April 7, 2009
The recent war waged by Israel against Gaza Strip resulted in nearly 1500 children joining the already lengthy list of orphans in Gaza. This was disclosed by the Minister of Social Affairs, Ahmad Kurd, during the Ministryĺs observation of Arab Orphans Day on Thursday, April 2nd. It is one of the by-products of a policy of aggression aimed at every segment of the Palestinian society, an aggression that makes no exceptions: not for children, nor for women, nor for the elderly.
Humanitarian relief institutions, such as British-based Islamic Relief, estimate that about 1346 children lost one or both parents during the 23-day assault on Gaza by the Israeli occupation forces. The Palestinian Human Rights Center stated that six children lost both parents during the attack on Gaza.
The suffering of children due to the war on Gaza was not limited to the bitterness of becoming orphans deprived of the sympathy of their fathers or the tenderness of their mothers, or both. Rather, innocent children became direct victims of the aggression against unarmed civilians. This fact is confirmed by the statistics of local and international organizations concerned with human rights, which placed the total number of Palestinians killed at 1434 people, including 960 civilians; among these were 437 children under the age of 16, 110 women and 123 elderly, in addition to 14 doctors and four reporters. These statistics show that the number of children who died amounted to more than 45% of the total number of civilian casualties of the war.
Short-term and Long-term Psychological Effects
According to a report by the humanitarian news agency (IRIN), citing statistics from the Ministry of Health in Gaza that were current up until February 5th, 2009, the sum of 1872 children were wounded in the same war.
The British newspaper The Guardian reported that Israeli soldiers have been accused of committing war crimes against the Palestinians by deliberately using civilians as human shields during the assault. This is a violation of the Geneva conventions, which prohibit intentional endangerment of the lives of civilians.
Furthermore, there are the psychological effects of the war on children, a result of witnessing scenes of mass destruction and of people being killed and grievously injured in front of them. This age group is in particular need of psychological help in order to regain some modicum of stability.
The testimony of children collected after the ceasefire in Gaza brought to light incidents in which young children remained beside the corpses of their parents and relatives for days on end because the bombardments and fighting made free movement impossible. Such experiences are bound to have severe psychological repercussions. They also reported shocking crimes perpetrated by the Zionists against friends and relatives which they witnessed with their own eyes; crimes that included threats, abuse and murder.
Ann Veneman, Executive Director of the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), offered some corroborative testimony in describing her visits in March of this year to centers for psychological assistance operated by UNICEF and the Palestinian Red Crescent Society in the northern Gaza Strip. These centers provide art and music therapy and activities designed to reduce tension and psychological stress.
She mentioned that the children in those centers were drawing pictures of rockets aimed at their homes. One little girl painted the bottom part black and said it was "a place to bury the dead", by which she may have meant a cemetery.
Ms. Veneman stressed that these children must receive, at the earliest possible opportunity, the attention of trained professionals to help them overcome the effects of the trauma they have suffered.
Requests to Sponsor Orphans
Dr. Fadl Abu Hein, Director of the Center for Societal Training and Crisis Management in Gaza, is of the opinion that all the psychological symptoms experienced by children in the Gaza Strip during the current period will be less than the many psychological effects of the war which will appear over the course of time. The effects on those suffering from them may last for many years.
He indicates that this is linked to the magnitude of the events; seeing the places where they occurred will trigger suppressed memories of those harrowing scenes. He says: "No psychologist can give an accurate estimate of the magnitude and nature of the psychological impact of war on children, as all the details of life have become linked in the minds of our children to the bombardment, death and destruction, and this means that every aspect of the lives of Palestinian children is associated with mental illness."
As a result of the increasing number of orphaned children in Gaza, official agencies and charitable and humanitarian institutions, urged volunteers to sponsor them. Ahmed Kurd, Minister of Social Affairs of the legitimate government in Gaza, called upon institutions and nations to increase assistance to the orphans. He praised the Arab and Islamic institutions that have competed with one another in previous years to take care of the children of Palestine, noting that the number of orphans in Gaza receiving foster care from governmental bodies and NGOs has reached more than 20 thousand.
Muhammad Abu Deraz, Director of Islamic Reliefĺs Office for Children in Gaza, disclosed that "requests for sponsorship of orphans in the Gaza Strip have witnessed a steep increase". The organization has received more than 500 requests for sponsorship, of which it has only been able to comply with 200.