Most of Gaza’s children in ‘crisis’ after 15-year blockade: NGO

Four out of five children in Gaza are suffering from emotional distress, Save the Children said on Wednesday, 15 years after Israel imposed a strict blockade on Palestinian territory.

Israel implemented the measure in June 2007, as Hamas movement fighters took control of the densely populated enclave. Israel and Egypt continue to severely restrict the flow of people and materials in and out.

In a report titled “Trapped”, UK-based Save the Children said the mental health of Gazan’s children continued to deteriorate.

The number of symptoms of “depression, bereavement and fear” has increased from 55 percent to 80 percent since 2018, the report said.

Save the Children’s director for the Occupied Palestinian Territories, Jason Lee, said: “The children we spoke to for this report lived in a perpetual state of fear, anxiety, sadness and bereavement, the next round of violence. Looking forward to, and feeling unable to sleep or concentrate.

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“The physical evidence of their distress – bed-wetting, loss of ability to speak or carry out basic tasks – is shocking and should serve as a wake-up call to the international community,” he said.

About half of Gaza’s population of 2.1 million are children. Save the Children said that the region’s approximately 800,000 youth who “never knew life without a blockade”.

‘Open-air prison’

Israel insists that the blockade is necessary to protect its citizens from Hamas, a group blacklisted by most of the West as a terrorist organization.

Israel has fought four wars with Hamas since 2007, most recently in May 2021.

Palestinian children bring water to a jerrycan from a public fountain in the Gaza city of Rafa. — AFP

In the past 12 months, Israel has given more work permits to Gazans looking for better-paying jobs inside the Jewish state. It has also relaxed some restrictions on the flow of goods in and out of the region.

But the blockade has remained largely unchanged, with Palestinians generally barred from leaving Gaza to go to Israel via the Erez crossing.

Gazan also faces enormous obstacles in getting through the Rafa crossing to Egypt.

In a statement marking the anniversary of the blockade, Human Rights Watch said that “Israel, with the help of Egypt, has turned Gaza into an open prison”.

Omar Shakir, Director of HRW for Israel and Palestine AFP: “Young people bear the brunt of (the blockade) because they don’t know about Gaza before the shutdown.

“Their horizon has been forcibly limited to a 40 by 11 kilometer (25 by seven mile) strip of land and this prevents them from the opportunity to interact and connect with the world,” Shakir said.