Gaza children in trauma

Dead and damaged children from the Middle East are much in the news. Recent headlines and media images have been dominated by that of the limp body of toddler Aylan Kurdi, a refugee from Syria washed up on the Turkish coast.

Less reported is the story of Ali Saad Dawabsheh, an eighteen month old Palestinian baby burned to death along with his mother and father by a Zionist murder gang in Douma, a West Bank village near Nablus. Their killers, who painted on the child’s home the words “revenge” and “Long live the Messiah”, are unlikely to be brought to justice.

Both children will never be forgotten. Their bereaved families will recall them with love, sadness and burning hate for those who took their lives.

Stories of individual tragedies reach the headlines. In time, they contribute to a collective memory. Together they form a powerful moral indictment, not only of militant Zionism, but also of the Western leaders that give Israel their supine, unconditional support.

The Israeli attack on Gaza killed over 2,000 Palestinians (of whom 1,400 were civilians including 500 children) and left the besieged enclave in ruins with thousands of people homeless. One year on, there is little sign of reconstruction. The siege and suffering continues.

A Palestinian student and language teacher who experienced the 2014 attacks with her family in Gaza told me that after the violence ended she and her colleagues went back to the schools they taught in to find children severely distressed by what they had witnessed.

Her colleagues agreed that it was impossible for the children to begin formal lessons. Instead, they let them draw pictures.

There were sixteen children that day. Nine of them drew pictures of missiles, attacks from the air and bomb damage. Among the others, the majority drew and painted pictures of birds.

The teacher went on to explain, “in our culture, birds are a symbol of freedom.” She confessed that she was so overwhelmed by what she saw of their work she had to retreat to the staff toilet to cry alone and unobserved. She will never forget this experience.

More than a year on from August 2014, the trauma of Palestinian children continues, as recent reports from Medical Aid to Palestine, the Gaza Trauma Centre and the United Nations testify. They are still terrified by the sounds of Israeli drones and F16s. Without help, they will carry their traumas into adulthood.

Bill Williamson’s book, Place is the Passion – the Israel/Palestine Conflict will be published in spring 2016. The author points out that most of material critical of the Israeli Government is from Jewish sources.

The illustrations used in this article are from the Images for Gaza’s Children art exhibition.