The number of orphans in Gaza increased significantly after the Israeli attacks on Gaza during the war of 2014. Two thousand children were orphaned, according to statistics of the Ministry of Social Affairs. The statistics were published by the Ministry in light of the International Day for War Orphans on November 9th. It is furthermore stated that the orphans are suffering from mental illnesses and are in need of long-term treatments.
Aisha (8), Heba (9) and Khadija (..) Ash-Shinbari miraculously survived the destruction of their home in Beit Hanoun in the north of Gaza after being taken to a shelter school by their mothers. The three sisters lost their father three years ago in a car accident, after which they enrolled at the Institute of Hope for Orphans during the latest Israeli attacks on Gaza Strip. Their mothers thought that their home would be a safer place, but Israeli missiles targeted the house forcing the family to live in shelter schools. At the shelter school, the three sisters experienced other tragedies: their mothers were killed during the bombings on Gaza and they later found out that two of their brothers had been injured.
Heba regains the details of those tragic moments, with a soft voice and tears in her eyes: ‘We spent the day at Abu Hussein shelter school, where the International Committee of the Red Cross told us to leave the school because Israeli Forces intended to bomb it.’
Heba continues: ‘The families gathered inside the courtyard of the school, where we were standing a few meters away from the bus that would take us out of the school. Suddenly we felt huge explosions caused by Israeli warplanes bombing the school.’
The Israeli warplanes targeted Abu Hussein school. The school belongs to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) in the north of Gaza. The school was sheltering hundreds of Palestinian civilians who were displaced. Fifteen women and children were killed and several others were injured.
After the ending of the Israeli attack on Gaza the three girls returned to Hope Institute, but this time they had become orphans. The young girls consider the Hope Institute for Orphans as a second home and think highly of the supervisors. The sisters tell us the supervisors treat them tenderly, like their mothers once did.
President of the resort section Rowaieda Kassad says that the impact of the war still exists inside the young girls. With a great deal of effort the institute tries to take the orphans out of the atmosphere of death and destruction, which they experienced in the moments their relatives were killed.
We are told that the institute has psychological support programs for the children in order to minimize the impact of war on them. The children however suffer from fears of the war returning whenever they hear the sound of an explosion or hear about the war on the news.
Chairperson of the Institute of Hope Abdul Majid Al Khudari states that the attacks on Gaza which lasted 51 days, resulted in more than 1680 orphaned children in addition to thousands of deaths and injuries.
He points out that the institute is facing great difficulties, because what the orphans experienced cannot be easily forgotten. He adds that the programs for psychological support must be continued to achieve its goals of taking orphans out of the atmospheres of war.
Shocks and consequences
‘The worst cases are the young people who had to witness their loved ones being killed, this leads to severe psychological problems’, psychological therapist Alaa Al Rab’e says.
Al Rab’e states that the Israeli attacks on Gaza led to behavioural disorders such as anxiety, fear of the unknown, and the tendency to aggression and violence. Especially among the male children. The children furthermore lost their peace of mind and psychological security, particularly the ones who lost their caretakers.
Many children suffer from separation anxiety; which is sometimes developed into a constant shivering or any sort of phobia from surrounding objects or certain sounds that trigger memories associated with the events experienced during the attacks.
‘The Israeli attacks also caused symptoms of illness such as bedwetting, thumb sucking, stuttering, and nail biting’, Al Rab’e says.
Al Rab’e stresses that society should provide an atmosphere in which the orphan child develops inclinations and interests, in addition to a formation of social support from extended family, and an investment in the educational environment.