A Generation Destroyed Before Adulthood


Posted by Bob Lord

While the world has watched and with the assistance of the United States, Israel has effectively destroyed the better part of a generation of Palestinians in Gaza, as Erin Cunningham reports here. No, they're not dead, but over half the children of Gaza suffer from PTSD as a result of Israel's attacks over the years. No surprise there. Children, by the way, comprise about half of Gaza's 1.7 Million people. Factor in the huge numbers of Gaza children who are malnourished because of the limited food supply, and it's clear we've lost the better part of a generation. They may live, but their brains will never function quite right. And those who were malnourished? Their brains won't reach full development either. Cunningham relays this story:

Fatima Qortoum was just 9 years old when she saw the brains of her brother, 7-year-old Ahmed, fall out of his head. He was struck with shrapnel after an Israeli airstrike. That was 2008.

Last week, another one of Fatima’s brothers, 6-year-old Mahmoud, was critically injured when an Israeli attack knocked him to the ground, leaving a nearly three-inch-long gash in his torso and damaging his lungs.

And so it comes as little surprise that Fatima, now 13, like thousands of other children in the Gaza Strip, suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

“She was cursing at people, or we would find her in the street or the police would bring her back home,” her father, Osama Mohamed Qortoum, said. “Fatima was old enough to recognize what happened [to her brother]. She was in the house and saw him die from the balcony.”

And the damage is incredibly widespread:

“They listen to the radio, they watch TV, they see the dead bodies, they hear the bombs, they feel the shattering of the glass from the windows in their homes, and they listen to stories” of war, said Eyad Sarraj, a mental health expert and founder of the Gaza Community Mental Health Program. “So they are terrified.”

According to studies published by Sarraj’s program, the vast majority of Gaza’s roughly 950,000 children already suffer from psychological and behavioral symptoms associated with PTSD, including aggression, depression, bedwetting, flashbacks and “clinging” behavior like physically latching onto their mother.

Repeated assaults — which in recent years have pitted Israel’s advanced and well-armed military against Palestinian militants with both crude and military-grade rockets, but also a largely defenseless population — are exacerbating the trauma, and searing images of death and destruction into the minds of Gaza’s youth.

It's hard to grasp the emormity of Israel's aggression. In the 2008-09 war, 1500 Palestinians died. That would be the equivalent of 300,000 Americans dying, almost six times the number we lost in Vietnam. The recent hostilities seemed to many here like a short-lived skirmish, but 150 Palestinians died and 1000 were injured, including 270 children. That's the equivalent of 30,000 American deaths (ten 9/11s) and 200,000 Americans injured, including 60,000 or so children. 

With their happiness destroyed, their dreams snuffed out and their futures stolen, these children seethe with hatred of Israelis. Cunningham elaborates:

Under siege in Gaza, where borders have been shuttered for at least half a decade and where there is minimal contact with the outside world, children are experiencing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict mostly through the brutal effects of modern warfare, human rights activists say.

They can identify the weapons and missiles that have killed their family members or destroyed their homes. But few have ever encountered an Israeli — soldier or civilian — in the flesh, they say. This is in stark contrast to previous generations, where Gazans worked or had friends in Israel, spoke Hebrew, or were forced to deal with Israeli soldiers or civilians who until 2005 had occupied the Gaza Strip.

“I don’t know anyone who has met any Jews. No one has ever told me about this,” said 12-year-old Basher Youssef, one of Shokri’s classmates in Gaza City. “We will never see an Israeli in front of us. Because Israeli soldiers are afraid to face even a Palestinian child.”

The trauma from war, coupled with increased isolation, is breeding a more intense enmity among the territory’s young.

“Engaging with the other, you rediscover yourself,” said Essam Younes, the director of Gaza’s Al Mezan Center for Human Rights. “The only engagement with Israelis is through the Apache and the F16 [fighter jet]. You put an entire nation under siege, and you obstruct their future. Then what do you expect? More enmity and resistance against the Israelis.”

Sadly, it's all too easy, chillingly easy, to extrapolate from Cunningham's report. Young, psychologically scarred Palestinians grow up seething with hatred of Israel. They become adults and, in acts of desparation, engage in violence against their oppressor. And whoever happens to be President in America at the time, be she Democrat or Republican, confirms Israel's "right to defend itself" with arms provided by American defense contractors, weaponry guaranteed to overwhelm the crude firepower of the imprisoned Gazans. The uninformed American public nods quickly in agreement, then refocuses on Sunday's football game or the next episode of their favorite TV series.

And so it goes.   


  1. http://m.npr.org/story/165896145

    REEVES: The kindergarten kids on the square are being put through their paces by an instructor, Samer Abu el Karayer. He encourages them to chant Palestine, Palestine. He tells them to stamp their feet. Karayer introduces a poster with Israel’s Star of David scrawled on it with a blue crayon. He places this on the ground. Step on it, step on it, he cries. Someone sets fire to the poster, and the tiny boy soldiers stamp on the flames.

    I asked Karayer how he responds to accusations that an event like this looks like brainwashing. No, we’re not training them, Karayer replies. It’s therapy.

    SAMER ABU EL KARAYER: (Through translator) If adults get scared, how do you think the kids feel? We want to get them to let out their emotions.

    REEVES: Karayer says a psychiatric expert’s advised the kindergarten to use these methods. They’re intended to raise the children’s morale.

    KARAYER: (Speaking foreign language)

    REEVES: They’re wearing the traditional Palestinian uniform, he says. It’s just symbolic. For Maysara el-Sheikh, this is about more than just getting kids to vent their fear and anxiety. It’s about raising children who spend their lives caught up in conflict. She says you can’t raise them like normal kids.

    EL-SHEIKH: (Through translator) If we raise them in the normal way, they won’t be able to cope. We prepare them mentally from a young age for the fact that when they grow up, they’ll face an enemy.

  2. You know what they say. If Hamas laid down their arms, there would be peace. If Israel laid down their arms, there would be no more Israel.