Gaza’s Children Suffering Trauma Amidst Intense Bombardment
Gaza’s children are experiencing increasing signs of trauma as Israel’s intense bombardment continues, leaving them with no safe place to hide and little hope for relief. With children accounting for about half of Gaza’s 2.3 million population, they are constantly exposed to bombardment and forced to seek temporary shelter in UN-run schools, often with limited access to food and clean water.
In response to a cross-border assault by Hamas fighters on southern Israel, which resulted in the deaths of over 1,400 people and the hostage-taking of 210 individuals, Israel is expected to launch a ground attack on Gaza soon. The ongoing violence has taken a toll on the mental health of Gaza’s children, with symptoms such as convulsions, bed-wetting, fear, aggressive behavior, nervousness, and clinginess to their parents being observed by psychiatrists like Fadel Abu Heen.
According to the Palestinian health ministry, more than 4,100 Palestinians, including over 1,500 children, have been killed in Gaza so far, with an additional 13,000 people injured. The conditions in makeshift shelters in UN schools, where over 380,000 people are seeking refuge, only exacerbate the problem. With up to 100 people sleeping in each classroom and limited access to electricity and water, the hygiene situation is dire.
Tahreer Tabash, a mother of six children sheltering in a school, describes the challenges they face. “Our children suffer a lot at night. They cry all night, they wet themselves without meaning to, and I don’t have time to clean up after them,” she says. Even in these shelters, safety is not guaranteed. The UN has reported multiple strikes on such schools, and nearby buildings have also been hit. The constant fear has created a sense of horror among the entire population, with children being the most affected.
Children who have directly expressed their fears may be in a better state than those who have internalized the trauma, according to Abu Heen. However, the lack of any safe place has taken a toll on all children. In Khan Younis, a house is accommodating about 90 people, including 30 children under the age of 18. Due to limited space, they have to sleep in shifts. The constant explosions and fear have left them screaming and frightened, with older children understanding the gravity of the situation.
Once the war ends, these children will require significant mental support. However, Gaza’s healthcare system was already overwhelmed before the conflict, and mental health experts have long warned about the devastating impact on children. A report by Save the Children in 2022 revealed that the psychosocial well-being of Gaza’s children was at alarmingly low levels after just 11 days of fighting in 2021, leaving half of them in need of support.
Mental health experts in Gaza emphasize that there is no such thing as post-traumatic stress disorder in the enclave because the trauma is continuous. The repeated bouts of armed conflict over the past two decades have taken a severe toll on the mental well-being of children.
The recent destruction caused by an Israeli airstrike on a building in Gaza City further highlights the distressing reality faced by children. As rescuers searched for survivors and bodies among the rubble, a large group of children stood silently, their faces showing no emotion, while women nearby wailed and wept.
The situation in Gaza is dire, and urgent action is needed to address the trauma experienced by its children. Providing mental health support and creating safe spaces for children to heal and recover should be a priority. The international community must come together to ensure the well-being and future of Gaza’s children are protected.