Gaza’s Children: The Psychological Trauma of Catastrophe

Children watching mortars being fired from Gaza during ceasefire between Israel and Hamas(The Guardian)

By Louisa A. Lamb

Within the last ten years, Israel has provoked three offensive movements against the Palestinian territory in Gaza: Operation Cast Lead, which began at the end of 2008 and 2009, Operation Pillar of Defense, which last eight days in November 2012, and most recently, Operation Protective Edge, which started on July 7th, 2014. During this period of devastation, homes have been obliterated, nearly two thousands civilians have been killed, and humanitarian resources are extremely limited due to the Israeli blockade. Catastrophic damage has already been done, some irreparable and some of the most important consequences are often overlooked.

According to Dr. Jesse Ghannam, a clinical psychologist working for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, reported that the rate of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder among children has doubled since the 2012 Operation Pillar of Defense attack. These children will most likely suffer from mood disorders, anxiety, depression, problems with attachment and develop antisocial personality traits. Children of Gaza who are nine years old have spent whole lives experiencing the terror of ruthless violence.

The UN relief and works agency reported that approximately 270,000 people in Gaza are currently living in shelters. The organization also calculates that more than 350,000 children need mental health services because of severe and persisting psychological trauma. How can children cope when they witness the loss of their homes and their entire families from a single explosion? These children are witnessing their mothers, fathers, sisters and brothers, friends and neighbors being blown apart with no understanding of why.

Children are unable to understand the nature of this ongoing destruction. The children who have witnessed all three of the Israeli offenses are old enough to have reached Concrete Operations of Piaget’s Theory of Cognitive Development. Even so, how can they begin to conceptualize such oppression being justifiable? They don’t. Instead, these children, who are completely traumatized, are taught that survival is retaliating against these forces. The innate human compassion that every single human is born with is drowned with the blood of their people, leaving these children as empty shells, with their only hope to survival becoming filled with hatred and violence to join an extremist organization, where they will become like their oppressors—ruthlessly inhuman and unaffected by bloodshed.

In addition to the trauma they experience from witnessing these horrors themselves, family tensions contribute to their psychological issues. It’s difficult for children to feel safe when their parents, older relatives and other adults are stressed. Children need reassurance from adults and a healthy and supportive environment. Their parents are also suffering and face their own worries, so these children of Gaza cannot even retrieve comfort from their family.

The children of Gaza, who may initially be socially withdrawn and reclusive, quiet yet scarred and suffering, are at grave risk of growing into killing machines with nothing but bitter resentment for Israel. The attacks on children in Gaza are only fueling the ongoing violence, because for these children the only option is to avenge their dead family members, their homes, their schools, and their lack of human resources. Essentially, these kids have never known a proper society and will undoubtedly return to a very barbaric nature because that is their only means of survival.

These children are unable to have normal lives and development—besides the psychological trauma and lack of resources—because their identity is not fostered in a normal, healthy way. One of the most notable theories of development comes from Erik Erikson, who developed the 8 stages of psychosocial development. The nine-year old survivors of the Israeli offenses in Gaza, for instance, would be in Erikson’s stage of Industry vs. Inferiority. This is a crucial stage of human development, but these children will not be able to surpass this stage and continue to develop in a healthy manner. The Industry, which we can compare to the Israeli militant forces, dominate over the Palestinians. The children of Gaza who have lost everything—while never really having anything—are robbed of their dignity and the right to a stable life and identity of self.

The Palestinian suffering and Israeli-Hamas conflict is nothing new. This problem has been raging on, but it is important to ease the suffering of these children and provide resources to help them and help the world. There is a way to stop the cycle, with humanitarian efforts and discussion about what needs to be done. These children are innocent, and yet they are subjected to so much. It is a moral responsibility of the international community to provide assistance to alleviate the strife of these children and rebuild what is left of the home of the Palestinian people.

Full article at Media with Conscience

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This entry was posted in Human Rights & Justice, Psychology & Psychiatry, War & Terror and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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