The bombing on Gaza has stopped for now
A ceasefire in Gaza was put in place on May 10th 2021, ending 11 days of Israeli aggression on the civilian population and the infrastructure of the Gaza Strip. The bombing has now stopped. But the violence against Palestinians has not ceased.
The 365 sq km Gaza Strip is home to more than 2 million Palestinians, two-third of whom are refugees.The devastating impact of the ongoing 14-year blockade on Gaza is felt in every aspect of the civilian population, mostly women and children. On top of this, the people of Gaza have just lived and died through 11 days of continuous bombardment on their communities and their livelihoods. This was the fourth such Israeli aggression in the past 12 years.
The physical toll of the ruthless attacks is accompanied by a devastating psychological impact, especially on children. You don’t survive sleepless nights of constant bombing, sounds of missiles, as well as exposure to the sights, sounds, and smells of blood, killing, and destruction without being traumatized.
Everyone in Gaza has been impacted by the latest aggression. Residential homes were obliterated, children and their families were forced to flee to refuge in schools, children experienced painful scenes of blood and destruction. Local health authorities reported that 69 children were killed in the recent Israeli aggression on Gaza. The aggression also resulted in various physical injuries and untold psychological traumas to children and their parents, who were helpless to provide security and safety for their families.
Children experienced displacement, with thousands of families seeking refuge in UN schools. Children witnessed other children their age being picked from under the rubble of their own homes. Children lost family members and friends. Children lost their homes or witnessed other children losing their homes due to intense bombardment. Children lost their sense of place and space as they no longer could recognise their local environment as it lay before them in rubble. While these are the short-term traumas, their tragic long-term consequences are yet to unfold.
Save the Children reported that 50 schools were damaged in Gaza by Israeli airstrikes over the course of 11 days, affecting more than 40,000 students’ access to education. The Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) confirmed that 11 children who were receiving NRC trauma care were killed in their homes by Israeli air strikes. The conversation is not only about the physical loss of lives and injuries, but also the troubling psychological impacts experienced by hundreds of thousands of children in Gaza as well as their education and care providers, teachers, parents and local community members.
On June 1, 2021, after the aggression ended in Gaza, INEE hosted a workshop with a group of educators in Gaza with the aim of providing immediate psychological intervention, tools, and resources, providing a safe platform for educators to share their experiences, and supporting educators during such critical times.
Hani, from a local education community group, said “Gaza has experienced a number of wars during the ongoing blockade. However, the violence experienced in the latest aggression was unprecedented. There is a large perception among people that this is not the last war to happen in Gaza, and this will certainly impact the nature of our community education intervention.” Dr. Mohammed Tawil, from the Palestine Trauma Centre, mentioned that children in Gaza go through ongoing trauma, and many of them could easily revisit traumatic experiences by simply hearing loud sounds, banging doors, or watching scenes of wars on TV. Dr. Tawil pointed out that people in Gaza still live through unstable conditions, siege and regular wars, adding that, “We cannot say children in Gaza suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) because they live in a situation where trauma is repetitive, ongoing, and continuous.”
According to workshop participants, teachers were sometimes able to stay in touch with their learners during the war, but, due to heavy bombardment and power outages which affected internet connectivity, teachers eventually lost connection with most of the students. Teachers in Gaza used WhatsApp messages to check on the safety of their students and to communicate simple messages to support them during these difficult times.
Ahlam, a teacher in Gaza, shared, “Psychosocial learning should be an integral part of designing lessons in our schools in Gaza. I have not been able to meet with my students, especially those who were physically impacted by the war. I have students who lost their homes, which means they basically lost their sense of safety and are in need of psychological support. I, like other teachers in Gaza, need intensive training as we are expecting schools to reopen soon.”
Teachers require psychological support because they are the frontline people to support traumatised children. Dr. Khaled Abu Fida, from the Ministry of Education in Gaza, said, “We cannot expect teachers to provide support if they themselves are not feeling supported. They have lived the 11 days of ongoing bombardment alongside their children and learners. Everyone needs mental health support but to various degrees.” Wafa, a Gaza-based educator, voiced out, “At the end of the day, we are human beings as education practitioners; we are not strong all the time to be able to provide ongoing support to our children.”
Psychological support projects have been implemented by a large number of groups in Gaza; however, there is a need for a deep situational analysis in light of the repetitive wars and the ongoing blockade so as to provide appropriate mental health and psychological interventions. Wafa indicated the need for more psychotherapy intervention such as EMDR therapy, which enables people to heal from the symptoms and emotional distress, and she suggested exploring how this technique can be incorporated in the learning spaces in Gaza. Educators also emphasised the importance of coordinated psychosocial support between all sectors in Gaza to ensure good outcomes for children and teachers.
As a global network devoted to supporting teachers in emergencies and crises, INEE provides spaces for teachers and education in emergencies stakeholders to come together to share learning. This workshop was just one opportunity to convene stakeholders and share relevant resources in Arabic, as well as listen to the experiences of teachers. This and subsequent activities help identify education needs and inform INEE members and partners how to better respond to these needs.