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Rasha Kaloti

By Rasha Kaloti

Why Are Over 1 Million Children Trapped in One Prison?

Image by Hosny Salah at Pixabay 5919185

What’s it like to be a child living in the world’s biggest open-air prison? And how would it affect your mental health?

The Gaza-Strip in Palestine is often referred to as ‘the world’s largest open-air prison’.1 It has been under Israeli occupation for almost 55 years and under full blockade for 14 years. The Gaza-Strip is the only place in the world where the movement of people and goods are fully restricted (through land, air, and sea).2


The Gaza-Strip is one of the most densely populated areas in the world, with a population of 2.1 million,3 about half of which are children.4 Comparatively, it is almost the size of the city of Atlanta, Georgia in the United States, but with four times its population.  In 2012, the United Nations (UN) warned that “Gaza will be unliveable by 2020”.5 Poverty and unemployment, the main causes of food insecurity, are at their peak in the Gaza-Strip.6

Figure 1. Statistics on food insecurity, poverty and unemployment in the Gaza Strip
Figure 1. Statistics on food insecurity, poverty and unemployment in the Gaza Strip

Lives of Children Under War

Children are severely affected by the dire living conditions in the Gaza-Strip. Imagine being held captive in the city you were born in, where essential services are effectively inaccessible, and having to live through a series of wars throughout your life with no route to escape.  

The series of Israeli air force bombings on the Gaza-Strip in May 2021 caused 256 deaths (including 66 children and 39 women), and over 2,000 injuries to Palestinian civilians. The infrastructure was ravaged, and many buildings were damaged or completely destroyed (see figure 2).7 Israel imposes severe restrictions on the transfer of essential goods such as fuel and building materials,8 which means that re-building the damaged schools, houses, and health facilities is impossible.

Buildings Article1 Rasha
Figure 2. Numbers of hospitals, schools and houses destroyed or damaged in the Gaza-Strip in May 2021

Mental Health Consequences on Children

The intense attacks on the Gaza-Strip are severely affecting the mental health of the 1 million children living there. A recent survey by Euro-Med Human Rights Monitor showed that 91.4% of children in Gaza suffer from conflict-related trauma.9 Another report by Doctors without Borders showed that 90% of young people in Gaza suffer from regular stress conditions.10  

"I have many horrible nightmares, and a constant feeling of fear that I may be targeted with a bomb, or injured or killed"

- Samar, a 15-year-old girl from Gaza who has lived through three wars Tweet

Children in the Gaza Strip face stress, trauma and anxiety during Israeli war attacks mainly due to hearing and witnessing military planes and bombs, and experiencing the destruction of their homes and those of their relatives.12 Extreme depression and grief are very common among children who witnessed the injury or killing of loved ones.13

“I was afraid of the bombing, when I saw the picture of my friend and the scene of her death, I couldn’t control myself. I had a nervous breakdown for days and I was crying all the time. I always wondered when the bombing stopped if we would come out alive or dead."

– Maryam, a girl from Gaza describing the painful loss of her friend

Psychosocial support is scarce in the Gaza-Strip, and there is an urgent need for it. If these children do not receive the specialist support, they will be unable to cope with distress and fear of violence as adults.14 These can then interfere with their essential day to day tasks like dealing with work stress or forming healthy relationships.

What Can We Do About This?

The difficult living situation in the Gaza-Strip is unprecedented. Children living in this prison are paying the biggest price. Their lives are stripped of any dreams, hopes, and dignity.

 

On a policy level, local and international organisations must provide urgent medical care and psychosocial support to children in the Gaza-Strip. Outreach mental support services to houses and schools will help to ensure equitable access to care.

 

On a political level, advocates, human rights organisations and western “democracies” must intensify their calls to end the Israeli occupation of the Gaza-Strip and its human rights violations based on International Humanitarian Law.

What Can You Do to Support?

You can write to congresswomen/men, senators and elected officials about the injustice in Palestine, and demand that the basic rights are afforded to the people living there. You can also donate to trusted organisations that support human rights and healthcare needs in Palestine.

