Rafah, Gaza Strip – Umm Fadi, the mother of three daughters and a son, is trying the best she can to comfort her children. But her nine-year-old, Raghd, is in tears all night, as Israeli airstrikes continue to hit the besieged Gaza Strip.
“It’s hard to explain politics to children – they hear from other neighbourhood children that it’s Israel bombing Gaza again, but still I can’t give them an answer as to why,” Umm Fadi, who lives in Tal al-Sultan with her husband and children, told Al Jazeera.
On Thursday, An Israeli air strike killed seven Palestinian civilians including five children,in the largest death toll from a single attack since the start of the three-day offensive, the Palestinian Ministry of Health said.
The Gaza Health Ministry estimates that 32 Palestinians have been killed and more than 230 others injured in several hundred Israeli airstrikes on the Gaza Strip since Israel’s latest military offensive began. An additional 64 Palestinian houses have been completely destroyed.
“I am afraid myself, and my children come to hide in my bedroom. How can I possibly show them that I am not afraid?” Umm Fadi said, explaining that she doesn’t leave her home, not even to run daily errands, for fear of being injured or killed.
According to Defence for Children International Palestine, at least eight Palestinian children have been killed in Israeli bombings, and dozens of others have been wounded until Wednesday. Six children were killed in a single air strike alone, the group reported, when an Israeli bomb landed on the home of Odeh Ahmad Mohammad Kaware, an alleged Hamas activist, in Khan Younis in southern Gaza.
“Yesterday, in order to destroy a house which is not a military target, six children died,” said Eyad Abu Eqtaish, DCI Palestine’s accountability programme director. “It’s the role of the international community to apply pressure on Israel to meet its obligations under the Geneva Conventions.”
“It’s clear that Israel is indiscriminately targeting the Gaza Strip and this is clear by the big numbers of Palestinian civilians, among them children, who were affected,” Abu Eqtaish told Al Jazeera.
In a statement released on Tuesday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu denied allegations that Israel is targeting Palestinian civilians. “Israel targets Hamas terrorists and not innocent civilians. By contrast, Hamas targets Israeli civilians while hiding behind Palestinian civilians. Hamas, therefore, bears full responsibility for any harm that comes to Israeli and Palestinian civilians alike.”
According to Palestinian doctor, Ahmed Abu Tawahinah, Palestinian children in Gaza suffer from extreme stress as a result of the violence, and often need a lot of support to deal with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.
“Trauma is a term which they have used in the West when they were talking about normal situations and there is a breakdown. This breakdown is the trauma, but for us Palestinians, trauma is the daily life,” Abu Tawahinah told Al Jazeera.
“The term trauma itself is not enough to describe what is going on in Gaza. I am not convinced we expressed the horror.”
The term trauma itself is not enough to describe what is going on in Gaza. I am not convinced we expressed the horror.
Thirty-three Palestinian children were killed during Israel’s last major military offensive in Gaza, DCI Palestine reported, while 353 children were killed and another 860 were injured during Israel’s three-week operation in 2008-09, dubbed Operation Cast Lead.
Two months after the November 2012 campaign, the United Nations’ agency for Palestinian refugees (UNRWA) found that the PTSD rate rose by 100 percent, and that 42 percent of patients were under the age of nine. UNICEF also reported that 91 percent of children surveyed in Gaza had trouble sleeping, 85 percent couldn’t concentrate, and 82 percent reported feelings of anger and symptoms of mental strain.
“Children do not have the capacity to cope with these difficult circumstances. Parents and family members provide as much support as possible for their children, to calm them down and to decrease their fear,” said Hussam Elnounou, of the Gaza Community Mental Health Programme, which is operating a 24-hour psychological support hotline for Palestinians in Gaza.
Elnounou told Al Jazeera that traumatised children often develop psychological problems, which can include clinging to their parents, wetting their beds, and fear of loud noises, as a result of the Israeli bombings.
“Gaza is under continuous siege… The situation is already very bad, politically, economically and socially. This war is adding oil to the fire.”
In Rafah, Umm Fadi told Al Jazeera her daughters have started to wet their beds, something that also happened during the Israeli military operation in November 2012. “Now trauma is living in us again. Even closing the door of the fridge can scare my daughters.”