Scars show as Gaza’s chil­dren en­dure third war

The Covington News - - WORLD -

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (AP) — The chil­dren of the At­tar clan have lived through three wars in just over five years, each time flee­ing their homes as Is­rael bom­barded their neigh­bor­hood in the Pales­tinian Gaza Strip.

Their psy­cho­log­i­cal scars show. Some act out, oth­ers cling to their moth­ers or with­draw, like 12-year-old Ahmed who sat by him­self Mon­day on a bench in the court­yard of a U.N. school where his fam­ily once again sought shel­ter.

“They bombed very close to my house,” said the boy, look­ing down and avoid­ing eye con­tact. “I’m scared.”

Ex­perts said it will be in­creas­ingly dif­fi­cult to heal such vic­tims of re­peated trauma.

“For the ma­jor­ity of the chil­dren (in Gaza), it is the third time around,” said Bruce Grant, the chief of child pro­tec­tion for the Pales­tinian ter­ri­to­ries in the United Na­tion’s chil­dren’s agency, UNICEF. “It re­duces their abil­ity to be re­silient and to bounce back. Some will not find their way back to a sense of nor­malcy. Fear will be­come their new norm.”

The At­tar clan lives in Ata­tra, a neigh­bor­hood in north­east­ern Gaza, just a few hun­dred me­ters from Is­rael. Gaza mil­i­tants of­ten launch rock­ets at Is­rael from bor­der ar­eas, turn­ing them into flash­points and fre­quent tar­gets of Is­raeli strikes.

Res­i­dents of Ata­tra fled their homes in Is­rael’s three­week mil­i­tary of­fen­sive in the win­ter of 2008-2009, dur­ing a week of cross-bor­der fight­ing in Novem­ber 2012 and again over the weekend.

Af­ter Is­raeli air­craft dropped leaflets over Ata­tra on Satur­day warn­ing res­i­dents to leave, sis­ters Mariam and Sada At­tar bun­dled a few be­long­ings into plas­tic bags and rushed out of their homes. They had 10 chil­dren in tow, as well as Mariam’s hus­band Omar, who she said suf­fers from stress-in­duced psy­cho­log­i­cal dis­or­ders and can no longer func­tion nor­mally.

The fam­i­lies sought shel­ter in the same U.N. school where they stayed dur­ing the pre­vi­ous two rounds of fight­ing. In all, 20 U.N. schools took in more than 17,000 dis­placed Gazans, many of them chil­dren, af­ter Satur­day’s warn­ings by Is­rael that civil­ians must clear out of north­ern Gaza.

Mem­bers of the At­tar clan took over part of the sec­ond floor, with more than 40 people sleep­ing in each class­room. Mariam, Sada, Omar and the chil­dren were squeezed into one half of a room, their space demarcated by benches. An­other fam­ily from the clan stayed in the other half of the room. A blan­ket draped across an open door­way of­fered the only mea­sure of pri­vacy.

In the class­room, the scene was chaotic, with chil­dren push­ing and shov­ing each other and moth­ers yelling at them to be­have. There was noth­ing to do for chil­dren or grown-ups, ex­cept to wait.

AP Photo/Khalil Hamra

In this Mon­day, July 14, 2014 photo, rest­ing in his fa­ther’s lap af­ter flee­ing Is­raeli airstrikes, Bi­lal At­tar, 4, now shares a class­room in the New Gaza Boys United Na­tions school in the Gaza Strip with more than a dozen people. The chil­dren of the At­tar clan have lived through three wars in just over five years, each time flee­ing their homes as Is­rael bom­barded their neigh­bor­hood in the Pales­tinian Gaza Strip.

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