House demolitions are leaving Palestinian children with lifelong mental health issues

Each year, hundreds of Palestinian Houses are demolished by Israeli occupation forces. The children that are suddenly left without a home are facing long lasting mental health disorders.

Jerusalem24 – Mona Hijjawi – A week after they were notified, at 6 a.m. on a summery morning in East Jerusalem, the Israeli occupation forces surprised the Al-Rajabi family with the implementation of the demolition decision. They were terrified, got out of their sleep, outside their home, waiting to see it piled up in rubble in front of them.

Serene, the six-year old daughter, did not accept the issue easily, as her mother suffered from her daughter’s hysterical crying for two months and insomnia after the event, the difficulty of adapting to the status quo and her questions, which became daily ones.

“Mama I want to live in our own house with all my toys, I don’t want to stay at grandma’s house.”  she spent months repeating.

After their home was demolished, the Al- Rajabi family moved to a family’s house, leaving all their needs and possessions in a small, deserted apartment to go to when they needed anything.

Serene and her nine-year-old brother Yussef, still miss their home, their games, their rooms, and their very wide and bright kitchen as how they’ve described it, which they know were theirs and no longer exist.

 The story of Serene is similar to many other Palestinian children, growing up in Palestine, having to adapt with the death of a family member, the arrest of another and witnessing the demolition of their houses, all together create an unhealthy life for children leaving them with mental health problems and scars that may live with them forever.

Dr Loay Fawadleh, responsible for mental health support in UNRWA, explains to Jerusalem24 that in general, any traumatic event that a child is exposed to directly and indirectly increases the chance that mental health will be greatly affected, even more in the case of a direct event such as the child’s home being demolished.

“There is a direct and strong relationship between house demolitions and children’s mental health impact because the home is the source of safety, reassurance and warmth for children. By demolishing the house, current and future dreams, safety, warmth and tranquility are destroyed,” he says.

House demolitions are not a new phenomenon, using the pretext of illegal building, Israeli authorities demolish houses on a regular basis to restrict Palestinian expansion in the occupied territories. House demolitions are distributed in all cities, villages and camps in the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip. Most of the houses are homes of prisoners, martyrs, or demolished under the pretext of lack of building permits.

At the same time, the municipality and government build tens of thousands of housing units in illegal settlements in East Jerusalem for Israeli settlers with a goal to offset the demographic balance in favor of the settlers in the occupied city.

According to the Israeli human rights organization BTSELEM, From 2006 to 2020, Israel demolished at least 1,673 Palestinian residential units in the West Bank, not including East Jerusalem, causing 7,260 people – including at least 3,646 minors – to lose their homes.

As for Jerusalem which is the most targeted city in demolitions, the past years have shown record high figures with 169 and 121 housing units demolished in 2019 and 2020 respectively, leaving 376 minors homeless during those two years alone.

 

 

According to studies of  children exposed to house demolitions carried about by the Child Protection Center in Gaza, 60% of the children had moderate psychological traumas, 33.3% had very severe ones, while nearly 80% suffered from moderate or severe symptoms of PTSD.

 

Experts say that he most common mental disorders that may appear on a child after traumatic events are:

 

In some cases, the subject may not reach psychological disorders, but rather specific problems such as:

The symptoms may reach lasting mental disorders if parents do not pay attention to these problems and treat them.

Dr. Nidal Hamad, a Psychiatry Consultant concerned with Psychotherapy and psychoanalysis for children in the Palestinian Ministry of Health, appealed to families of those children not to ignore any symptom that may appear on their child:

“Ignoring the effects or the symptoms will in turn delays symptoms and psychological disturbances such as anxiety and local tension to post-traumatic stress disorder as well as severe depression and may lead the person to lose his future as he lost his home before”.

History is still repeating itself, cases are increasing every year, generations are still living the same inhumane circumstance, motherhood is harder than ever and consequences are forever.

After more than 20 years, 28-year old Sajida al-Maghribi still remembers the sounds of the bulldozers and the gathering of the occupation forces, as she and her brothers were dreaded when they came to implement the demolition decision.

” I can never forget that day, and the fear my family and I experienced which still lives with me till this day”, she says.

This event, the sudden shift, and after the tiredness and hardship of construction, Sajida still feels, despite the passage of time, a great crack. Her spirit and dreams remained suspended in that demolished house in Jabal al-Mukaber and the continuing disturbances of the occupation, which demolished their home again and for the second time.

Dr. Nidal Hamad asserted to Jerusalem24 the direct link between house demolitions and long term consequences on Palestinian children’s mental health :

“The demolition of homes for the Palestinian family is like depriving the family of its identity and place of safety. So its psychological impact on the child is very heavy, as their feeling of safety and confidence is affected and this is due to changes in the sentiment and feeling that leads to frustration, despair and depression which can’t be treated overnight”.

Dr. Nidal Hamad noted that frequent symptoms may be mental distraction that may affect educational attainments and thus may have major consequences for the children’s’ lives.

“It is also worth saying that the demolition leads to internal familial instability in the family, thus increasing domestic violence for example, the lack of confidence in the father, mother and family because they are unable to protect him and their home, which is the source of his own safety. It creates maladjusted personality with feelings of insecurity”, Dr. Hamad pointed out.

For Sajida al-Maghribi, the feeling of fear, insecurity and anxiety attacks have accompanied her since  that day 20 years ago.

I’m scared my children will live this harsh experience that I have gone through. I really wish them a life far from fear and instability and I try hard to provide them this as much as possible,” she says.

No one will ever know what future waits Serene and many others who went through the exact traumatic. All we can say for certain is that house demolitions are still leaving Palestinian children homeless every day

According to the Palestinian human righst organization Shams Center, since we’ve started 2021, the Israeli occupation has already demolished 32 houses and many other properties,

 

Mona Hijjawi

Editor/Presenter Graduated from The Arab Academy for Science Technology and Maritime Transport in Cairo, BA in Translation and Mass Communication. Currently Ramallah based Journalist and presenter at Jerusalem24.

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