Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Two Views: Israel's Psychological Terrorism

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Two Views: Israel's Psychological Terrorism

Article excerpt

Flashbacks: 500,000 Palestinian Children Suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

By Robert Younes

Without warning the child jerks straight up, gasps audibly and shakes his head. Sweat appears on his forehead, and a frightened, painful look replaces his smile. Moments earlier Khalil-a 12-year-- old composite of many Palestinian children-was playing peacefully with his plastic toy in his home in Nablus. Suddenly, however, tears appear at the corners of his eyes as a vivid, violent motion picture flashes before him: Khalil and his teenage cousin Samer are walking hand in hand down a street in their home town. Turning a corner, they find an Israeli jeep stationed 50 meters ahead of them. Amid loud staccato sounds, Samer falls backward and crumples to the ground. Blood pours from multiple spots on his chest and head. Khalil bends down to help, but, as the child desperately tries to staunch the flow of blood, his cousin dies.

These terrifying visions torment Khalil almost daily. Each time he experiences them, his heart beats faster in his chest, he shakes and quivers, and he becomes frightened and immobilized. He believes his repeated visions are so abnormal that he dare not tell anybody about them lest they think he is majnoon (crazy).

In his sorrow and sadness, Khalil blames himself for his cousin's death three months ago. Samer would be alive today, he believes, if Khalil hadn't chosen that route in Nablus. His feelings of guilt, shame and responsibility for his cousins death prevent him from turning to his family for comfort and playing with his brothers and sisters. Adding to his distress, Khalil's entire family are depressed, and shed bitter tears when they think of Samer.

Khalil remains mute most of the day. His drawings picture guns, tanks, blood and bullets. Unable to concentrate on his schoolwork, which suffers as a result, he is unmanageable in class, having been ejected several times. His temper flares suddenly for insignificant reasons and he has begun to fight with his siblings and friends. Khalil and his parents argue constantly. His sleep is repeatedly interrupted by nightmares and, when awake, he builds elaborate fantasies about revenge and how to kill Israeli soldiers.

Khalil is one of the many Palestinian victims of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Worldwide, conflict and terrorism affect more than 60 countries. Medical studies indicate that there is a strong relationship between the number of traumatic events children witness and the severity of their PTSD symptoms. While these can last a lifetime, most symptoms, fortunately, gradually fade over a 10-year period. Because the availability of medical care in Palestine is so limited at the moment, however, many Palestinian children never receive treatment. As a result, their suffering is prolonged and severe.

According to one study of Vietnamese refugees, which identified physical or emotional trauma as the most important predictor of PTSD, symptoms persisted in 8 percent of those who initially suffered from the syndrome even after 15 years. If a refugee experienced three or more traumatic events, the study found, the risk of prolonged mental illness rose to 12 percent. PTSD and depression were the two most common mental health problems suffered by refugees.

Lack of food or water was the most common trauma experienced by 20 percent of the Vietnamese refugees. A CARE/USAID study of Palestinians showed that about 50 percent of young children and women of childbearing age are malnourished to the point of anemia, 5.5 percent of children are emaciated and 9.2 percent had stunted growth. A majority of the Palestinian population, therefore, is malnourished because of inadequate food intake and thus at risk for PTSD and depression. In addition, anemia impairs learning-meaning that much of an entire generation of Palestinian youth is unable to take full advantage of even the current limited educational opportunities available in Palestine. …

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