3 June 2016
2015 was the deadliest year for Palestinians in the West Bank since 2006. Between October 2015 and March 2016, more than 200 Palestinians were killed by the Israeli military and settler violence, 44 of them children. UNRWA released a report this week highlighting the impact of this violent context on the mental health of Palestinian children living in refugee camps often on the frontlines.
The scale of fatalities has been linked to excessive use of force on many occasions by organisations such as Amnesty International and B’Tselem, amongst others. The increasing use of live ammunition by the Israeli military, in an around densely populated areas such as refugee camps, has been cited as the main reason for the killing of 11 Palestinian refugee children. The use of live ammunition in these situations has also caused most of the 64 serious injuries amongst Palestine refugee children caught up in clashes with the Israeli military in 2015.
Other factors have also contributed to the deteriorating mental health of children. The high number of demolitions, including a steep increase in punitive demolitions, are a significant cause of anxiety. Further, 946 Palestinian children were detained by Israeli authorities in 2015, 111 of them refugees and most of these children reported having been subject to ill-treatment. UNRWA also reported that more than 205 tear gas canisters were fired into UNRWA institutions, such as schools and at least 667 search and arrest operations took place in 2015, often during morning hours when children are walking to school. All of these factors contribute to what is an increasingly dangerous and unhealthy environment for children.
UNRWA’s survey, covering its 96 schools in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, showed unprecedented levels of intra-student violence and alarming levels of despair amongst the students. Health staff reported 200 cases of children injuring each other since October 2015. Developmental regression, evidenced by bed-wetting, has also been observed in several of the schools and post-traumatic stress disorder was diagnosed at a rate not witnessed since 2000, during the second Intifada. UNRWA students lost 83 days of school between October and March due to military activity in the vicinity and teachers noted a general anxiety and depression leading to poor class performance.
The same issues are affecting children in occupied East-Jerusalem. MAP works together with Saraya centre to offer psychosocial support and after school activities for children living surrounded by settlers and this violent context.
This week, the centre organised their final show, bringing to the stage what the children learned in the past school year. Rania, a social worker at the centre opened the show by saying, “this year has been particularly hard on all of us, especially on the children. Today on stage, we want to show that we are resilient in the face of aggression by creating beauty and art.” The children sang, danced dabke, told stories and acted with all their hearts. Nidaa, project coordinator at the centre talked fondly of how one of their students had positively changed. “He was a shy boy, wearing glasses, and utters when other students looked at him. They used to laugh at him and sometimes was bullied. Everyone was shocked from this boy when he approached the stage in an open day celebration and performed a drama sketch and spoke loudly and with confidence. Everybody clapped for this boy. I want all children from Jerusalem to get the chance that this boy had at Saraya centre.”