Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Operation Cast Lead Is over, but the Nightmare Continues

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Operation Cast Lead Is over, but the Nightmare Continues

Article excerpt

The Sept. 6, 2010 issue of the leading German newspaper Der Spiegel included the article "Studies Show Nurture at Least as Important as Nature" by Joerge Blech on the findings of a groundbreaking study on intelligence. Researchers found that prolonged poverty, stress and other environmental factors-including war and the deprivation of basic needs-directly affect a child's intelligence and, therefore, his or her life prospects.

Previously it was believed that intelligence was 80 percent genetic. These latest findings, however, show that at least 50 percent of an individual's intelligence is actually determined by environmental factors. More specifically: the more stress, the more arrested mental development. As one of the researchers, Richard Nisbett, a psychologist at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, noted: "During World War II, some children in Holland started school late because of the Nazi occupation-with momentous consequences. The average IQ for these children was seven points lower than for children who came of school age after the siege."

The Nazi persecution and World War II in Europe, which lasted from 1933 to 1945, affected an entire generation of children. By contrast, Israel's dispossession and occupation of Palestine has lasted some six decades-and counting. Generations of Palestinian children have been affected physically, psychologically and materially. Since Ariel Sharon instigated the al-Aqsa intifada in late 2000, Israeli repression has been most restrictive, and most steadily escalated, in Gaza. According to "Gaza Strip: A Humanitarian Implosion," a 16-page BBC report released in March 2008: "In September 2007, an UNRWA survey in the Gaza Strip revealed that there was a nearly 80 percent failure rate in schools grades four to nine, with up to 90 percent failure rates in Mathematics. In January 2008, UNICEF reported that schools in Gaza had been cancelling classes that were high on energy consumption, such as IT, science labs and extra curricular activities."

The report adds that "The number of people living in absolute poverty in Gaza has increased sharply. Today, 80 percent of families in Gaza currently rely on humanitarian aid, compared to 63 percent in 2006. This decline exposes unprecedented levels of poverty and the inability of a large majority of the population to afford basic food."

War, poverty, stress caused by financial and personal insecurity due to living under occupation, the constant scarcity of basic necessities including food, sewer treatment, water and medical care, the threat of constant attack by military forces, forced imprisonment, lack of movement, lack of rights-these are the daily realities of children in Gaza, realities they, their parents and their grandparents have known their whole lives.

This is the recurring nightmare that is Gaza.

A Child's Life

At first glance, 13-year-old Khalil seems like your average teenager. His young body is just beginning to mature, and he is curious, easily distracted and slightly mischievous. A closer inspection, however, reveals a vacant look in his eyes more associated with age. In fact, if one saw only his eyes, one would guess Khalil is close to 50, not 13. What's missing is that sense of invincibility and heightened optimism common among youth his age elsewhere in the world. Where American and European children talk about the latest rap band, their school vacation or their latest crush, Khalil simply shrugs apathetically.

"Excuse me, but the war has wiped blank all my beautiful memories," he says somewhat sarcastically. "The front half of my house was damaged, so that I am transferred to a life-situation that I never dreamed I would be experiencing. After years of living in a large house," he explains, "I now live at Al Zahra city."

Khalil's home was destroyed in January 2009, during Israel's "Operation Cast Lead" assault, plunging his middle-class family into homelessness in an instant. …

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