Written by: Ae’id Hoshiyya

According to the latest statistics from the Ministry of Health in Gaza and UN OCHA, there are over 15,000 children martyrs as a result of the Israeli aggression on the Gaza Strip from the beginning of the aggression until the end of May 2024. Additionally, there are more than 10,000 women martyrs, out of a total of nearly 36,000 martyrs. The same statistics indicate that nearly 12,000 children have been orphaned, losing either their father, mother, or both. Children are among the most affected groups during wars, particularly in psychological, social, educational, health, and living aspects. One of the most pressing challenges they face is the loss of safe spaces within the Gaza Strip. A stark example is the Rafah massacre in Tal al-Sultan refugee camp, committed by the Israeli occupying forces on the evening of Sunday, May 26th, 2024.

The suffering of these children is manifested in numerous ways, most prominently: First, the uncertainty of their fate amid the ongoing aggression, coupled with the inability of international organizations and recognized human rights entities to provide immediate emergency protection. How can we contemplate the reality of their future? Their fate, therefore, becomes a national, governmental, and collective responsibility, making it imperative to take urgent action to secure their basic needs, such as safe shelter, food, water, and medical treatment. Regional and international powers with the capacity to influence are not exempt from this responsibility. These children represent a collective moral obligation for all local, regional, and international powers and organizations that continue to advocate for children's rights.

The second aspect relates to the social effects and the structure of Palestinian society. One of the most severe impacts of wars and disasters on children is the sense of cultural alienation and displacement within their own communities. We have witnessed how the occupation's aircraft clear residential areas, flattening them to the ground, erasing the landmarks of neighborhoods, streets, alleys, squares, and playgrounds. This deliberate destruction aims to erase all the cherished memories associated with these children’s minds from their pre-aggression childhood years. As a result, these children will suffer from increased isolation, social alienation, and orphanhood. In addition to losing their mother, father, or both, they have also lost their homes, bedrooms, toys, friends, neighborhoods, and schools. Faced with this complex and difficult social reality, another formidable challenge arises: the imbalance, cracks, and disintegration within the local community structure. Perhaps the most prominent characteristic of Palestinian society under occupation is its set of values and ideals, which include solidarity, familiarity, cohesion, love of volunteerism, and fraternity. The collective shock in Gaza will inevitably affect this value structure, necessitating urgent interventions from associations and institutions with social missions and roles to preserve, restore, and revive this social fabric.

The third aspect involves psychological effects. Wars inflict profound psychological wounds and crises. Many human rights organizations and the World Health Organization have described the situation in Gaza as genocide, characterized by mass killings, abuse, burning, torture, and field executions of entire families, as well as the targeting of people waiting for air aid. These actions are among the ugliest and deadliest in history. Focusing specifically on orphaned children, we find them suffering from numerous psychological problems and disorders associated with the loss of one or both parents. These symptoms are often psychosomatic in origin, manifesting as physical symptoms caused by psychological distress. Fear manifests in increased heart rate, tension leads to distraction, sweating, stomach pain, and loss of appetite, and constant anxiety results in sleep disturbances due to fear of the unknown and future uncertainties. These psychological issues are reflected in children's behavior and reactions. Regression, for instance, is one such issue, where the child reverts to traits, habits, and behaviors they had previously outgrown, such as thumb-sucking, hair-pulling, involuntary urination, and other behaviors. Additionally, the child may become either aggressive or introverted, avoidant, and submissive. Psychotherapists refer to this condition, if it persists and is expected to continue for a long time, as "Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), which involves post-traumatic symptoms.

In the Palestinian context, this assessment is insufficient because we have been under the continuous threat of trauma for an extended period. Given the complex psychological conditions and circumstances described, children require more psychosocial care and attention through specialized psychological teams. This care should begin with psychological first aid, followed by general psychosocial services and necessary psychological education, and ultimately include specialized services, counseling, and psychosocial treatment. There are many therapeutic techniques and approaches beneficial for children who have experienced painful events, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), dialectical behavior therapy (DBT), psychodrama, play therapy, art therapy, and narrative therapy. It is crucial that these services are provided to children regularly, both now and in the future. Overall, the trauma they are experiencing is a collective trauma that affects the entire community. This is the responsibility of the competent organizations and official authorities, which must work on the following:

The international community, the International Court of Justice, and all human rights activists worldwide must intervene to stop the aggression on Gaza. This will allow humanitarian organizations to begin providing relief to our people in the Gaza Strip, including safe homes for children equipped with all the conditions necessary for a decent life. Specialized plans and programs should be developed, and specialized teams trained in psychosocial intervention should be prepared to work with these children with great expertise. Additionally, the conditions for adoption of these children must be addressed through new systems and legislation that are consistent with the harsh realities left by the Israeli destruction. This requires collective efforts involving relevant ministries, such as Health, Education, Development, Economy, and Finance, as well as psychological and social care institutions. National human rights organizations, such as the Independent Commission for Human Rights (ICHR) and Al-Haq Organization, must network and cooperate with external organizations that advocate and support the Palestinian cause and the right of the Palestinian people to liberation and self-determination.

The opinions expressed in this article are the author's views and not necessarily the Association's or donor's opinion.