Scars Show as Gaza's Children Endure Third War

The children of the Attar clan have lived through three wars in just over five years, each time fleeing their homes as Israel bombarded their neighborhood in the Palestinian Gaza Strip.

Their psychological scars show. Some act out, others cling to their mothers or withdraw, like 12-year-old Ahmed who sat by himself Monday on a bench in the courtyard of a U.N. school where his family once again sought shelter.

"They bombed very close to my house," said the boy, looking down and avoiding eye contact. "I'm scared."

Experts said it will be increasingly difficult to heal such victims of repeated trauma.

"For the majority of the children (in Gaza), it is the third time around," said Bruce Grant, the chief of child protection for the Palestinian territories in the United Nation's children's agency, UNICEF. "It reduces their ability to be resilient and to bounce back. Some will not find their way back to a sense of normalcy. Fear will become their new norm."

The Attar clan lives in Atatra, a neighborhood in northeastern Gaza, just a few hundred meters from Israel. Gaza militants often launch rockets at Israel from border areas, turning them into flashpoints and frequent targets of Israeli strikes.

Residents of Atatra fled their homes in Israel's three-week military offensive in the winter of 2008-2009, during a week of cross-border fighting in November 2012 and again over the weekend.

After Israeli aircraft dropped leaflets over Atatra on Saturday warning residents to leave, sisters Mariam and Sada Attar bundled a few belongings into plastic bags and rushed out of their homes. They had 10 children in tow, as well as Mariam's husband Omar, who she said suffers from stress-induced psychological disorders and can no longer function normally.

The families sought shelter in the same U.N. school where they stayed during the previous two rounds of fighting. In all, 20 U.N. schools took in more than 17,000 displaced Gazans, many of them children, after Saturday's warnings by Israel that civilians must clear out of northern Gaza.

Members of the Attar clan took over part of the second floor, with more than 40 people sleeping in each classroom. Mariam, Sada, Omar and the children were squeezed into one half of a room, their space demarcated by benches. Another family from the clan stayed in the other half of the room. A blanket draped across an open doorway offered the only measure of privacy.

In the classroom, the scene was chaotic, with children pushing and shoving each other and mothers yelling at them to behave. There was nothing to do for children or grown-ups, except to wait.

Mariam Attar, 35, said they spent the night on the hard floor for lack of mattresses.

She sat on the floor, her back leaning against a wall, and held her youngest, 16-month-old Mahmoud. She said her older children have become clingy, some asking that she accompany them to the communal toilet.

Recalling the latest bombings, she said: "We felt the house was going to fall on top of us and so the children started to scream. I was screaming and my husband was screaming."

Her 14-year-old son Mohammed said the family cowered on the ground in the living room during the bombing to avoid being hit by shrapnel. He said the time passed slowly because they had no electricity or TV.

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