For many Palestinian children their childhood is lived under a cloak of fear and the threat of violence and abuse at the hands of an armed force that stalks the streets of their homeland.
They shoot children, don’t they?
In the 11 years since the year 2000, Israeli forces have killed 1,471 children in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, the bulk of whom were aged between 13 and 17 years. The children of Gaza have been and continue to be at greatest risk, with almost a thousand murdered in the last 12 years. Most are shot randomly and indiscriminately, or killed as a result of Israeli air and ground attacks. Around 50 were taken prematurely from their families by unexploded ordnance.
The most recent atrocities against the people of Gaza began on Friday 9 March and resulted in the killing of 25 Palestinians, and come on the back of the massacre that took place in December 2008/January 2009, when a total of 1,417 Palestinians were murdered, of whom 318 were children and 116 women. Fresh in the children’s young memories lie the echo of that horrendous time, the constant bombardment, the loss of loved ones and the shootings. Besides the deaths, around 1,000 children were injured in the three-week assault, and many children were left with severe physical disabilities and deep psychological wounds. The mental and emotional effects are more difficult to see and/or to treat than broken bones and scared flesh.
The Gaza Community Health Programme estimates that “half Gaza's children – around 350,000 – will develop some form of post-traumatic stress disorder”. This is staggering but unsurprising, and the attacks this March on unarmed civilians will serve to intensify the mental suffering and anguish that these children are living with.
Children make up around 45 per cent of the four million or so total Palestinian population, a fact that terrifies an ageing Israel. And what impact does living under the brutal Israeli occupation have on them? Would they be inclined towards peace and brotherhood? Is tolerance fostered in their hearts and minds through the Israeli occupation, or are the seeds of hate and the desire for revenge being carefully sown? More