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The students juggling drugs, books and resistance in Gaza

March 25, 2015 at 5:00 pm

No matter how pessimistic the prospects may seem to Palestinians, parents in Palestine refuse to give up on educating their children. Education is valued as a step to resisting Israel’s brutal occupation, in addition to being an important tradition for generations. In Gaza, 93% of children are in primary education. The average enrolment rate drops to 67% at secondary level, with around a 75% enrolment rate for girls and a 59% enrolment rate for boys (many are sent to work earlier to support their families). Even after the last attack on Gaza in the summer of 2014, over half a million children bravely returned to their schools which were scarred with the marks of war.

However, Palestinians in Gaza face a further challenge when it comes to education; the impact of psychological trauma. Children endure a siege which has prevented basic humanitarian supplies from entering Gaza and those aged six and above have lived through three wars. The latest psychological assessment amongst students in Gaza by United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in 2010 showed that 60% of primary school children were constantly angry. After the 2012 attacks, cases of children suffering from PTSD spiked to 92%. United Nations Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories Makarim Wibisono stated that there was not a single child that was not been adversely affected by the violence during the recent attack. He announced in his press release that as a result children are suffering from bedwetting, nightmares, insomnia and a loss of appetite, in addition to behavioural issues at school.

The stress on teachers has also been heightened with the extra responsibility of supporting increasingly traumatised children, as well as dealing with their own personal trauma. Each day, they face the challenge of trying to comfort children and building hope for Gaza’s future while putting aside their own grief and stress. They juggle extra hours, the added responsibility of acting as parents to orphaned children and the important role of instilling some hope in the minds of the children. Although the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) has recognised the extra stress on teachers and trained them to deal with the trauma of children, teachers continue to suffer with little help.

Secondary school students and university students are not exempt from the psychological impacts of the ongoing violence in Gaza. The UNESCO study on Gaza’s students showed that 67.2% of university students did not feel safe at university, 86.2% of them constantly felt nervous and 71.8% of them were not hopeful about the future. As well as trauma being a basic part of their environment, their adolescence and early adulthood gives them an insight into the struggle of unemployment that they may face. In August 2014, it was recorded that the unemployment rate in Gaza was at 41% and the poverty rate was at 39%.

This feeling of imprisonment within teenagers and young adults in Gaza is leading them to resort to drug abuse, including tramadol. Tramadol is usually used as a strong painkiller but young people in Gaza are now using the drug on a regular basis. It can lead to severe addiction when misused, with side effects of nausea, dizziness, epileptic seizures, abnormal cardiac activities, hallucinations and comas.

From 2008, tramadol misuse increased in Gaza dramatically; it was found that 30% of males between the ages of 14 and 30 were using tramadol regularly. Despite Hamas’ efforts to tackle the problem through increased security in the tunnels that the drugs are smuggled through and the imprisonment of smugglers, tramadol is still commonly used as a drug that helps users forget about the conditions imposed on them by Israel. Occurrences of tramadol abuse have even been found in pre-teens, with teachers having reported catching secondary school students with pills.

Members of an increasingly widening age range of Gazans are resorting to drugs to help them escape the war torn conditions that surround them. Despite the efforts of NGOs and local organisations to rebuild Gaza’s social system, the results will remain marginal as long as the siege is present and the overwhelming fear of another attack by Israel persists. With the recent re-election of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, hope for a safer and more prosperous Gaza is further minimised. His re-election only reaffirms that hope for change is limited.

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