Wednesday, January 28

As one of the first steps in the struggle to return a sense of normalcy to their existence, the residents of Gaza sent their children back to school this week. Recognizing the impact of the psychological trauma suffered by children who had lost family and friends during the attacks, many teachers and counselors opened the school doors prepared to first address psychological needs. "These children have suffered a lot, we have seen many cases, many psychological disorders ... aggressive behavior, many nightmares, dreams.
We are here to let the children act out their stress and relive what has passed during the Israeli invasion," said one teacher.

But “Back to School” also presents other challenges for teachers and administrators in the wake of the bombardment. According to Al-Jeezera, students from the Dar al-Fadila school attended lessons in tents set up near the rubble of their destroyed building. The reopening of the schools also means that some administrators must now find somewhere else to house many of the thousands of Palestinians who took shelter in them during the Israeli bombardment. Furthermore, damage to buildings and equipment continually reminds children of the violence that occurred in spaces that should be “safe havens.”

It is important to recognize that the children of Gaza have experienced an exceptionally high level of violence for a prolonged period of time. This is a situation that has been underreported and not taken seriously enough. To live in an environment of fear, chaos, and violence can ultimately lead to a sense of hopelessness. The lack of protection for children of Gaza from this environment should be challenged especially now and particularly by those of us in North America who have the power to do so. Apathetic responses, such as the U.S. decision to abstain from the U.N. call for a ceasefire, are measures that risk leaving debilitating scars of abandonment, betrayal, insecurity, and helplessness on an entire generation. These experiences will determine Gaza’s children’s outlook on the world and the values they will hold sacred for themselves and their families in the future. We must begin to view children as more than just victims of war, but as valuable participants of society. The importance and implementation of a viable peace process must also be recognized, because it gives children hope for the future and reinforces the belief that life is worth living and thriving in. Preparation, anticipation, and expectation of positive future events are all experiences that are vital to positive human development. To be able to plan for a future with hope and fulfillment is a necessity for all human beings.

There are several ways you can advocate for the children of Gaza:

• Help to move this information from the unknown reaches of the North American collective consciousness to general public awareness by writing an article in your local newspaper or church magazine or send a letter to the editor with your opinion on the situation in Gaza.

• Contact your government officials and challenge U.S. military and economic support for the Israeli occupation of Palestine and ask for justice and protection of the rights of children. Call on President Obama and Prime Minister Harper to strengthen U.S. and Canadian engagement in the peace process.

• Pray as individuals, families and communities for the healing of the children of Gaza who have been physically and emotionally traumatized. Pray that the leaders of this region would make decisions that would bring hope to young lives.

Heather Lehman, co-MCC Jerusalem Representative, lives in East Jerusalem, along with her spouse, Ryan, and their three children. Before serving with MCC, Heather was employed as a teacher and a children’s behavioral health specialist.

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