Gaza, Asharq Al-Awsat – Ghassan Al Neemat attempted in vain to calm his son, Ahmed, aged 6, in the middle of the night, and sought to convince him that it was safe to stay at home as the child was adamant that he and his parents should go to his aunt’s house in nearby Barakat al Wazz.
Ahmed, a student in his first year of primary school was convinced that the ceiling of his house would cave in on the family during the night, and so Ghassan had no choice but to take his family of four to his sister’s home.
Ghassan told Asharq Al-Awsat that his son Ahmed had woken up on Sunday night in a panic after a piece of broken glass had landed on his leg while he was sleeping following an F-16 military jet bombing of a police station located nearby shattering the house’s windows and causing glass to fly in all directions. Ahmed cried until morning and ever since, he has been adamant that he will not spend another night in the family home.
Majid al Khanajira, a university lecturer, found himself in a similar situation with regards to his four-year-old son Ubayda.
Majid told Asharq Al-Awsat that as soon as his son hears the sound of an Israeli fighter jet, he trembles with fear and cries, and attempts to cover his head with his hands, while at other times he begs his mother to hide him in the wardrobe. Majid added that Ubayda insists on sleeping in the same bed as his parents and also suffers from involuntary bed-wetting.
Children are not the only ones who are struck by fear and suffer psychological breakdown due to the [Israeli] bombing campaign. Osama Suleiman, who lives in the Al Maghazi refugee camp, told Asharq Al-Awsat that his wife, aged 37, suffers a psychological breakdown whenever she hears the sound of F-16 fighter jets breaking the sound barrier, whereupon she becomes completely unable to speak.
Dr. Samir Gota, a professor of psychology at the Islamic University of Gaza, said that there has been a significant increase in the number of parents visiting psychological health centres in the Gaza Strip enquiring about treatments for psychological breakdowns after having recognized these symptoms in their children following the bombings which have affected the cities, towns and refugee camps of the Gaza Strip.
Gota explained to Asharq Al-Awsat that some of the symptoms that can be found in the Gazan children include bed-wetting, nail-biting, fear of the night, nightmares, unexplained pain, crying, and unsociability. Gota also predicted that the symptoms of psychological trauma – such as violence in dealing with their peers, inability to focus, and deterioration in their school grades – would only increase in Palestinian children.
Dr. Gota pointed out that a Palestinian child who has been through a traumatic experience as a result of the recent bombing operations will become less obedient to his parents, and may lose his ability of dealing with them openly. He also stressed the fact that many parents often attach no importance to the emergence of these symptoms [of psychological trauma] and so do not seek to have them treated, but rather the deterioration of these children’s mental health is accelerated due to the criticism of any child who shows manifestations of fear.
Dr. Gota also predicted the deterioration of the [psychological] condition of children in the Gaza Strip due to the [recent] Israeli shelling and incursion, which will increase the number of traumatized children by 30 percent, adding that around 50 percent of children suffer from psychological trauma without their parents being aware of their condition. What compounds this problem, in Dr. Gota’s view, is the scenes [of violence] the children witness on television which only serve to increase the psychological pressure that these children experience.