 

We can never truly know what it’s like to be a child living in the world’s biggest prison if we have never been in their shoes. However, we can listen to their calls, share their voices with the world, and advocate for the dignified lives that they deserve.

Image by Hosny Salah at Pixabay 3829378

References

  1. Hovring R. The world’s Largest open-air prison. Norwegian Refugee Council NRC. April 2018. https://www.nrc.no/news/2018/april/gaza-the-worlds-largest-open-air-prison/. Accessed 10 September 2021.

  2. UN Office for Coordination for Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA). Gaza Strip: The humanitarian impact of the blockade. 2017. https://www.ochaopt.org/sites/default/files/the_humanitarian_impact_of_the_blockade.pdf. Accessed 05 September 2021.

  3. United Nations Populations Fund (UNFPA) Palestine. PCBS-UNFPA Joint Press Release on the occasion of World Population Day. July 201. https://palestine.unfpa.org/en/news/pcbs-unfpa-joint-press-release-occasion-world-population-day#:~:text=About%2013.8%20Million%20Palestinians%20in,males%20and%202.57%20million%20females. Accessed 13 September 2021.

  4. United Nations International Children’s Emergency fund (UNICEF). Children in the state of Palestine. November 2018. https://www.unicef.org/sop/media/341/file. Accessed 12 September 2021.

  5. United Nations Country Team in the occupied Palestinian territory. Gaza in 2020, A livable place? August 2012. https://www.unicef.org/sop/media/341/file. Accessed 05 September 2021.

  6. United Nations World Food Program (WFP). Gaza Emergency Food Security Assessment Following the escalation of hostilities and unrest in the State of Palestine in May 2021. June 2021. https://www.wfp.org/publications/2021-gaza-emergency-food-security-assessment-following-escalation-hostilities-and. Accessed 10 September 2021.

  7. Euro-Med Human Rights Monitor. Inescapable Hell: The Israeli military attack on the Gaza Strip. May 2021. https://euromedmonitor.org/uploads/reports/gazareporteng.pdf. Accessed 15 September.

  8. World Health Organization (WHO) occupies Palestinian territory. Right to Health 2018. 2019. https://reliefweb.int/sites/reliefweb.int/files/resources/WHO_Right_to_health_2018_Web-final.pdf. Accessed 15 September.

  9. Euro-Med Human Rights Monitor. One war older: Israeli violations against children and women during the military attack on Gaza May 2021. Jul 2021. https://euromedmonitor.org/en/article/4497 Accessed: 11 September 2021.

  10. Doctors Without Borders (MSF). In Gaza, lingering trauma is worsening a mental health crisis. June 2021. https://www.doctorswithoutborders.org/what-we-do/news-stories/story/gaza-lingering-trauma-worsening-mental-health-crisis#:~:text=%E2%80%9CEveryone%20in%20Gaza%20is%20affected,from%20other%20stress%2Drelated%20conditions. Accessed 12 September 2021.

  11. Save the Children. A decade of distress – the harsh and unchanging reality of children living in the Gaza Strip. 2019. https://resourcecentre.savethechildren.net/node/16724/pdf/a_decade_of_distress_online_-_v3.1.pdf. Accessed 14 September 2021.

  12. El Khodary B, Samara M and Askew C. Traumatic Events and PTSD Among Palestinian Children and Adolescents: The Effect of Demographic and Socioeconomic Factors. Frontiers in psychology. March 2020. https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpsyt.2020.00004/full,. Accessed 13 September 2021.

  13. Islamic Relief. Many young people in Gaza desperately need mental health support. September 2021. https://reliefweb.int/report/occupied-palestinian-territory/many-young-people-gaza-desperately-need-mental-health-support. Accessed September 18 2021.

  14. Save the Children. Children in Gaza conflict will suffer for years to come. May 2021. https://www.savethechildren.net/news/children-gaza-conflict-will-suffer-years-come Accessed 20 September 2021.

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