News / Middle East

    Doctors Tackle Damaged Minds Amid Gaza's Post-War Destruction

    Mohammed Wahdan, wounded in Israeli shelling, receives psychological care at Shifa hospital in Gaza City ,August 14, 2014.
    Mohammed Wahdan, wounded in Israeli shelling, receives psychological care at Shifa hospital in Gaza City ,August 14, 2014.
    Reuters

    In a ward at Shifa, Gaza's largest hospital, child therapist Rabeea Hamouda is trying to elicit a response from two small brothers, Omar and Mohammed, aged three and 18 months, hoping for some words or perhaps a smile.

    For seven straight minutes the children, peppered with burns and shrapnel wounds sustained in Israeli shelling that hit their home in north Gaza, stare at him blankly, emotionless.

    Eventually, as Hamouda gently teases them, pretending to mix up their names and holding out a present while another counselor sings quietly, a smile creeps across Mohammed's face and the older one, Omar, cries out his name.

    “At the beginning, Omar was not responding to us at all, he was not even willing to say his name,” explains Hamouda, who heads a team of 150 psychotherapists working for the Palestinian Center for Democracy and Conflict Resolution in Gaza.

    “Big progress has been made with these children,” he says with a sense of relief and quiet accomplishment. “At the beginning they did not talk, they refused to communicate. But now, with the sixth session, we are witnessing good progress.”

    Omar and Mohammed are just two of the 400,000 Gazan children the United Nations estimates are in need of psychological care as a result of not just the latest war in the territory but the three previous conflicts fought with Israel since 2006.

    The most recent conflagration has been the deadliest, with 1,945 Palestinians killed, many of them civilians and including an estimated 457 children. On the other side of the border, some 64 Israeli soldiers and three civilians have been killed.

    Whether the result of Israeli air strikes, having parents or relatives killed before their eyes, hearing militants firing rockets from their own towns or themselves being wounded, the psychological trauma for Gaza's young is profound.

    The symptoms range from nightmares, bed-wetting and behavioral regression to more debilitating mental anxiety, including an inability to process or verbalize experiences.

    There is also deep trauma on the other side of the border, with tens of thousands of Israeli children mentally disturbed by the regular rocket fire from militants during the month-long war and over the seven years since Hamas seized control of Gaza.

    While the conflict's destruction of buildings and livelihoods is clear to see and documented daily in television footage, the damage to minds is mostly invisible, yet can have far more damaging and longer-lasting consequences.

    “The first time a child goes through a traumatic event like a war it's just deeply terrifying,” said Chris Gunness, the spokesman of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, which has 200 psychotherapists working in up to 90 clinics in Gaza.

    “The second time is terrifying-plus-one because the child remembers the worst parts of the last war as well as the impact of the current one. Then the third time is plus-plus as the compounded memories of conflict build up.

    “This time, for an eight- or nine-year-old child in Gaza, it's very, very intense indeed because there is this cumulative toll of trauma from repeated conflicts since 2006.”

    Small steps

    Hamouda and his team, like other psychotherapy units working across the small territory — home to an estimated 1.8 million people, more than half of whom are aged under 18 — can barely cope with the number of patients requiring help.

    The treatment is by necessity basic — an effort to draw children out, to have them paint pictures of their experiences or emotions, to get them to verbalize their circumstances.

    While a lot can be achieved with such simple techniques, many more require longer-term, personalized psychological care because of the enormity of the mental damage suffered.

    “First we provide wounded and traumatized children with immediate pyscho-social support and we give parents some guidance on how to deal with them,” says Hamouda. Then there is home care and follow up for the more severe cases.

    “Houses can be rebuilt and some physical wounds can be healed, but the people's psychological condition needs more than money and time,” he says. “It needs a big effort and persuasion, and overall it needs calm and stability.”

    One of Gaza's most successful trauma assistance projects is the Gaza Community Mental Health Program, launched in 1990.

    Hassan Zyada, a psychologist with the project, describes the latest conflict as easily the worst since 2006, with scores of Palestinians having lost multiple family members.

    “Our expectation is that more than 30 percent of the people here in Gaza will develop a psychiatric disorder,” he said.

    Even health professionals are not immune. Six members of Zyada's own family were killed during the war: his mother, three brothers, a sister-in-law and a nephew. He is now receiving counseling from the clinic's chief therapist.

    “It is a really traumatic loss and it is not easy for me to deal with,” he said, adding that several others on the team had suffered similar experiences.

    So widespread has the psychological damage become that UNRWA, which runs schools throughout the Gaza Strip, has now made psychotherapy a regular part of the curriculum.

    “We are rolling out a pretty massive program of parental and child therapy,” said Gunness. “We're having to integrate this kind of therapy into our schools.”

