More than 54.7 per cent of Palestinian children have experienced at least one traumatic event in their life and non-stop Israeli attacks can lead to major psychological issues among them.
Israel had escalated its reckless air strikes and rocket attacks on Palestine, targeting even women, children and media organisations. The latest Israeli offensive on Gaza caused intense psychological stress not only on adults but also on children.
Esra Oras, one of Turkey's prominent psychologists, told TRT World that Israel's aggressive policies that are largely driven by its military are "systematically exposing Palestinians to chronic trauma" and the vicious cycle of oppression has caused immense pain to them.
"It pushes the entire public, not just children, into a constant cycle of trauma. It disrupts the mental growth of children and also psychologically weakens parents who surround them,” Oras, who is the founder of Istanbul-based A'N Psychological Counseling, told TRT World.
Israeli bombardment of Gaza, which happened between 11 and 21 May, claimed the lives of 264 Palestinian citizens, including 66 children, 41 women and 16 elderly people.
The Israeli aggression is counted as the most devastating since 2014, when Israel carried out a wide-scale offensive that claimed the lives of more than 2,200 Palestinians, including more than 500 children and 160 women.
Israeli forces have killed at least 3,000 Palestinian children in the past two decades. With children being as vulnerable to the Israeli war machine as adults, the situation has caused massive trauma across the Palestinian society.
Oras explained that the threat of trauma first stimulates 'the sympathetic nervous system,' which directs the body's sudden and involuntary response to dangerous or stressful situations. As the system alerts a person, it triggers an adrenaline rush, which tells the body whether to “fight or run.”
The psychologist said there are moments when the "fight or run" option is not available. For instance, she explained, if someone's house is suddenly struck by a missile, a new situation of thawing and dissociation occurs.
“The body freezes itself not to feel pain, so to speak, the soul almost becomes severed from the body. This moment of freezing is not just for human beings but for all living things facing a situation when they cannot escape danger. Except for humans, other animals continue to live when the danger is over,” Oras told TRT World.
“The moment of freezing is capable of disrupting the entire human defence system. It can force permanent changes in emotion, mind and memory, which can occur even many years after the danger has passed.”
A person who has survived air strikes, bombing or any kind of violence during the war can live the rest of his or her life in a state of constant vigilance. One can also be robbed of his feelings, according to Oras.
The war trauma can hinder personality development because the victim's mind is always alert to protect himself, which doesn't allow it to grow in other spheres of life.
Children, according to Oras, find it difficult to cope with such trauma since their "defence system is extremely limited".
"Even if the threat is over, children tend to be overtly vigilant. They find it hard to forget the trauma and their minds return to it again and again. In the state of being awake or asleep, they face it in their dreams or daily life," she said.
Oras said that the children of conflict find it hard to play joyful games like their peers and when they become adults their perception toward themselves and the world varies from others.
"They see themselves as incomplete or imperfect but more alert than others. This difference at times pushes them to make choices in a way that limits their lives and they find it hard to explore their full potential."
What can be done?
According to Oras, psychologists across the world should prioritise treating such children and ensuring that they are rescued from falling into the psychological traps induced by their childhood traumas.
“This deprivation is a disgrace to the whole world. There are thousands of experts around the world who can support and even volunteer for these children, as long as the necessary channels of help are opened for this,” she said.
The prevalence of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) among children and adolescents in the Gaza Strip has increased after the recent offensives, according to an academic paper published last year.
The study found out that the majority of children and adolescents experienced personal trauma by 88.4 percent during the 2014 war that Israel waged on Palestine.
It was also revealed that every single child had been exposed to three or more traumatic events. In addition, 42 percent were suffering from moderate or acute PTSD levels. Another study showed that 54.7 percent of Palestinian children have been exposed to at least one traumatic event in their life. Of these, 49 percent have experienced a war-related trauma.