[News] Vast majority of Gaza children suffer PTSD symptoms
news at freedomarchives.org
Mon Nov 9 14:38:16 EST 2009
Vast majority of Gaza children suffer PTSD symptoms
Aditya Ganapathiraju, The Electronic Intifada, 9 November 2009
More than 40 years of Israeli military occupation have had a
devastating impact on Palestinians in Gaza. Air strikes, artillery
shelling, ground invasions, jet flybys and other acts of violence
have all led to an epidemic of suffering among Gaza's most vulnerable
inhabitants. The most recent studies indicate that the vast majority
of Gaza's children exhibit symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Soon after the Israeli winter assault, a group of scholars at the
University of Washington discussed different aspects of the situation
in Gaza and the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT). Dr. Evan
Kanter, a UW School of Medicine professor and the current president
of Physicians for Social Responsibility, delivered a somber talk
describing the mental health situation among Gaza's population. The
numbers he cited described a staggering level of psychological trauma.
Dr. Kanter described studies that revealed 62 percent of Gaza's
inhabitants reported having a family member injured or killed, 67
percent saw injured or dead strangers and 83 percent had witnessed shootings.
According to Dr. Kanter, in a study of high school-aged children from
southern refugee camps in Rafah and Khan Younis, 69 percent of the
children showed symptoms of PTSD, 40 percent showed signs of moderate
or severe depression, and a staggering 95 percent exhibited severe
anxiety. Meanwhile, 75 percent showed limited or no ability to cope
with their trauma. All of this was before the last Israeli invasion.
Dr. Eyad El-Sarraj, head of the Gaza Community Mental Health
Programme, and whom Dr. Kanter described as a "medical hero" working
under seemingly impossible conditions, has produced "some of the best
research in the world on the impact of war on civilian populations."
In a 2002 interview he said that 54 percent of children in Gaza had
symptoms of PTSD, along with 30 percent of adults. The hardest hit
were young ones who had their homes bulldozed or who lost loved ones
like their mothers, he said. Again, these figures were obtained well
before conditions dramatically deteriorated.
Gaza's population is overwhelmingly young. About 45 percent of the
population are 14 years old or younger and roughly 60 percent are 19
years and younger. The long-term effects of constant violence and
PTSD on such a young population are incalculable.
A recent study by international researchers and the Gaza Community
Mental Health Programme entitled "War on Gaza survey study" reveals
more worrying figures. Of a representative sample of children in
Gaza, more than 95 percent experienced artillery shelling in their
area or sonic booms of low-flying jets. Moreover, 94 percent recalled
seeing mutilated corpses on TV and 93 percent witnessed the effects
of aerial bombardments on the ground. More than 70 percent of
children in Gaza said they lacked water, food and electricity during
the most recent attacks, and a similar percentage said they had to
flee to safety during the recent attacks.
In addition, 98.7 percent of the traumatized children reported that
they did not feel safe in their homes. More than 95 percent of the
children felt that they were unable to protect themselves or their
family members, causing a feeling of utter powerlessness that is
compounded by a sense of loss over unfulfilled lives.
A whole generation is being lost to the horrors of large-scale
military violence and a brutal occupation. In front of many
distraught members in the audience, Dr. Kanter described a study that
showed that witnessing severe military violence results in more
aggression and antisocial behavior among children, along with the
"enjoyment of aggression." There are similar studies among Israeli
children who witness violent attacks.
PTSD, Dr. Kanter explained, is an "engine that perpetuates violent
conflict." It leads to three characteristic symptoms. First,
individuals re-experience the traumatic events in the form of the
nightmares, debilitating flashbacks and terrifying memories that
haunt individuals for years afterwards. Second, other individuals may
develop avoidance symptoms in which they become isolated and
emotionally numb, deadened to the world around them. Third,
individuals have symptoms of hyper arousal, which may lead to
excessive anger, insomnia, self-destructive behavior and a
hyper-vigilant state of mind. Other maladies like poor social
functioning, depression, suicidal thoughts, a lack of trust and
family violence are all associated with PTSD.
The most recent study, "Trauma, grief and PTSD in Palestinian
children victims for war on Gaza" by the Gaza Community Mental Health
Programme, revealed that in the aftermath of the winter assault on
Gaza, an unbelievable 91.4 percent of children in Gaza displayed
symptoms of moderate to very severe PTSD. Meanwhile, only about one
percent of the children showed no signs of PTSD.
The outlook for children in Gaza suffering from these symptoms is not
optimistic. Whereas soldiers who experience traumatic events in a war
zone can return home to relative calm and seek treatment, the people
of Gaza continue to be held in what one Israeli human rights group
labeled the "largest prison on Earth"-- a methodically "de-developed"
island isolated from the rest of the world.
One of the most distressing prospects for peace are studies of
similar war-torn populations like Kosovo and Afghanistan that showed
that military violence often leads to widespread feelings of hatred
and the simmering urge for revenge. One can easily predict the future
consequences of a large number of young people exposed to this level
In an op-ed published during Israel's winter invasion Dr. Eyad
El-Sarraj warned that "Palestinian children in the first intifada 20
years ago threw stones at Israeli tanks trying to wrest freedom from
Israeli military occupation. Some of those children grew up to become
suicide bombers in the second intifada 10 years later. It does not
take much to imagine the serious changes that will befall today's children."
"The breakdown of an entire society is happening in front of us,"
political economist Sara Roy warned in July. Many share Roy's feeling
that "what looms is no less than the loss of entire generation of
Palestinians," which she fears may have occurred already.
This will be the enduring legacy of the Israeli occupation.
Aditya Ganapathiraju is a student, independent writer and local
organizer. He lives in the Seattle area and works on Palestine and
other social justice issues.
522 Valencia Street
San Francisco, CA 94110
-------------- next part --------------
An HTML attachment was scrubbed...
More information about the News