    You May Like

    Self-doubt, Cultural Barriers Hinder Cambodian Women in Tech

    Longtime Cambodian tech observer Sok Sikieng says that although more women have joined profession in recent years, there remain significant factors hindering women from reaching tech potential

    Trans-Adriatic Pipeline to Boost European Energy Security

    $4.5 billion-pipeline will become operational in 2020 and will deliver gas from Azerbaijan’s Shah Deniz II field to southern Italy

    Video California Celebration Showcases Local Wines, Balloons

    Annual festival showcases the region's harvested agriculture, fine wines and offers opportunities to experience the gentle breeze in a hot air balloon flight

    This forum has been closed.
    Comment Sorting
    Comments
         
    by: mother
    August 18, 2014 2:16 PM
    This is heart breaking..... This is very painful.. When we think of the same for our own children.... It really is suffocating and frustrating to hear about little innocent children face these thoughts.... What did they do????????

    by: meanbill from: USA
    August 15, 2014 2:29 PM
    Tell the children, always remember and never forget, that this was just one of many battles they will face in life, and especially remember who your friends are, and who your enemies are, and never forget.... And god willing, you will prevail..

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Vietnamese-American Youth Optimistic About Obama's Visit to Vietnami
    X
    Elizabeth Lee
    May 22, 2016 6:04 AM
    U.S. President Barack Obama's visit to Vietnam later this month comes at a time when Vietnam is seeking stronger ties with the United States. Many Vietnamese Americans, especially the younger generation, are optimistic Obama’s trip will help further reconciliation between the two former foes. Elizabeth Lee has more from the community called "Little Saigon" located south of Los Angeles.
    Video

    Video Vietnamese-American Youth Optimistic About Obama's Visit to Vietnam

    U.S. President Barack Obama's visit to Vietnam later this month comes at a time when Vietnam is seeking stronger ties with the United States. Many Vietnamese Americans, especially the younger generation, are optimistic Obama’s trip will help further reconciliation between the two former foes. Elizabeth Lee has more from the community called "Little Saigon" located south of Los Angeles.
    Video

    Video First-generation, Afghan-American Student Sets Sights on Basketball Glory

    Their parents are immigrants to the United States. They are kids who live between two worlds -- their parents' homeland and the U.S. For many of them, they feel most "American" at school. It can be tricky balancing both worlds. In this report, produced by Beth Mendelson, Arash Arabasadi tells us about one Afghan-American student who seems to be coping -- one shot at a time.
    Video

    Video Newest US Citizens, Writing the Next Great Chapter

    While universities across the United States honor their newest graduates this Friday, many immigrants in downtown Manhattan are celebrating, too. One hundred of them, representing 31 countries across four continents, graduated as U.S. citizens, joining the ranks of 680,000 others every year in New York and cities around the country.
    Video

    Video Vietnam Sees Strong Economic Growth Despite Incomplete Reforms

    Vietnam has transformed its communist economy to become one of the world's fastest-growing nations. While the reforms are incomplete, multinational corporations see a profitable future in Vietnam and have made major investments -- as VOA's Jim Randle reports.
    Video

    Video Qatar Denies World Cup Corruption

    The head of Qatar’s organizing committee for the 2022 World Cup insists his country's bid to host the soccer tournament was completely clean, despite the corruption scandals that have rocked the sport’s governing body, FIFA. Hassan Al-Thawadi also said new laws would offer protection to migrants working on World Cup construction projects. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
    Video

    Video Infrastructure Funding Puts Cambodia on Front Line of International Politics

    When leaders of the world’s seven most developed economies meet in Japan next week, demands for infrastructure investment world wide will be high on the agenda. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s push for “quality infrastructure investment” throughout Asia has been widely viewed as a counter to the rise of Chinese investment flooding into region.
    Video

    Video Democrats Fear Party Unity a Casualty in Clinton-Sanders Battle

    Democratic presidential front-runner Hillary Clinton claimed a narrow victory in Tuesday's Kentucky primary even as rival Bernie Sanders won in Oregon. Tensions between the two campaigns are rising, prompting fears that the party will have a difficult time unifying to face the presumptive Republican nominee, Donald Trump. VOA national correspondent Jim Malone has more from Washington.
    Video

    Video Portrait of a Transgender Marriage: Husband and Wife Navigate New Roles

    As controversy continues in North Carolina over the use of public bathrooms by transgender individuals, personal struggles with gender identity that were once secret are now coming to light. VOA’s Tina Trinh explored the ramifications for one couple as part of trans.formation, a series of stories on transgender issues.
    Video

    Video Amerikan Hero Flips Stereotype of Middle Eastern Character

    An Iranian American comedian is hoping to connect with American audiences through a film that inverts some of Hollywood's stereotypes about Middle Eastern characters. Sama Dizayee reports.
    Video

    Video Budding Young Inventors Tackle City's Problems with 3-D Printing

    Every city has problems, and local officials and politicians are often frustrated by their inability to solve them. But surprising solutions can come from unexpected places. Students in Baltimore. Maryland, took up the challenge to solve problems they identified in their city, and came up with projects and products to make a difference. VOA's June Soh has more on a digital fabrication competition primarily focused on 3-D design and printing. Carol Pearson narrates.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora