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UNICEF in Emergencies & Humanitarian Action

Young people in the Middle East talk about the toll of conflict

© UNICEF/HQ06-1092/Jadallah
A Palestinian boy, Zohar, sits at home with his siblings in the town of Beit Hanoun, northern Gaza.

By Blue Chevigny

NEW YORK, USA, 14 August 2006 – Yasmin, 13, lives in the Gaza Strip. She says her life used to be beautiful, without the fears she has on a daily basis now. “I can’t go swimming, I can’t go anywhere, can’t look at the Internet because of the electricity shortage,” she says. “I can’t even take a bath because of the water shortage.”

Shuki, 14, lives in Kiryat Shmona in the north of Israel. “You used to walk around freely,” he says. “It was a calm city.” His parents sent him to Jerusalem to stay with relatives where there’s less threat of violence. Still, he notes: “Every small sound around Jerusalem makes you jump, even though you know you’re in a safe place.”

Young people in the Middle East are feeling the effects of the daily violence around them. Mazen, 20, a university student who has been volunteering at a shelter for displaced people in Beirut, Lebanon, worries about the long-term effects on children.

“You see it in their drawings,” he reports. “Children are drawing guns and bombs falling from the skies, and bloody bodies. These are children who used to draw regular things, like flowers and houses.”

© UNICEF/HQ06-1061/Brooks
A boy standing on a hill watches smoke rise from Beirut, the capital of Lebanon.

‘They will never be the same’

While the ceasefire that took effect in Lebanon today offers hope for children there, weeks of violence have disrupted the lives of young people across the Middle East. In some cases, young people have lost their freedom of movement, their homes and members of their families.

Mona, 16, lives in Syria. Her city was flooded with refugees from Lebanon after the fighting began. “Many of the schools are full of Lebanese people,” she says. “And all the student housing, which empties in the summer, has been taken up by Lebanese as well.”

She has relatives in Lebanon and used to travel there on vacations. “We used to see Lebanon as full of life,” she laments. “Now it is dead. These children will grow up with violence and they will never be the same.”

In Gaza, 16-year-old Basem says he awoke in a sweat the other night. “I was sleeping and woke up with my heart beating fast. It was because F-16 planes had bombed the Palestinian football field beside my house.”

Time to heal

All of these children and young people voice concern about the future of their countries. “Many of my professors have left,” says Mazen. “I see the  brightest minds of Lebanon travelling away. Who’s going to rebuild the country? Who’s going to educate our children?”

Mazen worries, as well, about the desensitization that comes from experiencing so much war. “The more people die, the less impact each individual death has,” he says. “The most important thing is to continue to feel sympathy for the people who are losing their lives.”

Shir, 16, lives in Haifa, northern Israel. She has plans for her future but wonders if they are possible. “I want to be able to travel through Syria, through Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon,” she says. “I want to be able to see these places, meet these people. My grandmother was born in Syria near the border, and I want to see the place where she was born.  But I can’t now, because we are enemies.”

The bottom line is that young people in the Gaza, Israel and Lebanon are afraid. That fear is altering their lives and their ability to imagine a positive future for themselves. The sooner the conflicts around them resolve, the sooner they can begin to heal.




14 August 2006:
UNICEF Radio correspondent Blue Chevigny reports on the perspectives of young people affected by conflict in Gaza, Israel and Lebanon.
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