oPt + 1 more

OPT: Recent violence in Gaza leaves many young people shaken

By Amy Bennett

NEW YORK, USA, 19 June 2007 - The recent intra-Palestinian violence in the Gaza Strip left many young people traumatized and unable to carry out their daily activities. Last week's clashes between Hamas and Fatah killed more than 110 people and injured another 500.

Families cowered in their homes, unable to venture out, many without electricity and water. Young people were left with nothing to do but wait and hope, disappointed over the cancellation of summer plans and the uncertainty that is now a part of their lives.

"Last week, life wasn't going that well," recalled Julie, 17, one of several Palestinian youths who spoke to UNICEF Radio about their ordeal. "They were continuously shooting for five days," she continued. "The situation was really bad. Nobody was able to get out of the house, not even able to get near a window."

'Fighting in the streets'

Bombs did extensive damage to the electricity network in Gaza, and many people lost power in their homes. The outage also interrupted sewage and water-supply services.

Fear was most deeply felt by civilians near the areas where fighting was most intense.

"The last week was awful. It was a nightmare," said Chris, 13. "There was conflict near our house, and everywhere we heard the clashes. We couldn't leave our house.

"We went in the bathroom and we stayed there for the whole day. When it was time to sleep, we slept on the ground, because we were afraid of bullets coming into our house," he noted.

"It was a mess," reported Mustafa, another teenager. "It was all masked men fighting in the streets. They just threw the bombs and many, many houses here got attacked for nothing. Many civilians died, just walking in the streets or while they were in their homes."

Final exams disrupted for many

Mustafa and other students who were taking their Tawjihi exams (secondary-school matriculation finals) amidst the crisis were under considerable stress. Some did not do as well as they had hoped, while others missed the tests entirely. Still, some 24,000 students sat their exams each day.

"It was really hard for me to concentrate on my studies with all this shooting and fighting on the other side," said Yaffa, 18.

Added Mustafa: "I had to miss one of my exams. We didn't leave our home for a few days."

Despite these challenges, both Mustafa and Yaffa hope their test scores will help them get into the universities they choose.

Relief aid from UNICEF

In the aftermath of last week's violence, UNICEF is planning to ship much-needed vaccines to Gaza. Hospitals there have been hard hit; they still lack vascular surgery kits, blood units, X-ray films, sutures, lab supplies and orthopaedic casts. Many essential drugs are running out.

UNICEF is also planning to provide 50,000 litres of diesel fuel through its partner, the Coastal Municipalities Water Utility, while the provision of fuel through regular channels is restored.

And psychosocial counselling teams have resumed their work in Gaza through a partnership between UNICEF and local non-governmental organizations. The teams are currently screening children in the most affected areas to identify those who require the most attention.

Living with fear and uncertainty

In the meantime, young people like Julie, Chris, Mustafa and Yaffa must live with the trauma they have endured, and face an uncertain future.

"We are afraid that electricity and water will stop," said Chris. "We are afraid that there is no money, and no food that will enter Gaza because all the borders with countries that support Gaza are closed. Last summer, the same thing happened.

"I am afraid to go out, and so are my friends in Gaza, because we are afraid that the conflicts will resume," he explained.

"Every time I hope that they will get everything fixed," lamented Julie, "they turn back to fighting, again and again, over and over. They never stop."