Details of “shocking” psychological trauma inflicted on Palestinian children by Israel’s cruel home demolition campaign has been revealed by a new study by a leading NGO. The victims display extremely high levels of fear, anxiety and depression, says Save the Children.
The study conducted by the international organisation has found that four out of five children in the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem, whose homes have been demolished by the Israeli authorities, say that they feel abandoned by the world. The report’s findings released today emerge as Palestinian residents of the East Jerusalem neighbourhoods of Sheikh Jarrah and Silwan face eviction from their homes, pending decisions by the Israeli Supreme Court.
The Israeli District Court of Jerusalem is expected to look into the forced displacement of four Palestinian families from Jerusalem’s Sheikh Jarrah on 2 August, according to the latest reports. The threat of eviction sparked global outrage and triggered Israel’s recent offensive against Gaza in which 250 Palestinians were killed, including 66 children. The court decision has been postponed before and there is a chance that it could be delayed again. The four families are part of a group of more than 500 Palestinians, comprising 28 families, facing forced expulsion from the neighbourhood.
For its report “Hope under the rubble: the impact of Israel’s home demolition policy on Palestinian children and their families”, the children’s rights NGO consulted 217 Palestinian families across the West Bank and East Jerusalem. All have had their homes demolished by the Israeli authorities over the past ten years.
Eighty per cent of the children consulted said that they had lost faith in the ability of not just the international community but also the authorities and even their parents to help and protect them. They reported feelings of powerlessness and hopelessness about the future.
Children also displayed signs of trauma and deep anxiety. “We keep moving around to find somewhere to live,” said one 14 year old interviewed for the report. “The instability is driving me crazy. I feel that wherever I go, they will come for me and destroy my life.”
According to one 15 year old, “All I have are sad memories. I still feel traumatised by the soldiers and their dogs attacking and injuring my father [during the demolition]. I have nightmares about the bulldozers ripping away every stone in our house, and the sounds of the explosions still haunt me.”
Save the Children says that the majority of children consulted showed high rates of distress, including feelings of sadness, fear, depression and anxiety. Children described having frequent nightmares, feeling like there is no safe place for them, and being paralysed with fear.
Highlighting the devastating impact on families in general, the report found that the vast majority — 80 per cent — of families reported a devastating impact on their financial situation, with more than a quarter of breadwinners losing their job post-demolition. Furthermore, their situation is compounded by the spiralling cost of living. Despite this, very few families reported receiving compensation or financial support to rebuild their lives.
The psychological trauma that Israel inflicts on adults is equally distressing. The report found that “the majority of parents (76 per cent) and caregivers feel powerless, unable to protect their children after losing their homes. They also feel shame (75 per cent), irritation and anger (72 per cent), as well as being emotionally distant from their children (35 per cent).”
Pointing to the devastation caused by Israel’s illegal home demolition programme, Jason Lee, Save the Children’s Country Director in the occupied Palestinian territory, said: “These shocking findings should be a warning cry to the international community – children and their families feel beaten down and powerless. Since 1967, Israeli authorities have demolished 28,000 Palestinian homes. Each demolition has uprooted an entire household – quashing the dreams and hopes of 6,000 children and their families in the past 12 years.”
Lee called on the international community to hold Israel accountable for its many violations and warned that homes and schools will continue to be demolished by the occupation state unless it faces the consequences of its criminal behaviour.