by Khaled Alashqar
As a result of over two weeks of Israeli bombardment, thousands of Palestinian civilians have fled their homes in the north of Gaza and sought refuge in schools run by the UNRWA, the UN agency for Palestinian refugees.
Among the worst affected are Gazan children who have been forced to live in constant fear and danger, according to Dr. Sami Awaida, a child psychiatrist for the Gaza Mental Health Program, a local civil society and humanitarian organization.
Describing the impact of the current trauma, Awaida told IPS: “Children in Gaza are suffering from anxiety, fear and insecurity because of this war situation. The challenge we now face as mental health practitioners is post-traumatic disorder.”
“This means that children in Gaza have already suffered from two recent violent and shocking experiences in 2009 and 2012,” he continued. “This trauma now re-generates previous pain and shock and also leads to a mental state of permanent fear and insecurity among children here.”
Since July 7, Israel has subjected the Gaza Strip, one of the most densely populated regions in the world, to a severe military assault and engaged with the Palestinian factions in a new round of violence.
The Israeli government insists it has taken extra measures to avoid civilian casualties.
“We have to clear out the homes [in which] Hamas put civilians, Palestinian civilians,” Israeli Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu told Bret Baier on Fox News’ July 21 “Special Report.”
“We go out to ferret out rocketeers and anti-tank rocket fire. Hamas put civilians there,” he said.
Regardless, even Israel’s number one ally, the United States, has expressed concern over the high number of civilian casualties in Gaza
“[W]e have serious concerns about the rising number of Palestinian civilian deaths and the loss of Israeli lives,” said President Barack Obama during a July 21 press briefing.
“And that is why it now has to be our focus and the focus of the international community to bring about a ceasefire that ends the fighting and can stop the deaths of innocent civilians, both in Gaza and in Israel,” he added.
The Palestinian Ministry of Health has so far reported 570 Palestinians killed; most of them are entire families who died following direct shelling of Palestinian houses.
Meanwhile, the number of injured has risen to 3,000. Many of the injured and the dead are children.
Hospitals in Gaza are currently suffering from a severe shortage of medical supplies and medicines.
Ashraf Al-Qedra, spokesperson for the Gaza Ministry of Health, has called on the international community “to support hospitals in Gaza with urgent medical supplies, as Israel continues its military attacks, leaving more than 800 houses completely destroyed and 800 families without shelter.”
Since Israel began its current offensive, its military forces have been accused of pursuing a policy of destroying Palestinian houses and killing civilians.
Adnan Abu Hasna, media advisor and spokesperson for UNRWA in Gaza, told IPS that “UNRWA has officially demanded from Israel to respect international humanitarian law and the neutrality of civilians in the military operation.”
He added: “UNRWA stresses the need to fulfill the obligations of the U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon to immediately stop violence, due to the increasing number of children and women killed in the Israeli striking and bombardment of Gaza.”
“[The] human rights [here] abuses are unbelievable and these include targeting medical teams and journalists, in addition to targeting children and women by Israel,” said Assam Yunis, the director of the Al-Mezan Centre for Human Rights in Gaza.
“This points to clear violations of international law as well as war crimes. Israel must be held legally accountable at the international level,” Yunis told IPS.
Analysing the situation, Gaza-based political analyst and intellectual Ibrahim Ibrash says he believes that “Israel will never manage to end and uproot both Hamas movement and the Palestinian resistance from Gaza. On the other hand, the Palestinian militant groups will never manage to destroy and defeat Israel.”
Ibrash told IPS that the consequences for the Palestinians at the internal level after this military aggression ends will be critical, including “a split between the Palestinian people and the Palestinian Authority; many people will be outraged with the Palestinian leadership, and this of course will leave Gaza in a deplorable state.”
The current crisis in Gaza comes against a backdrop of a continued blockade imposed on the territory by Israel, widespread unemployment, severe poverty, electricity cuts, closure of borders and crossings since 2006, destroyed infrastructure and a stagnant Gazan economy, combined with a lack of political progress at the Israeli-Palestinian political level.
“The current situation is catastrophic in every aspect,” said Yunis.
Photo: Following an Israeli airstrike on their home, Palestinian youth inspect the building their families lived in. Credit: Khaled Alashqar/IPS
This article was first published by IPS News and was edited and reprinted here with permission. Copyright IPS News.