The mental health crisis amongst Gazan children deteriorated during the month of May when Israel bombed the city.
More than a month after the intense Israeli attacks killed over 240 people in Gaza in 11 days in May, the cases of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) among children have shown an alarming spike.
While 33 percent of children in Gaza suffered from some degree of conflict-related trauma before the May escalation, the rate after the Israeli operation has touched a disturbing margin, with 91 percent of children being diagnosed with PTSD, a report by the Euro Mediterranean Human Rights Monitor says.
PTSD is a psychiatric disorder that may occur in people who have experienced or witnessed a traumatic event such as a natural disaster, a serious accident, a terrorist act, war/combat, or rape or who have been threatened with death, sexual violence, or serious injury, according to American Psychiatric Association.
If left untreated, traumatized children are likely to have difficulty in school. They become isolated from others and develop phobias.
According to the report titled “One war older”, which came as a result of five weeks of field research, children and women witnessed hundreds of direct targeting of densely populated residential areas.
Children younger than the age of 15 make up about 50 percent of people who live in the Gaza strip, and 49 percent of them are female.
Mariam Dawwas, a field researcher for the organisation was among the parents that witnessed her child suffering trauma in the aftermath of the attacks.
“Today, my 3-year-old daughter Sophie and I are still trying to live normally while going through PTSD like the vast majority of Palestinians in Gaza, and I am desperately trying to make her forget the sounds of bombs and the horrifying images of blood and destruction. The attack has ended, but the conflict within each of us is still at its peak,” Dawwas said. She was displaced with her child after Israeli fighter jets targeted her apartment building
Nearly 5,400 children in Gaza lost their homes as they were completely destroyed or severely damaged and 42,000 children had their homes partially damaged.
As a result of the May attacks, 241 children lost one or both parents, and 470 of them were injured. Besides experiencing destruction and loud bombs, witnessing the death of family members had a particular impact on the children.
Shaima Khalifa , a mother from Gaza said her 12-year-old son Mutassim Khalifa saw the body of his brother Yahya, who was 15 years old, scattered in pieces on the ground, after he was killed by an Israeli airstrike.
“He lost consciousness upon seeing his brother lying on the ground, and since that day, he has been behaving strangely; suddenly screaming in anger, laughing, or crying all day for no reason. When he sleeps, he keeps shouting his brother’s name throughout the night,” Khalifa said.
The report also indicated that nearly 2,500 pregnant women due to give birth in the next three months are at risk of facing complications during delivery, as a direct or indirect effect of the attacks.
A peace deal between Hamas and the Israeli government ended the Israeli operation. But as the people in Gaza, particularly children try to recover from the mental toll of the operation, the occasional bombings still target Gaza.
In the aftermath of the bombings, 400,000 children have a hard time accessing water because due to the damage of wells, groundwater, desalination plants, and sewage treatment plants.
Gaza’s reconstruction is still on hold, but the human rights organisations say its physical recovery is a prerequisite for trauma recovery.
The International Committee of the Red Cross said it will take years, if not decades, for Gaza to recover from the damage inflicted on the territory and its people in less than two weeks.
“It is mainly focused on surgery, health and water and energy repair. And after, we have more long-term needs to address, and it is about rebuilding infrastructures and … to address the crucial mental health needs,” Fabrizio Carboni, the ICRC’s regional director for the Near and Middle East, said.