Living in Gaza or the West Bank is like living in a house with many rooms but the hallways don't belong to you. Such is life with Israeli Checkpoints that control and indeed humiliate Palestinians at every opportunity. I was also humiliated because I was journalist reporting on the Palestinian plight. They made access very hard for me at every opportunity, and I was an accredited journalist by the Israeli Government.
Gaza is a series of crowded refugee camps that lack basic human necessities. It is one of the most densely populated regions of the world, and over half the population are children under 16 years old.
It’s not surprizing to me that youth here glorify death when they have been humiliated by the Israeli Defence Forces for so many decades with the continued support of the American military and the hoards of Evangelistic Christian Zionists together with the Jewish Settlers, Benjamin Netanyahu and Donald Trump. The UN continues to condemn Israel’s illegal occupation of Palestinian lands.
Here are some latest (2020)statistics:
Number of Gaza Palestinians killed by Israeli snipers in past year: 304
Number of Gaza Palestinians injured by Israeli snipers in past year: 31,691
Number of Israelis killed by Gaza Palestinians in past year: 6
Number of Israelis injured by Gaza Palestinians in past year: 250
Some thrash in agony on the ground while others lay motionless. The captured and wounded are punched, kicked and dragged through the dust. Some are blindfolded and guns are pointed to their heads. The big children (armed with homemade replicas of M-16 guns and sand-filled "tear gas cans") play the Israeli soldiers, and the little children play the rock-throwing Palestinians, known as the Children of the Stones. In 1995, when there were no Israeli soldiers to throw stones at, I watched children playing a game they call "Arabs and Jews". The angry intense game, recreated the glory of the first intifada. It is a game to children, but to the psychiatrists who treat children, living in war zone conditions, it is called reenactment, or post traumatic play.
Symptoms of trauma are defense mechanisms against unbearable circumstances and events. They are also signs that the mind is healthy. The problems start after the circumstances are over and the defense mechanisms remain, keeping victims stuck in the trauma - sometimes for generations. What psychiatrists call reenactment or "post traumatic play" is endemic in Gaza. You need repetition to master trauma. This is why torture victims often identify with their torturers, and also why victims become perpetrators. Dr. Eyad El-Sarraj, Director of the Gaza Community Mental Health Program, puts it this way: Imagine watching your father stripped naked and beaten. From the child’s point of view, how can the father look after them when he can’t look after himself. For some children, the soldiers have become symbols of power, father figures. A confusing paradox. They resist and hate them, but on the other hand they are the only role models of authority these children know. In Gaza children have missed their childhood. Twelve-year-olds play with toys that they should have been playing with when they were four or five. Most play with toy guns. This is indicative of the models of authority they have grown up with in their occupied land. Everybody in Gaza in traumatized.“ What do you want to do when you grow up?” I ask seven-year-old Abdul. "I want to get a gun and kill the neighbours", he says. His father stares, eyes glazed, at the floor. He and the other eight members of his family all suffer from what is called Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, a kind of mental hell. Life for this family stopped 18 months ago, when the father found his 17-year-old son Nedal on a garbage pile with a bullet hole through his brain. He was executed by the son-in-law of the family who lives next door. The neighbors say Nadal collaborated with the Israeli Defense Force. His family, friends and everyone else in the neighborhood maintain that he was just another Palestinian child who threw stones and resisted the Israeli soldiers. "Violence has to end with the victim,” says Dr. Hanan Ashrawi, a former Palestinian peace negotiator. "The Jews went through the horror of the Holocaust and it affected everyone. They wanted us to take responsibility for their pain. The Palestinian pain needed to be legitimized. It has to do with the way we deal with authority. When we reclaim our basis of authority, then we can deal with trauma in objective conditions. We have to have playgrounds and institutions that support creativity and self-expression, and establish social systems that do this. That is the only way we are going to deal with hundreds of thousands of traumatized children." - Gaza, 1996
In Gaza a young boy tells me, “The only time I feel good is when I hit someone or break something." Ragda, a play therapist who treats traumatized children at the Gaza Community Mental Health Program says, “I can only imagine the overwhelming helplessness that invades a child's psyche when flight is impossible and fight becomes inevitable, a sensation that psychologically reduces them to nothing. It strips away their precious autonomy - their ability to control their environment and their minds; attributes that distinguish people from animals, so it makes them subhuman."
“It is crowded and noisy and there are many water and electricity problems, and people fight with their neighbours . It is hard to study,” says a 15-year-old student at the UNRWA run school in the middle of one of the worst, and longest-standing refugee camps in the world. I’m not surprised when I visit a kindergarten school and the children sing a song about returning back to Palestine. On the bulletin board is a drawing of a train draped in the green, red, and white Palestinian flag… and each billow of smoke has a child’s name and their home in Palestine. Without fail every one of these four- and five-year-old children knows the name, and how to spell it, of their homeland. A poster in the youth center shows an old man holding the keys to his house in Haifa… The message is the same, and on every piece of graffiti in Gaza… give us back our land.“ Some of the children are more “Palestinian” than their parents, or even their grandparents” says the head teacher at the UNRWA school.