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No safe place for the children of the occupation

August 12, 2014 at 4:30 pm

The Gaza offensive, dubbed “Operation Protective Edge,” has been described by International children’s rights group Save the Children as a “war against children”- the United Nations said a total of 456 children have been killed since its start.

Gaza’s streets are slowly filling as a lull in hostilities, part of an agreed 72 hour ceasefire, takes hold. People attempting to return to some resemblance of normality during this brief break are stepping out to grab provisions. For the children of the conflict that are emerging from UN refuge shelters, life as they know it is shattered.

Those leaving the shelters may be returning to homes that have been turned to rubble- nearly 11,000 families have had their homes completely or severely destroyed. On their return journey, they will likely pass entire neighborhoods flattened and mosques collapsed. Schools, which have been used as shelters, and hospitals, have been systematically targeted by Israeli airstrikes and many lay in a state of disrepair.

These were once all places of safety for children, who are now realizing that there is no safe place in Gaza. Even places of recreation are not shielded from Israeli attacks-on the first day of Eid al-Fitr, 10 children were killed whilst playing in a playground.

“We see this as a War on Children” said Osama Damo, Communication Senior Manager for Save the Children. “According to UN reports 373,000 children are in urgent need for psychosocial support,” he said.

Children are showing symptoms of distress and cling to parents, who in turn might also suffer from sleeping and eating disorders, nightmares, nervousness, and feelings of depression, guilt, anger and helplessness, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) most recent situation report.

“In order to provide efficient psychosocial intervention there must be a long-term end of violence and lifting the blockade on Gaza, which we are calling on all parties to achieve,” said Damo.

In Gaza, children from the age of six up have lived through three wars. In 2008-2009 Operation Cast Lead killed 352 children, and Operation Pillar of Cloud in 2012 took the lives of a further 33 children.

Following Operation Cast Lead, more than half of 15 to 18 year olds in Gaza showed signs of full or partial post-traumatic stress disorder after seeing dead bodies and witnessing heavy shelling. Around 75% of children over the age of six were suffering from one or more symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder

Israel has shaped the lives of all Palestinian children – those in the West Bank and East Jerusalem face a different set of issues, which also leave their scars.

Five year old Farah Abbad from the West Bank is the second generation of his family to be born into occupation. His grandparents probably still remember fleeing from their lands during the 1948 Nakba- the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians with the founding of the State of Israel, and his parents can no doubt recall the two intifadas- mass uprisings against the occupation forces.

Farah has already been a victim of settler violence. Last year he was hit on the head by a rock after settlers from one of the 125 illegal settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT) broke into his family home. He is now too scared to walk to school alone.

The above story comes from a recent report by Defence for Children International-Palestine. They documented 129 instances of settler violence against Palestinian children between 2008 and 2012.

As Farah grows older, he faces added risks. Since 2000, around 8,000 children have been arrested, detained and prosecuted by the Israeli military- during this process their ill treatment “appears to be widespread, systematic and institutionalized,” according to a 2013 UNICEF report.

There is also a chance that, like many other fathers, his father will be arrested and imprisoned in an Israeli jail on unknown charges. Farah’s home may become one of the 663 Palestinian structures demolished by Israel last year. He could also become one of the frustrated young men who take to the streets and throw rocks at soldiers as a way to protest the situation in the only way they have left.

There is also the chance his life will end at the barrel of a soldier’s gun before he reaches adulthood, like 14 year old Yusif Sami Shawamreh, or 15 year old Saleh Elamareen.

The wars in Gaza have marred generations of children and the occupation has shaped childhoods in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. All Palestinian children are learning the lesson there is no safe place for them under occupation.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.