The corrosion of these essential infrastructures is worsened by the density of Gaza’s population, a population residing in the most densely populated stretch of land in the world. According to the United Nations agencies working in the Gaza Strip, over 50 percent of the Gaza population is under 18 years of age. As a result of both socio-political (e.g., the suppression of trade by Israeli occupation) and demographic factors, the Palestinians of Gaza face a constant and growing need for healthcare and other welfare services. Israel’s routine aggression and its imposition of an oppressive blockade place Gaza’s youth and children in an unjust and violent environment where they face ruinous psychological consequences, including rampant cases of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). If not addressed immediately, such consequences of Israel’s actions will likely become one of the greatest obstacles to peace.
Along with Palestinian and Israeli leadership, the world community in general and the United Nations Security Council in particular are all responsible for the colonization of minds in the Gaza Strip. One of the goals of the organizations comprising civil society should be the cultivation of a culture of peace, tolerance, the rule of law and freedom of speech and trade. Now is the time for all of civil society and the international community to come together to address the needs of Gaza and to move forward to a just solution for all parties.
I recently had a conversation with a friend named Hatem who lives in Gaza. Hatem has a one year old boy, Karam, with a beautiful smile. Hatem described to me the harsh conditions Gaza’s Palestinians experience as Israel’s illegal siege continues unabated. He spoke of the constant blackouts, lasting up to 10 hours each day and only one of countless hardships the people of Gaza must endure, and how they affect his son’s childhood. Although Karam expresses spontaneous bursts of happiness and joy when the lights come on and life can resume with some measure of normalcy, sadly, his story corresponds with too many others, the tens of thousands of children in Gaza who perceive their broken daily lives as the norm.
A long-term consequence of Israel’s siege and its resulting brutal violence is that the lives of Gaza’s children and their perceptions are terribly restricted, and, when they are constantly and directly subjected to death and destruction, all of their social interactions, including education and learning, are severely compromised. Also, Gaza’s isolation from the rest of the world because of its permanently closed borders means that Gaza’s Palestinians must rely on Israel for many of their medical needs and essential services. This dependency represents another way the Zionists control the daily lives of Palestinians in Gaza. According to a recent report by the United Nations, school hours in Gaza are often shortened because of frequent blackouts and over-crowded classes, resulting in lowered education standards. This, coupled with psychological trauma and a lack of healthcare professionals equipped with the training necessary to treat PTSD and other issues, has devastating ramifications.
Children are the primary victims of Zionist aggression and Israel’s blockade. One think tank in Gaza reported that the long-term impacts of continuing the siege, as well as the constant violent military operation on the already exhausted Gaza Strip, will not be limited to Gaza. It concluded that this cruel environment will have implications not only for children in Gaza, but also for those children living in Israel. Palestinian children in Gaza do not know Israeli children. Their only knowledge of Israel is informed by and limited to daily military operations, targeted killings, blackouts and the lack of essential goods and services denied them by the Israeli siege. This generation of abused Palestinian children suffering from profound psychological trauma will become the next generation’s freedom fighters who will believe they have no choice other than to fight and die for the freedom of their people. Such is the cycle of war and oppression in Palestine.
This article is an invitation to Israeli society to think long and hard about the future of its children and that of the children of Palestine. The Israeli government relies primarily on military force as a solution to dealing with Gaza. The siege of Gaza and Israel’s violent approach to the conflict will never bring a viable solution and will only continue to cultivate a culture of violence and hatred rather than one of peace.
The international community should invest more in a culture of peace by demanding that Israel open Gaza’s borders to international trade and that it put a stop to its militaristic adventures while at the same time intensifying peace education programs. Immediate measures should be implemented to promote positive attitudes and knowledge in order to bring about the behavioral changes and develop the skills necessary to teach children to prevent conflict and structural violence and to move forward in ways that are positive and peaceful. That being said, without accompanying and appropriate policy changes by the Israeli government in Tel Aviv, such educational measures will prove ineffective. As long as Israel continues to wage war and impose a brutal blockade on the Palestinians of Gaza, the people will continue to resist and fight violence with violence. The children of Gaza will continue to suffer. The cycle will continue ad infinitum.