Soothing Gaza Children Wounds
Whoever sees Huda Ghalia now at the UN-run summer camp would not instantly recognize it is the same girl she was only two years ago.
The child, whose heartbreaking photos as she wept next to the bloodied remains of her father after the 2006 Israeli shelling of a Gaza City beach became a symbol of grief, is now an inspiration for thousands of children.
"I like to draw flowers and children playing, not tanks and planes," Ghalia, 14, told Agence France Presse (AFP) on Wednesday, August 20.
She has found solace at one of dozens of summer camps operated by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA).
Every day, she leads a group of around 20 children, aged between 8 and 15, in games of handball and helps them draw and paint.
"The goal is to help these children confront the results of violence," says UNRWA spokesman Adnan Abu Hasna.
"We provide educational and recreational activities to reduce the stress that Palestinian children suffer from."
Each summer, around 200,000 children attend UNRWA camps at schools and other locations across the impoverished coastal territory.
About 30,000 of them, like Ghalia, are attending camps on Gaza's sandy wind-swept beaches.
UN estimates that children make up more than half of the 1.6 million population of the Gaza Strip.
A week of deadly Israeli strikes and ground incursions last February claimed the lives of more than 129 people, including more than 40 children, toddlers and newborn babies, as well as 13 women.
At least 69 minors have been killed by Israel in 2008 alone, according to UN figures.
More than 1000 Palestinian child have been killed by the occupation forces since September 2000.
Ghalia joyfully plays and laughs with other children.
But from time to time, she stops, lowers her eyes and falls silent, as pictures of the Israeli massacre that killed most of her family haunt her back.
"These activities will help Huda to begin to heal, but her suffering, like that of hundreds of other children like her, cannot be erased in two years," said Samir Zaqut, a psychologist and professor at Gaza's Al-Azhar University.
Ghalia is not alone.
Thousands of children attending camps, who have lost their beloved ones to Israeli bullets and bombs, are struggling with their physiological scars.
"There are so many stories of suffering…In every house you hear different stories," Maysaa, one of the counselors at the camp, told AFP.
Many studies have concluded that Palestinian children are bearing the brunt of Israeli aggressions.
A group of NGO's warned in March that "a generation of Palestinian children faces the danger of being psychologically damaged beyond repair".
A 2006 study of Canada's Queen's University concluded that the pattern of violence against Palestinian children is causing them serious psychological effects.
Many children at the UN camps are confronting their demons by looking forward to a future where they can get their revenge their own way.
Ayman, a 12-year-old who still has shrapnel in his thigh from an Israeli strike a year and a half ago, wants to become a physician.
"I want to be a doctor…so I can heal people."
Ghalia's 11-year-old sister Hadil, who has survived the beach massacre with shrapnel wounds to her neck, wants to become a journalist.
"I want to shame the Israelis because they killed my father and my sisters."
IslamOnline.net & News Agencies
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