Childhood in Gaza is a paradoxical mixture of short-lived happiness, laughter, and hope, contrasting with the terrible reality of living in a volatile and unstable environment. The notion of normalcy has drastically transformed for these young individuals. The purity of fun is frequently shattered by the need to find shelter, and the sounds of laughter in a playground can quickly give way to the loud roar of airstrikes. The children of Gaza, however, show an unyielding spirit in the face of overwhelming hardships, finding courage in their unwavering will to learn, play, and dream. They serve as evidence of the extraordinary capacity of the human spirit to withstand hardship, adjust, and move on, but do they have the chance to?
When discussing the psychological consequences faced by the children of Gaza during war with Dr. Maral Dikran Boyadjian, who’s a trauma specialist, a licensed Psychologist and Psychotherapist, a board member of the Lebanese Psychological Association, and a founding member of EMDR Lebanon, she highlighted: “It’s essential to distinguish between people exposed to one-time events and those exposed to prolonged conflict, such as the children of Gaza. The latter often experiences more severe and long-lasting psychological effects. They are at a higher risk of developing conditions like Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (CPTSD), anxiety, depression, and acute stress reactions due to the continuous exposure to fear, violence, and daily life disruptions”.
In a question regarding interventions and support systems that are effective in helping war-affected children recover from trauma and develop resiliency, she answered: “Numerous services are available to support war-affected children, including mental health services within community-based programs, among which could be techniques such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)” and EMDR.
She stated that Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) is highly recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO) as an extremely effective approach for helping children recover from trauma. She is trained, for example, in a protocol called R-TEP in EMDR known as the recent traumatic episode protocol to deal with immediate trauma, but in this case, repeated exposure to conflict with psychological impacts for the future requires other interventions.
Dr. Boyadjian added: “In the short term, children exposed to conflict may experience nightmares, night terrors, and physical symptoms, like bedwetting. These effects significantly disrupt their daily lives and cause trauma symptoms, hypervigilance, and even withdrawal. Identifying these signs early is crucial for timely intervention by professionals and NGOs to provide emotional support and assistance. Younger children often struggle to comprehend and express their emotions, making it essential to tailor approaches to their specific needs. Adolescents, on the other hand, have a better understanding of their experiences and the emotional challenges faced by caregivers. Each age group requires unique support strategies”.
She states that adolescents can be influenced by the ongoing conflict by seeking identity and purpose. They could engage in activities like joining freedom-fighting groups or organizations. Understanding their evolving coping mechanisms and communication styles is crucial for offering the right support.
Regarding how the loss of loved ones or separation from family members during war impacts a child’s psychological well-being, she explained: “Loss and separation, as aspects of war’s #psychological impact, are kin to the stages of grief, including denial, anger, guilt, bargaining, and acceptance. The enduring conflict in Gaza creates a profound sense of abandonment and sadness, leaving children at a higher risk of experiencing grief and trauma-related issues in the future. Providing a support system and counseling is crucial for helping them express their feelings constructively”.
In her detailed explanation, she mentioned how Initiatives and intervention techniques should adapt to the specific needs of children at different stages of conflict. Tailoring mental health policies, counseling services, and resources to the cultural context is essential. Access to basic needs like electricity, water, and safety must be restored. A holistic support system, involving local, national, and international organizations, should address psychological, physiological, emotional, and moral needs, given the inhumane nature of the ongoing conflict. Psychosocial support and a safe environment are essential for children to recover and regain a sense of normalcy. Education and community-based initiatives, supported by NGOs and international organizations, play a pivotal role in rebuilding their lives and offering hope for the future.
It’s critical to understand that conflicts in one area might affect other areas more broadly. The effects of the Gaza war may spread to Lebanon, highlighting the necessity of a thorough strategy to address the wider effects of wars on the security and well-being of children and communities in the area.
She also specified how the ongoing threat of conflict in the south of Lebanon could impact the collective psyche of the entire nation, as people live with the constant uncertainty of when or if war will erupt, affecting various aspects of their lives and well-being.
The situation is multifaceted due to the perpetual uncertainty. Living with this constant uncertainty has profound and lasting effects, including trauma and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), or C-PTSD, particularly among those who have experienced violence before. Families in the south of Lebanon grapple with whether to send their children to school or leave their homes, along with a drastic economic crisis that has decreased the overall quality of life. The instability and fear in the South, which is often a target, create an ongoing state of trauma, especially for refugees living in the region.
For many years, the land on the Mediterranean Sea’s eastern shore, known as the Gaza Strip, has been a flashpoint for hostilities. The civilian population has suffered greatly as a result of the prolonged conflict between Israel and Palestine, especially the youngsters living in Gaza. These young people have experienced the atrocities of war, but their resilient souls lie in the center of one of the world’s longest-lasting conflicts, where the echoes of warfare never seem to fade. Growing up in the perpetual bustle of violence, loss, and change, these young souls have known little but the constant threat of war. In their eyes, there are dreams not bound by borders or barricades; they long for a childhood colored by peace and not marked by war.