Trauma soaring among Palestinian children, says UN
QALANDIYA REFUGEE CAMP, West Bank, June 1 (AFP) - Trauma and stress-related troubles have risen among Palestinian children since the beginning of the intifada, psychologists working in this UN-run refugee camp near Ramallah said Tuesday.
"Palestinian children have lost all sense of normalcy. They don't know whether they'll be able to go to school, whether they'll come home safely because of curfews and (Israeli) army incursions," Yoad Ghanadreh told reporters at a visit in Qalandiya's community center managed by the UN agency for refugees (UNRWA).
"They often suffer from psychosomatic troubles, depression and low concentration that are related to their fear of the present and the future," she amid boys and girls, most sporting brightly painted faces, celebrating International Children's Day.
Ghanadreh, who oversees all of UNRWA psychological support programs in 95 schools, 30 clinics and 105 community centers on the West Bank, said the agency had to step up counselling as a result of the Palestinian intifada, or uprising, which began in September 2000.
"Violence outside has become a reference. It's part of our lives and reproduced by children at school and at home," she said, as she stressed the number of stone-throwing children had gone down with the militarization of the intifada.
"We originally thought that children's participation in non-armed demonstrations was empowering but research later showed it was bad for them because it is violent," she said.
Fresh statistics released by UN agencies Tuesday showed that more than 670 children have been killed in the past four years of the conflict -- of which 573 were Palestinian and 105 Israelis.
Close to 2,000 Palestinian children have been arrested, interrogated and detained, with 337 currently in jail. Nearly 1,500 school days were lost and pass rates in UNRWA-run schools sharply declined in 2003/2004.
In a survey on its schools, UNRWA found a 20 percent rate of hypertension symptoms, 16 percent low achievement rate and 11.5 percent rate of fear and anxiety.
Yet, the study concluded that most children display high optimism and resilience.
On the community center playground, 13-year-old Rana said she hoped there would soon be peace.
"Sometimes we can't go to school because of curfews. Sometimes, soldiers will raid Qalandiya and Ramallah and we'll be stuck inside the classroom," she also said.
"They're dangerous, they kill and injure," she said of Israeli troops.
Marwa, 13, said she hated the eight-meter (26 feet) wall being built at Qalandiya's entrance and which, once completed, will separate this West Bank community from Jerusalem.
"It's tall and ugly. Once there is peace, we will destroy it," she said.
In a bid to prevent would-be Palestinian attackers, Israel is erecting a controversial barrier around the West Bank, which Palestinians brand as an "Apartheid wall" and slam for taking in some of their land.
In the center's main room, dozens of children were kneeling down to paint on sheets of paper scattered on the ground.
"It's the Palestinian flag because I want to free my people," said Mussa, 13 applying himself to fill in a black and white sketch with the flag's red and green colors.
Amer, seven, explained the elusive shape he drew was an Israeli jeep. "I see them, the tanks, the planes and the jeeps," he said.
Splattering black paint on the shapeless armor he first drew in red, Amer said it was "because they are dark."
"Children use black and gray colors a lot as if that was the only thing coming out of them. They tend to draw weaponry and armor," said Dawlat Siam, a social worker.
"Our goal is to make them forget the occupation. Progressively, they will draw happier things in bright colors," she added.
Copyright (c) 2004 Agence France-Presse
Received by NewsEdge Insight: 06/01/2004 08:39:52
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