Trauma haunts Gaza children after Israeli war
Experts say Israeli attacks damage mental health of Palestinian children
GAZA CITY, Palestine
Mohammad Alaf can’t forget the moment when a missile struck near his home in Gaza City during Israel’s bombardment of the Palestinian territory last month.
The father of five recalls that the sound of explosions has left his 6-year old daughter’s in total panic.
“I felt her heart will stop. She was living real horror,” Alaf told Anadolu Agency.
The following day, his daughter has become completely speechless and withdrawn.
“She was living a trauma and was unable to sleep for more than 24 hours,” her father said. “Is this what Israel was seeking to achieve?”
At least 260 Palestinians were killed and thousands injured in 11 days of Israeli airstrikes on the Gaza Strip on May 11. Sixty-six children and 39 women were among those killed in the onslaught.
Thirteen Israelis were also killed by Palestinian rocket fire from the Gaza Strip.
The fighting, the fiercest in years, erupted against the backdrop of an Israeli court ruling to evict eight Palestinian families from their homes in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood in occupied East Jerusalem in favor of settlement groups. The violence came to a halt under an Egyptian-brokered truce that came into effect on May 21.
Alaf, whose children are aged between 3 and 15, said his kids have lived long days of anticipation and kept asking about what will happen to their relatives and friends nearby in case of Israeli attacks in the area.
“They were asking me what will happen to children who live in these buildings, or if the warplanes will bomb our home,” he said.
“Their questions showed how much they were afraid of being killed under the rubble of their home. Unfortunately, I did not have an answer about their questions.”
To ease their panic, Alaf engaged his children in activities like drawing, singing, storytelling and games in an attempt to reassure them amid the Israeli onslaught.
As the Israeli airstrikes came to a halt on May 21, the five children asked their father to go outside the home.
“When we passed through Al-Wehda street where more than 40 Palestinians were killed by Israeli missiles, they saw what they imagined. They stood crying in front of the ruins,” Alaf recalled.
Until today, his children are still suffering from nightmares and get panicked by any loud sounds outdoors.
Ameera, 17, said her 7-year old brother, Ahmed, gets panicked whenever he hears the sound of an Israeli warplane flying overhead.
“He was very afraid and started to cry,” the Palestinian girl told Anadolu Agency. “He started to ask my father if we will remain alive to see our mother freed from prison or the Israeli airstrikes will kill us.”
Their mother, Nisreen Abu Kmail, was jailed by Israel in 2015 on accusations of spying for Palestinian resistance groups. She is expected to be released in October 2021 after serving her 6-year jail sentence.
The family never visited the mother in prison since she was detained. Their only way of communication was through radio podcasting through which they used to tell her about their news.
But on May 15, an Israeli warplane struck the 12-storey Al-Jalaa tower, which housed the offices of the radio they used to call their mother. As a result, their connection interrupted.
“The most horrible event wasn’t the bombing. It was our fears about our jailed mother. She did not know anything about us, which was very troubling,” Ameera said.
During Israel’s bombardment of Gaza, Ahmed was unable to sleep in his bed.
“I kept hugging and kissing him as I did not know whether we will wake up the next day or not,” Ameera recalled. “It was horrible days. I don’t know how we survived.”
“After the war, Ahmad spends all the time outside playing. He is feeling that he was in a prison during the days of the war,” she said.
Experts say the Israeli assaults damage the mental health of the Palestinian children and leave them in a trauma.
“The psychosocial adjustment system in these children has been damaged due to the war, leading to behavioral and cognitive problems,” Dua Abd Alhameed, a former clinical psychologist, told Anadolu Agency.
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“They will suffer for a long time from behavioral problems such as stress, extreme nervousness and severe responses. They may also suffer from panic attacks, nightmares and sleep disorders.”