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Children In Gaza Suffer Trauma After Repeated Cycles of War


In Israel and Gaza, memories of violence are never far away even if you are a child. Fighting between Israel and Hamas is common enough that a 13-year-old child has lived through four major bouts of rockets and airstrikes, including this latest round since Hamas took over the Gaza Strip. The most recent conflict has claimed the lives of more than 60 children in Gaza according to health officials there. Israel's medical service says two children have been killed in Israel. At least 11 of the children in Gaza were receiving mental health support to address trauma from previous conflicts before they died in this one. That counseling program is run by the Norwegian Refugee Council. And Hozayfa Yazji is head of the NRC in Gaza. We reached him on a phone line from Gaza. Welcome.

HOZAYFA YAZJI: Thank you very much for having me.

SHAPIRO: First, I'm sorry for your loss. Can you tell us about the children in your program who were killed?

YAZJI: Thank you very much. The situation in the last few days, in the last week was very intense. And to be honest, it's very sad. We know them very well. We used to work with them. And right now, they are dying, killed with their families, buried with their dreams and nightmares. (Unintelligible) suffer from nightmares. And they are traumatized by the round of frustrating (unintelligible) the last 20 years.

SHAPIRO: Can you tell us about one of the children who was among those 11 who you remember?

YAZJI: So I can show you two or three stories. The first one, Hala Hassim (ph), she's 16 (ph) years old. She was killed on the night of the 12 (ph) of May, the attack that also killed 4 years old Mohammed (ph) and his mother, Vima (ph), who was five months pregnant. Another story of (unintelligible) - she was killed together with two of her brothers who were having lunch in the garden of the (unintelligible) building. And this was like her 11th birthday.

SHAPIRO: She was killed on her 11th birthday.

YAZJI: It was her birthday this week.

SHAPIRO: Can you tell us about what you heard from children before this latest round of fighting began? When you would do trauma counseling in schools with students, what sorts of things did they tell you?

YAZJI: The majority of these children are suffering from conflict-related trauma because of the latest round of hostilities that they witnessed. Most of the kids here, someone from the family has been killed, the brother or a sister. We identify the cases that need further support, which include those kids who are traumatized and having symptoms, including nightmares, being in shock. So they are trying to provide mitigation exercising and also to teach the parents how to fill up on this so the kids can do these type of exercises at home.

SHAPIRO: You know, Gaza's population is so young. It's estimated that 40% of the people who live there are under the age of 14. What do you think the long-term impact will be of such a large proportion of Gazans experiencing this kind of violence at such a young age?

YAZJI: We talked about the number of killed children in this round of hostilities. There are than 65. Most of them, they're aged, actually, between 5 and 15. They've been at least experiencing four rounds of hostilities. This is very, very critical. So we are exhausted to do this all over again. But the critical consequences here that dealing with these traumatized children for the first time is hard, but it's easier than dealing with the same child again - shock again. So it would be harder for us, for all of the psychologists here in order to support these kids who are really being traumatized many times during the last 12 years. And we are expecting that they will - they will need more after we reach a cease-fire. And this will require a lot effort from everyone in order to support the children. We need to give these kids a proper future. They need to have hope. They need to have a better outlook for the future.

SHAPIRO: Hozayfa Yazji is the Gaza area manager for the Norwegian Refugee Council. Thank you very much.

YAZJI: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ari Shapiro has been one of the hosts of All Things Considered, NPR's award-winning afternoon newsmagazine, since 2015. During his first two years on the program, listenership to All Things Considered grew at an unprecedented rate, with more people tuning in during a typical quarter-hour than any other program on the radio.
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