Gaza's suffering children

Every once in a while Ibrahim Hawash, 42, calls his wife Noha from his nightshift job to make sure that she has followed the treatment course prescribed by their family doctor for their four children, who are in primary school.

The four children lost their ability to control urination due to the fear they underwent when Israeli army jets bombed a home near theirs in the Jabalya refugee camp in the northern Gaza Strip during the "Warm Winter" military campaign three weeks ago. The four children still remember the terrifying night when they woke frightened up to the sound of a thundering explosion in the area and found that the glass of their home's windows had fallen onto their bed.

Thousands of Palestinian children have experienced what Hawash's four children are undergoing. Aish Samour, director of the Psychiatric Hospital in Gaza, says that 30 per cent of Palestinian children under 10 years of age suffer from involuntary urination due to deep-seated fear, and mentions other nervous problems such as nail- biting, nightmares, bodily pains of unknown cause, crying and introversion.

Samour adds that the scenes and images of death, destruction, tanks, ambulances, children bombed, bulldozers uprooting trees, the funerals of the killed, and planes that drop missiles over homes and the smoke rising from them -- all of which are shown on television as well as witnessed in the events that take place around them -- seriously affect the psychological and nervous conditions of Palestinian children.

According to a study conducted by the Gaza Community Mental Health Programme, each Palestinian child has been exposed to more than nine shocking events. The study says that 95.6 per cent of children have seen images of the wounded and killed, and 95 per cent have been affected adversely by hearing the sounds of explosions as a result of shelling. Further, a total of 60 per cent of children have undergone moderate psychological shock.

Matters are made more complicated by the fact that due to the Gaza siege, Palestinian children suffer from a chronic state of malnutrition that affects their intellect. This is reflected in the fact that 15 per cent of Gaza's children suffer from impairments in their intellectual abilities due to malnutrition. He adds that repression and violence accumulated within the lives of Palestinian children affect their creative capacities and push them to resort to extreme acts that reflect the pain and frustration they feel.

[Excerpt of an article by Saleh Al-Naami, Al-Ahram]

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