One year on from Israel's three-week military offensive in Gaza, leading psychologists working with the children's charity report that many Palestinian children in Gaza are suffering sustained psychological damage as their experiences of violence and loss during the conflict are compounded by the hardships of life under the blockade.
Osama Damo, aid worker for Save the Children in Gaza, said: "This is a traumatised nation. Many children we work with are not able to sleep at night for fear of soldiers returning. Others cry at the sound of loud noises, mistaking them for military jets and tanks coming to bomb their homes. Young children in Gaza are surviving under extreme levels of stress, which will pose long-term dangers not only for their mental health, but for the future of the region."
Save the Children warns that until Israel's tight restrictions on the movement of goods and people in and out of Gaza are lifted and the threat of further conflict eased, the mental health of the 780,000 children living in Gaza could continue to deteriorate.
Osama Damo continued: 'The psychological crisis facing children in Gaza just keeps getting worse. Thousands of children are still living in half-destroyed homes or in over-crowded conditions with host families. Hundreds still live in tents where they risk being attacked by packs of wild dogs and don't have proper protection against the cold and rain."
Research currently being conducted by the Gaza Community Mental Health Programme suggests that the majority of children in Gaza are showing signs of anxiety, depression and behavioural problems, including aggression and bed-wetting.
Dr Ahmed Abu Tawanheena, Director of Gaza Community Mental Health Programme, has worked with victims of trauma in Gaza for 20 years. He said:
"The safety and comfort children rely on their parents for has been destroyed twice in one year: first, during the conflict, when they saw their parents terrified and unable to protect them from the violence. Now, under the blockade, they see their parents are still unable to provide for their basic needs, such as shelter or food. Many children report feeling abandoned by their parents and by the outside world, and parents are left struggling with feelings of guilt. It's a crisis which is threatening families and communities across the Gaza Strip."
Osama Damo said: "Save the Children's priority is to try and restore a sense of well-being and normality for children in Gaza. We are helping them take baby steps towards regaining their childhood, but there's a huge job in front of us. If things are really to change for children here, there has to be an immediate lifting of the blockade to allow children to recover, and Israeli, Palestinian and international governments have to act urgently to make this happen."
As part of its emergency response to the conflict, Save the Children provided psychological support to children in Gaza, creating 'safe places' where they could play, draw and express themselves. Save the Children has been working in Gaza since 1973, where we are currently running health, child protection and education projects.
For more information and interviews with Osama Damo in Gaza, Save the Children Gaza experts in London or with Dr Ahmed Abu Tawanheena, Director of Gaza Community Mental Health Programme, please contact Save the Children's media unit on +44 7831 650 409.