Gaza children’s mental health rapidly deteriorating, survey finds

More than two-thirds of children surveyed experiencing psychosocial distress

Nabil Mohammed Madhi, 11, has been suffering from frequent disturbing nightmares ever since his brother Hussein was killed at the Great Return March in Gaza.
Nabil Mohammed Madhi, 11, has been suffering from frequent disturbing nightmares ever since his brother Hussein was killed at the Great Return March in Gaza.

Children living in the Gaza Strip have experienced unusually high rates of psychosocial distress because of the violent response to the Gaza protests and daily attacks they witness.                                                 

A study conducted by the Norwegian Refugee Council found that 68 per cent of schoolchildren in areas close to the Israeli perimeter fence have clear indications of psychosocial distress. The majority said they were most severely affected by the sounds of nearby explosions and media images of conflict in Gaza.

One year since the start of the Great March of Return mass protests along the perimeter fence with Israel, children have also reported witnessing the violence first hand, as well as knowing people who have been injured, killed or lost their homes. A worrying 54 per cent said they had no hope for a brighter future. The study also revealed that a staggering 81 per cent of children struggle academically due to conflict-related stress.

“The violence children witness daily, including the loss of loved ones, in the context of Israel’s crippling siege, which perpetuates and exacerbates Gaza’s humanitarian crisis, has left an entire generation emotionally damaged,” said NRC’s Palestine Country Director, Kate O’Rourke. “It takes years of work with these children to undo the impact of trauma and restore their sense of hope for the future.”

According to the UN Independent Commission of Inquiry, Israeli forces killed 34 children in the context of the Great March of Return demonstrations in the nine months between 30 March and 31 December 2018. Thirty-two died from live ammunition or bullet fragments and two died from direct hits to the head from gas canisters. The Commission found a further 1,642 children sustained injuries from live ammunition, bullet fragments or shrapnel, rubber-coated metal bullets and direct tear gas canister hits.

Human rights groups have reported six child fatalities during protests along the perimeter fence with Israel in the first 10 weeks of 2019. According to UNICEF, more than 25,000 children affected by the violence in Gaza are in need of psychosocial support.

“We call on all responsible parties to the conflict to respect the rights to peaceful assembly and expression, take urgent action to halt the killing and maiming of protestors and ensure accountability for violations of international law,” said O’Rourke.

The dramatic increase in Palestinian casualties has further crippled an already depleted health system and gives rise to serious concerns over excessive use of force by Israeli soldiers.

At the same time, under Israeli siege for over 11 years, 54 perc ent of Gaza’s population is now unemployed, 53 per cent of people live in poverty and food insecurity has spiralled to 68 per cent. Both the UN and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) have found that the siege imposed on Gaza constitutes collective punishment.

“Gaza, like the rest of the occupied Palestinian territory, desperately needs a just and lasting political solution, including for Palestine refugees, which places the lives, welfare and dignity of both Palestinians and Israelis at its centre,” said O’Rourke.

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