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Source: United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF)
28 July 2006

Violence takes heavy toll on Israeli and Palestinian children

By Sabine Dolan

NEW YORK, USA, 28 July 2006 – More than two weeks into the conflict, the ongoing violence between Israel and Hezbollah is taking a heavy toll on children living in the region. While the number of civilian casualties continues to rise, the psychological trauma inflicted on children is difficult to measure.

Lebanese children have been bearing the brunt of the armed hostilities, but children in both Israel and the occupied Palestinian territory have also been seriously affected.
“Right now we are in an acute crisis, where about 700,000 people have left their homes in both the north and south of Israel. If you calculate the number of children, it’s just below 50 per cent,” says Dr. Ruth Pat-Horenczyk, Director of Child and Adolescent Clinical Services at the Israel Center for the Treatment of Psychotrauma at the Herzog Hospital in west Jerusalem.

According to Dr. Pat-Horenczyk, in 25 percent of cases, Israeli children are sent on their own to stay with friends or family in other parts of the country, while their parents stay behind – a situation which often exacerbates trauma for everyone.

“Initial symptoms are fear, emotional distress and anxiety, in addition to lots of practical problems such as loss of income, loss of community, lack of access to food, medication, health and supplies,” explains Dr. Pat-Horenczyk.

For Palestinian children living in Gaza and the West Bank, the situation is grim.

“This hightened level of violence is making children live in a context of constant fear and insecurity – this at a time when children should be enjoying their summer break,” says UNICEF Communication Officer in the occupied Palestinian territory (oPt) Monica Awad.

The high number of casualties among Palestinian children has been devastating.

In July alone the number of child casualties in the occupied Palestinian territory has jumped to 37, with 34 children killed in Gaza and 3 in the West Bank.

More than one hundred children have been injured.

UNICEF Special Representative in oPt Dan Rohrmann says the death toll suffered so far this year represents more than a 30 per cent increase from the total figure of 2005.

To address the situation UNICEF is stepping up its activities in health, water and sanitation, and education, as well as child protection and adolescence. But psychological support for children is also a priority.

“One of the most important projects we have at the moment are the psychosocial teams which offer counselling to both parents and children, who are in acute distress. At the moment we are reaching something like 5,000 children and care givers, but we are trying to expand this to reach an additional 10,000,” says Mr. Rohrmann.

While UNICEF does not operate a country programme in Israel, it shares the same concerns for children everywhere. The agency’s emphasis on involving parents in its psychosocial projects, for example, is also shared by Dr. Pat-Horenczyk and her work.

“The role of parents is crucial when we talk about children. And if the parents are under severe stress, that influences the children even more than the reality. The younger the children, the more vulnerable they are,” says Dr. Pat-Horenczyk.

As part of its psychosocial support work, UNICEF oPt is also supporting summer festivals, enabling over 15,000 children to escape their ordeal and engage with their peers in sports, art and cultural activities.

“Children’s right to protection,” says Ms. Awad, “is a top priority at a time where we are witnessing a disturbing number of child deaths and injuries.”

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