safe place for children to grow up,” said Basimah Abu Tabikh, director of the women’s work centre in Jenin.

Children in the Jenin refugee camp need urgent treatment for the trauma caused by repeated Israeli attacks on the camp, families and social workers said to The New Arab.

Since the beginning of this year, Israeli forces have killed 64 Palestinians in Jenin during military raids on the city and its refugee camp. Among those killed by Israel are at least 13 children.

Last week, Israeli forces conducted a 48-hour-long attack on the camp, killing 12 Palestinians and wounding 100, destroying most of the infrastructure and causing at least 3,000 Palestinians to leave their homes.

Psychological impact on children is greater than we expected, and it doesn’t only come from the killing of fellow age-peers or family members, but from the constant violent atmosphere that imposes itself on life in the camp, including in between raids,” Najat Abu Butmeh, director of the children’s centre in the camp, told TNA.

Many of the families who left the camp on the second night of the latest attack, fleeing drone strikes, came back to find their homes destroyed, which immensely impacts children,” said Butmeh.

The general destruction in the camp’s streets continues to traumatize children, which is why we need to take them out of the streets and away from their destroyed homes,” she said. “We have been forced to reorganize our summer activities to be able to welcome hundreds of children more, for more hours during the day, and we lack resources.” 

“Our therapy activities include expression through drawing, and we notice that all children draw army vehicles, guns, killed people, arrests, and resistance symbols,” noted Butmeh.

“It has been years since we saw a child above the age of five drawing a flower or a cloud,” she added.

At the Abu Karam family in the camp, the mother described the impact of the latest Israeli attack on the camp. “As drone strikes hit parts of the camp, we felt the sound of explosions very close and loud, and my middle son, Aboud, who is only three years old, broke into crying and screaming at each explosion,” she said. 

“My youngest son took fever out of fear, and he couldn’t eat anything the next day,” continued the mother. “We left our house on the second night, and although we came back two days ago, Aboud keeps asking me if the Israelis bombed our house and if we no longer have a house, and I have to remind him that we are in our house each time.”

Basimah Abu Tabikh, director of the women’s work centre, states that the need for trauma treatment also includes women, to which the children’s centre is affiliated.

Women, especially mothers in the camp, bear the heaviest burden of the situation, as they are the ones who directly have to maintain a safe atmosphere in the households during the raids, especially if their husbands are killed or arrested,” explained Abu Tabikh.

“The biggest burden is the upbringing of children under these conditions, especially that the entire young-adult generation that includes resistance fighters in the camp, were children who grew up under the trauma of the 2002 occupation attack on Jenin,” she noted. “We know the pattern, and we know that the occupation violence makes it impossible to offer a safe place for children to grow up”.

“Although we have specialized professionals to treat traumas in our centre, we are women and mothers ourselves,” she added. “In a way, organizing activities for children and fellow women is, in a way, a kind of self-therapy for us.”

According to the Defence of Children International – Palestine human rights group, four of the 12 Palestinians killed in last week’s Israeli attack on Jenin were children. DCI-P’s also documented 33 Palestinian children killed by Israeli forces in 2023, including 13 in Jenin alone.