The air strikes may have ended, but the trauma lives on.
With the ceasefire between Israel and the Palestinian militant group Hamas going on for a short time, parents like Randa Yousef fear the long-term effects of the recent round of violence on their children.
Her daughter Kinda, 5, “played and laughed” in her Gaza City home, but now “she’s crying and screaming and calling me,” Yousef told NBC News last week by phone.
A video she recorded during the fighting shows Kinda crying on her bed and telling her that she is afraid that she will die and that her house will be destroyed.
Now even the slightest noise frightens her and she fears it could be another Israeli air strike, Yousef said.
In Khan Yunis – a city in the south of the long impoverished and blocked Gaza Strip – Fadi Ali Abushammala said he used painting to distract his sons – called Ali, 11; Karam, 7; and 3 year old Adam – out of conflict. Now they are drawing pictures of corpses.
“I asked my child,” What did you paint? “He says this is a dead man and his son, his child, is crying,” Abushammala said on Monday.
According to the Gaza Ministry of Health, 66 of the 243 people who died during the conflict were children.
Those who lived in the densely populated Gaza Strip were particularly vulnerable to the bone-rattling air strikes as there are no bomb shelters and most of the 2 million people have nowhere to go.
“Everyone is talking about the lack of safe places,” said Dr. Samah Jabr, head of the mental health department at the Palestinian Ministry of Health, on Tuesday. “There are no bunkers. People don’t know where to hide. “
While Hamas rocket attacks are terrifying, Israel has a comprehensive system in place to protect its citizens. All public buildings – such as shopping centers, hospitals, places of worship and theaters – must have air raid shelters, and so do some children’s playgrounds in the south of the country.
Modern homes and private buildings must also have safe spaces, and cities operate public shelters that are opened by the Israel Defense Forces Home Front Command during times of conflict.
Many of the thousands of rockets fired from Gaza by Palestinian militants were also shot down by Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system. Israelis are also alerted to incoming ammunition through sirens and app notifications. Schools send videos about how to talk to children and explain what happens to help them relax.
The Israeli military said that while it continued its aggressive military campaign it was trying to “minimize civilian casualties”.
However, Israeli psychologist Mooli Lahad, who has 40 years of experience on both sides of the border and around the world, said: “You have a generation of children who know nothing but how to live under these sporadic and sometimes intense bombings . ”
“We are experiencing an incredible amount of trauma and destruction,” added UNICEF’s special envoy to the Palestinian state, Lucia Elmi. “We will see that also in the coming generations.”
Before this wave of violence, the United Nations Children’s Fund reports 1 in 3 children in Gaza needed mental health and psychosocial support. Now it fears that the number has risen, said Elmi.
Eleven children have already been cared for as part of the trauma The Norwegian Refugee Council’s psychosocial intervention programthe independent humanitarian organization said on Tuesday.
The NRC’s Gaza Education Coordinator Asad Ashour said the escalation of violence had worsened symptoms the organization was already trying to treat.
“It’s difficult to convince them that the future is bright,” he said last week.
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Both Ashour and Lahad said that children on both sides of the border suffer from low focus, nightmares, changes in personality, restlessness and the constant fear that death is imminent for them or their friends and family.
“When you go to a park, you enjoy it. They don’t always think, “A missile could fall on my head,” but for them it is always part of their mind to be on guard. The system is tough, ”said Lahad.
As a result, he said he found that children in Israel and Gaza Strip “regress” by avoiding school and visiting friends, and that they are less likely to try new things.
“It takes some time before it becomes clear that a sudden noise is not a threat,” Lahad said.
President Joe Biden said Friday his commitment to Israel’s security has not changed but insisted that a two-state solution, including one state for Palestinians, remains “the only answer” to the conflict.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who has been in close contact with regional leaders, also plans to travel to the region in the coming days to meet with Israelis, Palestinians and other colleagues to “discuss recovery efforts and work together to improve future prospects create.” Israelis and Palestinians, “said Ned Price, a spokesman for the State Department, also on Friday.
The unpredictability of the region and the constant threat to security have led Jabr of the Palestinian Ministry of Health to believe that trauma to the Palestinians cannot be defined as post-traumatic stress disorder.
“PTSD best describes the experience of soldiers returning to the safety of their home and completely disconnecting from the traumatic experience,” she said.
“For Palestinians, traumatic threats are repetitive and persistent,” she said, adding that there is no such thing as “post-trauma” and the fear of security and feeling of helplessness persist even after a ceasefire.
In the meantime, psychiatrists can only try to heal the scars of generations and provide palliative care through therapy, she said.