Center for Victims of Torture, children, Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, Gaza, Israel, Mental distress, mental health, Mental health care, Middle East, Palestinian children, psychological distress, psychological trauma, psychosocial services, psychosocial support, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, UNICEF, United Nations, violence, Violent conflict, War trauma
Curt Goering is the Executive Director of CVT. In 2009 and 2010, he served as Head of the Gaza office for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. While previously working at Amnesty International, he also investigated the impact of rockets fired from Gaza on communities in southern Israel. Here, Curt reflects on his experience in light of the recent ongoing violence and the heavy psychological toll the conflict is inflicting on children from both sides.
The latest round of fighting in the Gaza Strip brings back vivid reminders of the devastating impact of the war on the civilian population, especially among children, who are the majority of people there. I headed the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights in Gaza following the 2008/2009 conflict which, like this one, resulted in massive human rights violations and evidence of possible war crimes.
In the aftermath of the war, the evidence of trauma was everywhere: large numbers of children wetting their beds; children afraid to leave the sides of their parents; children afraid to try to sleep alone; children with recurrent nightmares; and children paralyzed with fear when hearing a sudden, unexpected sound such as the slamming of a door.
The frequent explosions from bombing raids, the subsequent shaking of buildings, the daily shelling from naval boats at sea, and the drones in the air, all contributed further to the sense of insecurity and vulnerability. Children sensed their parents were unable to provide safety which contributed to a range of behavioral problems and erosion of parental authority.
During the current violence, it is abundantly clear that the numbers of dead and injured Palestinian children are very high, and continue to rise as virtually an entire population is unprotected and vulnerable, unable to leave Gaza because the borders are sealed and unable to even flee the bombing and shelling because there is no safe place to go.
In Israel, the lives of children and adults are at risk from rocket fire from Gaza. The attacks are indiscriminate and symptoms of trauma and psychological scars are evident among the civilian population.
According to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, “… there seems to be a strong possibility that international humanitarian law has been violated [by both sides], in a manner that could amount to war crimes.”