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Living with fear and death... Gaza’s children speak up

Living with fear and death... Gaza’s children speak up

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Tuesday 4 October 202212:21 pm
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مرافقة الموت والخوف... أطفال غزة يتحدثون

Life in the Gaza Strip has its own peculiarity, perhaps being the most unique in terms of suffering, misery, fear, poverty, and unemployment, as well as the high rates of loss and damage due to repeated wars on this narrow strip of land, which is considered to be the most densely populated spot of land in the world.

Gaza, which has a population of two million and two hundred thousand people within an area of no more than 278 km, is crowded with residential communities and narrow streets, and is dotted with refugee camps full of Palestinians displaced by the Nakba. It is also, by nature, lacking in the natural resources that enable its people to be self-sufficient, in addition to the suffering of the residents of the strip during the past two decades, from five wars launched by the Israeli occupation (2008, 2012, 2014, 2018, 2021), all of which have left different traces of structural, economic, psychological, and physical destruction on its people. These wars were preceded by a period of security chaos in Gaza in 2006 between Palestinian parties, which has since led to political division. Nor can one overlook the Israeli economic siege on the city, which affects their daily lives, increases unemployment and mortality rates, and prevents them from moving and traveling on many occasions.

Such an environment has made matters worse as a result of the disintegrated social fabric and the countless losses caused by wars, in terms of infrastructure and lives, in addition to the psychological state that the residents of the strip suffer from, especially the children, as this generation of children has lived through five consecutive wars from 2008 until now, which has caused them enormous psychological trauma that’s difficult to deal with most of the time.

A report released by Save the Children in Gaza under the title “Trapped”, states that there has been a significant increase in the number of children who reported feeling scared or fearful (84% compared to 50% in 2018), as well as the number of children reporting emotional distress and being nervous (80% compared to 55%), and those feeling sadness or depression (77% compared to 62%). The findings showed that grief has risen to 78% (from 55% previously). It also found that more than half of Gaza’s children have contemplated suicide, and that three out of five are actually practicing self-harm.

This generation of children has lived through five consecutive wars, from 2008 until now, which has caused them enormous psychological trauma that’s difficult to deal with most of the time

The Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Monitor, following the end of the 2021 war on the Gaza Strip by the Israeli occupation, said that 9 out of 10 children in the Gaza Strip suffer from some form of “conflict-related trauma” due to the collapse of the safe environment system that should be present around children.

The findings stated that 241 children had lost one or both parents as a result of the bombings, and that some 5,400 children had lost their homes (completely demolished or severely damaged), and 42,000 children had their homes partially damaged.

The human rights monitor added in its report that some 72,000 children were displaced to schools run by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) or the homes of their relatives during the attack. According to the statistics of the Palestinian Ministry of Health, following the last war, 66 children and 40 women were killed under the Israeli bombardment of Gaza within just 11 days, while 470 children and 310 women were wounded.

Stolen laughter

Iman, a 16-year-old Gazan girl tells Raseef22, “I lost my father in the 2014 Gaza War launched by the Israeli occupation, and since then I have not felt safe. The occupation has stolen the laughter from my life and replaced it with the constant fear of the future.”

She continues, “Missing my father is not the only problem, but I also feel an overwhelming sense of defeat before life. The older I get, the more the thoughts of tragedy grow inside me. I don’t know what sin I’ve committed to go through all this.”

Meanwhile Ahmed, a 14-year-old boy who lost one of his eyes during the 2021 war, says, “I now see the world with one eye. The world has become very small in my eyes. I wish for death more than once a day.”

He adds, “What’s the point of living life with a permanent disability that makes me feel inferior at every moment? The children around me look at me with pity, I have always been weak in these situations, and my moments of weakness are always repeating.”

Tala, 15, talks about the frequent wars and the bad economic situation her family is going through, “My father lost his factory during the war. He used to make candy for children, he wasn’t making weapons.” She then asks, “Why is the occupation always determined to erase all the beautiful things from our lives? This is a great injustice against us.”

Tala goes on, trying to describe her feelings about the situation, “When I see my father without work, I’m too ashamed to even ask him for one shekel to buy candy. After he had been able to meet all our needs in the past, he is now in a bad mental state and is always angry. I feel like I’ve lost safety and security since my father lost his usual self. I live with fear more than anything else.”

Mais, 14, sees that the colors of life have suddenly vanished from her eyes, and that she hates the colors red, black, and white, because they remind her of suffering and death. She says, “The first time I saw blood and the remains of dismembered body parts, I was with my father on our way to inspect our house after its surroundings were bombed. I saw our little neighbor Mustafa, with whom I would always play hide-and-seek. I saw him being carried by the paramedics while covered in his own blood. His face was covered with dust, scratches, and blood. He was not moving and wasn’t opening his eyes. I felt dizzy at that moment, as I was very stunned by what I was seeing, and when they moved him a little further from the door of our house, I looked again, because I felt that I would never see him again. That’s when I saw that his left leg had been cut off as a result of the bombing. Meanwhile my father was pulling my hand to go up with him to the house, but I lost my balance and fell into my father’s arms from the shock of what I had seen.”

She concludes, “I do not like life (here). Whenever I remember this moment, I feel that we in Gaza are different from the rest of the children of the world, and instead of feeling the distress of murder on television, we see it in person in all its ugliness.”

Nightmares... The meaning of living with death

Duaa, a 13-year-old Gazan girl, says, “I am afraid to talk about my dreams to those around me, so they would not accuse me of being mentally ill, I have gone through difficult circumstances as a result of past wars, I sometimes dream that the ceiling of my room is suddenly closing in on me while I am lying on the bed next to my sister, and every time, I wake up screaming in the night or completely shivering. When my father sensed that I wasn’t okay, he took me to a psychiatrist. At the time, I was plagued by an even more horrible feeling; that I had gone crazy and became ashamed to even meet my friends.”

Duaa continues, “I don’t like to remember the sound of the bombing. It terrifies me to the point that I wish to leave Gaza and never return. I have thought about suicide more than once. I feel like the next war is near, and I do not wish to ever live it.”

Duaa describes the emotions that haunted her during the last bombing in May 2021, “Have you ever felt your body shake really badly? Unfortunately, there was nowhere to hide during the war. We just had to put our hands over our heads and run in any direction from the terrifying sounds.”

When my father sensed that I wasn’t okay, he took me to a psychiatrist. At the time, I was plagued by an even more horrible feeling; that I had gone crazy and was ashamed to even see my friends

Nahed, 14, describes his life under the weight of the ongoing wars over the Gaza Strip. He says, “Ever since I came into this life, I haven’t found anything beautiful in it, I don’t know why my father can’t find a job. I don’t know why we can’t live in a safe place.”

He adds, “Our house is located in a border area north of Gaza. It has always been subjected to indiscriminate shooting. Honestly, I hate the night. It is the time when we receive hits from the occupation, during wars and other things. I don’t remember once sleeping without feeling afraid — the fear that I will die, or that one of my loved ones will be killed by the bullets of the occupation.”

Nahed continues, “I traveled to Tunisia through the United Nations after the latest war. I was in a bad mental state and needed this safe environment. I saw the huge difference between the life of a Palestinian child and any other child. We are living with fear and death in every moment and detail of our lives.” 

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