Fawaz’s Ship of the Future
GAZA, 2 September 2005 - The outline of a big boat is stuck on the wall of a classroom. Eleven-year-old Fawaz Hashish is one of a group of 25 children cutting out cardboard shapes, writing on them and sticking them up on the “Ship of the Future”.
The words on the shapes say “love”, “trust”, “honesty”, “friendship”, “integrity” – all the things the children say they hope for. Shapes of apples, bananas and hearts festoon the rigging.
He lives in a breezeblock house in the sandy village of Um Nasr in the northern Gaza strip, part of the occupied Palestinian territory (oPt). Only a couple of hundred metres away, a watchtower looms over his village from where Israeli soldiers monitor a desolate no-mans’ land of rubble and sand.
Behind the tower, three tiny Israeli settlers’ communities have been planted close to Gaza’s urban sprawl for decades. In late August, the three settlements were among 21 emptied by the Israeli government as part of its policy to disengage from the Gaza strip and parts of the northern West Bank.
Some 1.3 million Palestinians live in an area that could accommodate two Washington DCs. Until recently, the lives of most Gazans have been dominated by the presence of the Israeli settlements (population 7,800) and the military installations that protected them.
Palestinian movement even inside the tiny 365 km2 area was constantly disrupted and controlled by Israeli-controlled road blocks and checkpoints. The settlements were often attacked by armed Palestinian militants.
Even going to school for children like Fawaz could involve running the gauntlet of an intimidating checkpoint. Gunfire from the watchtower at Um Nasr could be heard every day and night, says Fawaz. Few children enjoyed a good night’s sleep over the years of the Intifada conflict in the Gaza Strip.
Fawaz is enrolled in a psycho-social programme supported by UNICEF and funded by the Austrian government and by the Humanitarian Aid Department of the European Commission (ECHO).
The sessions are for children whose lives have been particularly affected by the conflict. Over a four-day course, children are given the skills and time to better cope with the stress and distress of the long-running conflict. More severe cases are referred for further support. Several surveys illustrates the toll that the conflict has taken on children in Gaza – aggressive behaviour, low school achievement, and nightmares are common and demand for the psycho-social sessions is high among caregivers and children alike.
UNICEF supports a range of play, drama and psycho-social programmes implemented by local NGOs such as the Palestinian Centre for Democracy and Human Rights which try to counteract the abnormality of a Gazan childhood.
In order to adapt to the changing situation in Gaza, the issues of domestic violence and abuse are being increasingly addressed. Parallel sessions with parents equip them with skills on how to better support their children and to prevent violence in the home environment.
The Ship of the Future with Fawaz’s favourite banana-shaped cutouts remains just a hope for now. But Fawaz’s demeanour is improving already – little by little - because there's no shooting these days he says he can sleep far better.