Trauma of war: young Gazan suffers in silence

Trauma of war: young Gazan suffers in silence
Blog: Samer Murad's friends were killed by an Israeli missile in 2008, and he has not spoken since 2012. He is one of thousands of Gazans with mental health problems.
3 min read
13 Apr, 2015
The toll of Israel's wars on Gaza weigh especially heavy on its children [Mohammed Abed/AFP/Getty]

Israeli wars have inflicted a heavy toll on Gaza's population, not just in terms of lives lost. Thousands of children and young adults live with the trauma of war.

Samer Murad, who lives in al-Shiekh Redwan, has suffered psychological problems since the 2008 war, when he was 13, and has not spoken since the 2012 war.

His mother told al-Araby al-Jadeed how her son's suffering began: "As he was leaving his school, a house was bombed in front of him and he saw what was left of the bodies inside," she said. "A couple of days later, his two best friends were torn to shreds by a missile outside school."

Inside the Murad family home, where Samer lives with his parents and one brother, are five cages holding colourful birds. "Samer Started to show interest in birds after the war," said his father. "They became his only friends."

Samer holds his hands in front of his face when the flash pops as we try to take a photograph. "The flash reminds him of the bombing," says his mother.

     His two best friendswere torn to shreds by a missile outside school.
Samer Murad's mother

While there are no official figures on the number of Gazans with mental health problems, studies suggest the number runs into the thousands. A study by the Palestinian central bureau of statistics said that 68.9 percent of adolescents exposed to conflict in Gaza had developed post-traumatic stress disorder - a term that was once described as "shell shock".

Hasan Khawaja, a psychiatrist at the Gaza community mental health centre, said children caught in war were often the worst affected by mental health problems, and their suffering may last for decades."

"There are high numbers of children who suffer from psychological trauma through war; they come to the centre for therapy. Some show improvement, while others regress. Samer is one of the latter," he said.

Khawaja said that Samer's experience of all three Gaza wars made him one of his most difficult cases, and diagnosed him with schizophrenia and post-traumatic stress disorder.

Samer stopped going to school after the 2008 war. He stayed home for almost a year and a half, and became reclusive.

During the 2012 and 2014 wars, the doctor doubled his medication to keep him asleep as long as possible.

Samer's mother said: "During the 2012 war I suffered a lot with Samer. I am the only one who was able to understand him, and it was an immense burden since I had already been injured in my leg in a previous attack in 2003."

She motions to an area of her home where Samer spent much of the 2014 war - a space no more than a metre long by 30cm wide, in which he used crawl when the bombs started falling.