Alex Snary is National Director of World Vision Jerusalem, West Bank and Gaza office.
As civilian casualties continue to mount in the Gaza Strip, opinions vary greatly on the causes of the current round of conflict. Yet there’s one thing most would agree on: children have played no role in creating this discord. And children, whether Israeli or Palestinian, should not be harmed as a result.
Yet the children are being deeply harmed. I’m not just talking about cut faces and broken arms. These children are witnessing things they will never forget: missiles and artillery attacks, the destruction of their homes and neighbourhoods, the dead bodies of brothers, sisters, parents, friends and playmates. The trauma they’re exposed to can take years to recover from, and is forever imprinted in the memory. It transforms a child’s understanding of how the world works and how they need to behave in order to survive.
These children are witnessing things they will never forget... The trauma they’re exposed to can take years to recover from, and is forever imprinted in the memory.
For some Israeli and Palestinian children, this current round of violence is just the latest. Only a few months ago, World Vision was winding down the child-friendly spaces we’d established in Gaza in response to the last round of conflict in 2012. These were safe places where children could visit to rest and heal from their trauma. They shared the stuff of their nightmares, drawing pictures of missile attacks and dead loved ones. When they were ready, they received counselling. Even the children who were most troubled eventually joined in with the songs and games. And after many months, most were ready to begin living again.
Now these newly healed wounds have been ripped open again. Imagine what this latest round of military violence is doing to Palestinian and Israeli children alike. Having learned to trust in the possibility of hope, they’re experiencing a world of horror all over again.
The UN estimates that some at least 165,000 thousand children will need psychosocial support like the kind I’ve described, as a result of the current violence. Yet we haven’t been able to open our child friendly spaces again – not yet. It’s simply too dangerous for our staff to move around.
For children in Gaza, there’s virtually no safe place to spend their days. Open spaces on rooftops and beaches can quickly turn deadly. Children have had to develop survival skills that no child should need.
I talked with a group of 7-year-old girls the other day, asking if they were afraid when the planes fly over. “Yes,” one girl said. “And it’s particularly scary when the red light on the F-16 comes on. That’s when it’s about to fire the missile, and that’s when you have to hide.” It’s tragic to think that across the border, Israeli children are experiencing similar terror when rockets come their way.
There are fewer and fewer places for these children to hide. Parents tell me that life in the Gaza Strip is like being trapped inside a giant prison. More than 1.5 million people live in an area only 40 kilometres long and a few kilometres wide. In other conflict situations around the world, families can normally flee to other parts of the country, or across borders. But here, there’s no escape. United Nations shelters are already bursting, and family homes in the new areas considered safe are already full of relatives.
No child – whether Israeli or Palestinian – should have to live this way... children on both sides are suffering gravely from fear and anxiety due to the violence in their part of the world.
No child – whether Israeli or Palestinian – should have to live this way. They all have the right to live in safety, free from violence, safety and want. Children and communities in Gaza are especially vulnerable, due to the effects of more than five years of blockade. But children on both sides are suffering gravely from fear and anxiety due to the violence in their part of the world.
We call for an immediate halt to this vicious cycle of violence from both sides in this conflict, not just this time, but for all time. For the sake of the children in this region, what we need is a game changer. Lasting and just peace in the entire region, for today’s children –and also tomorrow’s.