© UNICEF oPt/2008/El Baba
Ayad playing in the schoolyard.
GAZA, 26 May 2008 - Ayed’s marks have improved slightly, but he still has a hard time holding onto his pen since his left hand and right thumb were blown off by unexploded ordinance in northern Gaza just over a year ago.
“I was at the junk seller’s place, putting my scrap metal on the scale; there was a shiny, beautiful piece but then it exploded and I saw my hand thrown away from my body and my body was full of blood,” the sixth-grader said. “I got NIS 13 (USD 3.5) for what I sold.”
Between January 2007 and March 2008, seven children have died and 27, including Ayed, have been injured by unexploded ordinances (UXOs) in both Gaza and the West Bank. Sheer poverty, however, keeps driving families to send their children scouring for scrap metal to resell at NIS 13 a kilogram (USD 3.5).
Palestinians households have become dramatically poorer, especially in Gaza. Since June 2007, Israel has restricted the entry of everything but survival basics such as fuel, food and medicine into the tiny coastal strip. Israel also cut energy supplies to Gaza’s 1.4 million residents, 56% of whom are children, in response to militants firing rockets at the nearby Israeli towns and attacks by militants on or near border crossings.
By the end of May, much of public transport, industry and farming had ground to a halt for lack of petrol. Thirty per cent of the population had no safe water and sewage was being discharged into the sea or spilling into neighborhoods because treatment plants lacked electricity. Schools had cut back on classes and services at hospitals and health clinics were severely scaled back.
Ayed’s family, like eight out of 10 households in Gaza, now rely on humanitarian support for basic needs including food. Ayed said his injury meant he could no longer meet his duty, as eldest son, to help feed his three younger brothers and sister. “I want to keep studying now. It is the only way to stop having to collect metal, which is the reason I am suffering.”
Gaza and the West Bank are contaminated with landmines and explosive remnants of war. While landmines are largely a legacy of the British Mandate, World War II and the Six Day War, explosive ordnance includes Israeli munitions such as unexploded missiles, grenades, small arms ammunition, and booby-traps; as well as Palestinian improvised explosive devices, including homemade mortars, rockets, mines and roadside bombs. Areas such as Beit Lahiya, the site of frequent Israeli-Palestinian confrontations, are especially charged.
“Ayed changed when he came back from the hospital. He had nightmares, and would and cry and scream without reason,” Ayed’s mother, Rawia, said. “All he wanted was to watch TV and not see anyone.”
Classmates and neighbors taunted him at first, calling him the “boy with one hand”, Ayed said. “I would get angry with my brothers and friends when they refused to help me hold a bottle of water, for example.”
Unable to draw her son out of his misery, she followed a neighbor’s suggestion to bring him to a psychosocial assistance programme at the Palestinian Centre for Democracy and Conflict Resolution. Under the UNICEF-supported, ECHO-funded programme, counselors help children who have experienced traumatic events to express feelings, worries and fears, and build their resilience and coping mechanisms so that they are better able to deal with the daily difficulties they face. The children participate in structured psychosocial group activities that allow counselors to identify and treat children who need in-depth counseling and support.
“When I started working with Ayed, he was extremely depressed and all he wanted was to be left alone,” said Manal, his counselor. Manal said she organized a discussion with children in his neighborhood to explain what had happened to Ayed, and how important it was that they support him rather than hurt him.
She also encouraged Rawia and Husam to talk to school officials and other parents. “Helping children recover from traumatic events isn’t a single-person or single-intervention process,” Manal said. “He still has nightmares, and he still needs support because he feels he is less than his peers and his siblings. It takes time, understanding and effort from everyone the child comes into contact with. Ayed will be recovering for a very long time.”
BACKGROUND ON THE PSYCHOSOCIAL SUPPORT PROGRAMME
Since the beginning of 2008, the psychosocial team funded by the Commission on Humanitarian Aid (ECHO) has enabled UNICEF and The Palestinian Center for Democracy and Conflict Resolution (PCDCR) to reach over 10,800 children and 3,200 parents in Gaza with psychosocial assistance.
By the end of April, the teams had also conducted over 600 emergency interventions including home and hospital visits in 2008 in response to military incursions. This is more than all emergency interventions during all of 2007.
There are nine teams across the West Bank providing similar psychosocial support services for children.