The ongoing conflict between Israel and Palestine has taken a heavy toll on the lives of millions of people, especially children. The violence, fear, and uncertainty that children face every day have profound and lasting effects on their mental health and well-being. In this article, we will explore some of the challenges and risks that children on both sides of the Israel-Palestine conflict encounter and some of the ways to support them.
According to UNICEF, more than 2 million children live in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, where they are exposed to various forms of violence, such as airstrikes, rocket attacks, clashes, arrests, demolitions, and settler harassment¹. In the past week, amid the most intense fighting between Israel and Gaza militants since 2014, 52 Palestinian children were killed². The United Nations reports two Israeli children died during the current escalation².
The deaths of children capture international attention, but more focus is needed on the traumatized children surviving the Israel-Palestine conflict. A video widely shared on social media shows a girl in Gaza growing emotional while gesturing to the ruins around her, seemingly pleading with viewers as she asks, “what do you expect me to do? Fix it? I’m only 10.”²
Experts on conflict and trauma say that both Israeli and Palestinian children will experience adverse mental health effects in the short and long-term, but children living in Gaza are more vulnerable because they are poorly protected from attacks, exposed to more civilian causalities and lack mental health care. In Gaza, more than 40% of the population are children under 14 years old¹.
A 2020 study published in the journal “Frontiers in Psychiatry” found that among Palestinian children and adolescents in the Gaza Strip, nearly 90% had experienced personal trauma and more than 80% had witnessed trauma to others². The study also found that these children suffered from high levels of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, anxiety, and behavioral problems.
The trauma that children in Gaza experience is unlike anywhere else in the world, experts say. They feel trapped with borders on either side from Egypt and Israel, and have no place to escape. They also face chronic stress from living under a partial Israeli blockade, poverty, unemployment, and lack of basic services².
On the other hand, Israeli children also face psychological distress from living under constant threat of rocket attacks from Gaza. They have to cope with sirens, safe rooms, and disruptions to their daily routines. They may also develop anxiety, fear, anger, guilt, or sadness as a result of the conflict³.
The mental health impact of the conflict on children is not only a humanitarian issue, but also a human rights issue. Children have the right to live in peace, security, and dignity. They have the right to be protected from violence, abuse, and exploitation. They have the right to access quality education, health care, and psychosocial support.
To uphold these rights, there is an urgent need for an end to the hostilities and a lasting solution to the conflict. There is also a need for more funding and resources to provide humanitarian aid and mental health services to the affected children. UNICEF and its partners are working to deliver emergency supplies, medical care, water, sanitation, hygiene kits, and remote counseling for traumatized children⁴. However, more efforts are needed in Israel-Palestine conflict to ensure that every child can heal from their wounds and enjoy their childhood.
(1) How the Israel war, blockade affect mental health of Palestinian children.
(2) Israeli-Palestinian conflict: Mental health impact on traumatized kids.
(3) Child protection | UNICEF State of Palestine.
(4) The Israeli-Palestinian Conflict Is Killing Children. The Violence Must ….