One year after Israel began a campaign against Islamist militants a new Channel 4 documentary tonight will show how the fighting has left thousands of children physically, mentally and emotionally scarred. The Israeli Defence Force set out to destroy Hamas’s ability to launch rockets and mortars into Israel in December 2008. About 300 children were amongst the 1,300 Palestinians that were killed.
SOS Children has been working on child trauma in the occupied territories and running a mobile child trauma unit since March 2003, and has a village in Rafah working in difficult conditions to help Palestinian children.
After the ceasefire, BAFTA-winning filmmaker Jezza Neumann followed the lives of three children in Gaza isolated by the blockade that prevents anyone from rebuilding their homes and their lives. About 1,000 days into the Israeli blockade, Palestinian youngsters are denied medical help, education and any hope of a decent future.
Channel 4’s Dispatches: Children of Gaza is a shocking reflection on these children’s extraordinary courage in the face of great adversity.
The children of Gaza, make up more than half of the 1.5 million people living in this overcrowded strip of land. Among the more than 4,000 people injured in the fighting, more than a quarter were children, some left with severe disabilities. The Gaza Community Health Programme estimates that half Gaza's children – around 350,000 – will develop some form of post-traumatic stress disorder.
Omsyatte, 12, lost her brother, Ibrahim, 9 in the fighting that also destroyed her home.
"Here is where they shot my brother Ibrahim, God bless his soul,” she tells her classmates, holding up a picture she has drawn. “And here is the F16 plane that threw rockets into the house and trees, and here is the tank that started to shoot," she says, as the other children clap. The idea behind getting her and other children there to do this is to help the pupils at the school come to terms with the warfare that has dominated their lives and destroyed one in eight homes.
Just like hundreds of Gazans made homeless by the conflict, Omsyatte's family have spent more than a year living in a tent near what’s left of there former home. With supplies unable to pass into Gaza because of the ongoing blockade imposed by Israel in 2007, not much rebuilding work has been done.
In the aftermath of the conflict, perhaps the most disturbing issue facing the 780,000 Gazan children is the emotional scars. The majority of children show signs of anxiety, depression and behavioural problems, says the Gaza Community Mental Health Programme.
"It's a crisis which is threatening families and communities across the Gaza Strip, said Dr Ahmed Abu Tawanheena, the director of the Gaza Community Mental Health Programme.
Eyad al-Sarraj, a prominent psychiatrist who leads the Gaza community health programme, said, there were many reports of children bed-wetting, stuttering, falling mute, having trouble sleeping, becoming violent or restless and losing their appetites.