Israel’s Plan Backfires: Palestinian support for Hamas surges

Palestinian support for Hamas surges after its confrontation with Israel

June 4, 2021 at 12:00 a.m. MDT

For decades, al-Amari has been a stronghold of Fatah, the secular and nationalist party that emphasizes diplomacy as its answer to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. But in recent days, the tableau in the camp has shifted: Green flags mark the entrance and graffiti to match emblazons the walls with a single word: Hamas.

“They’ve given strength to the whole Palestinian cause,” said Mohammed Khadier, 16, as friends nodded in enthusiastic agreement. “We consider Hamas our leader now.”

For 11 days last month, Israel unleashed a punishing barrage on Hamas targets in the Gaza Strip, collapsing tunnels, exploding arsenals and killing fighters. But through it all, Hamas continued to arc more than 4,000 rockets into Israel, terrorizing residents of Tel Aviv and other cities.

That performance has earned Hamas newfound admiration among Palestinians not only in Gaza, which it governs, but also crucially in the West Bank, where Israel, the United States and archrival Fatah have long sought to ban the militant Islamist group from operating. Despite the ­prohibition, Palestinians waved Hamas flags and chanted the group’s slogans during demonstrations across the occupied territory last month — scenes that had no precedent in recent years.

The surge in Hamas’s popularity has been matched by the plummeting fortunes of the Palestinian Authority, whose president, Mahmoud Abbas, was widely panned — even among fellow Fatah members — for his limp response to Israeli attacks. The fighting, which erupted when Hamas began firing rockets into Israel and then escalated as the Israeli military took the opportunity to strike a vast inventory of targets across the Gaza Strip, left 232 Palestinians dead, including at least 65 children, officials said. A dozen people died in Israel, two of them children.

Politically, “the main loser is the Palestinian Authority. No question,” said Nader Said-
Foqahaa, director of the West Bank-based Arab World for Research and Development, which monitors Palestinian public opinion. Israel’s military might may have been concentrated on Gaza, but “all these attacks are really on Abbas.” 

That dynamic threatens to further complicate the Biden administration’s attempts to re-engage the Palestinian Authority after four years in which it was all but ignored by the Trump administration. Secretary of State Antony Blinken visited Palestinian Authority headquarters in Ramallah last month and committed to strengthening Abbas’s administration by providing aid money and reopening a consulate in Jerusalem in large part to handle Palestinian affairs. The United States has also said it intends to circumvent Hamas while supporting the reconstruction of Gaza.

Blinken’s visit was taken as a hopeful sign by beleaguered Palestinian negotiators that the Biden administration intends to make a serious push for diplomatic progress in the Middle East. Yet it comes amid grave doubts over whether the Palestinian Authority can truly represent the Palestinian cause and over whether a resurgent Hamas can continue to be sidelined.

The struggle between the ­Fatah-led Palestinian Authority — which governs parts of the West Bank — and Hamas has long been a barrier to any breakthroughs in resolving the broader Israeli-
Palestinian conflict.

Although Israel denies it, analysts say the country’s right-wing government has liked it that way and recognizes that conflict with Hamas can hobble the Palestinian Authority’s attempts at negotiation. That suits Israeli leaders who have long been hostile toward diplomatic efforts that would confront their country with hard choices and could yield a Palestinian state.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu believes “that if Hamas represented the Palestinians, it would be much easier for Israel to say, ‘We are not dealing with terror,’ ” said Amos Yadlin, director of Tel Aviv University’s Institute for National Security Studies.

Even before the most recent round of fighting, Abbas was flailing. The 85-year-old heir to Arafat had pledged presidential and parliamentary elections this year for the first time since 2006, only to indefinitely postpone them in April. While the president blamed uncertainty over whether Israel would allow balloting in occupied East Jerusalem, few believed that explanation.

“Very simply, elections meant losing,” said Nasser al-Kidwa, a longtime senior Fatah official who broke with Abbas this year and had been challenging him in the vote.

Kidwa, who is a nephew of Arafat’s, said he had devoted his professional life to Fatah and the cause of a democratic Palestinian state. But he described the Palestinian Authority-governed West Bank as an autocracy in which there are few checks on Abbas’s power internally, even as the president remains beholden to Israel for his ultimate authority.

“Corrupt, ineffective, inept,” Kidwa said of the organization he long represented at the United Nations.

Kidwa said in an interview at his office in Ramallah that, especially after last month’s conflict, he could understand why Palestinians were looking elsewhere — particularly to Hamas — for solutions.

“It was a confrontation between Israel and the Palestinian people in which the P.A. and Fatah were absent,” Kidwa said. “So, we deserve it.”

Osama Qawasma, a spokesman for Fatah and an adviser to Abbas, acknowledged that Palestinians had wanted a tougher response to Israel during the conflict than the president felt he could provide. “The people are very angry toward Israel. They want more resistance,” he said.

Story continues below advertisement

But Abbas is bound by international agreements that Hamas is not, with a commitment to refrain from violence and to administer the parts of the West Bank under his control even amid an Israeli occupation that has spanned more than half a century. The balancing act has rarely been more delicate.

“An intifada can come any time,” Qawasma said. “The West Bank is in a very dangerous situation.”

Israeli security forces are focused on the role Hamas could play in stirring unrest in the West Bank. The Israeli military said this week that security forces had apprehended a senior Hamas official, Sheikh Jamal Al Tawil, who “recently took an active part in organizing violent riots, incitement to violence and reestablishment of the Hamas headquarters in Ramallah.”

The growing ranks of Abbas detractors say he himself is responsible for instability in the West Bank by fueling the frustration of the roughly 2.5 million Palestinians living there.

“There is accumulated anger,” said Ayman Daraghmeh, a member of the now-dormant Palestinian Legislative Council. “The canceled elections. The iron fist. The corruption. It’s like the pressure cooker exploded.”

Daraghmeh was elected to the council in 2006 as part of Hamas’s slate of candidates. But a violent rift erupted a year later and has still not healed, despite numerous efforts at reconciliation. Fatah was effectively exiled from Gaza as Hamas imposed near-absolute rule, while Hamas was prevented from operating openly in the West Bank.

Daraghmeh said he has been imprisoned multiple times since then, and could be arrested merely for associating with Hamas. (He is, he noted pointedly, an independent.) But he said the group’s rise in the West Bank has been unmistakable.

Hamas,” he said, “would win a free and fair election.”

Whether the group’s improved standing will be lasting remains unclear. There is little indication that Palestinians in the West Bank have suddenly embraced the group’s ideology, which remains religiously hard-line even as Hamas has softened some of its rhetoric, including by offering a tacit, if not overt, recognition of Israel’s existence, by accepting the idea of a Palestinian state along pre-1967 lines.

“We want a liberal state, a democratic state, an open-minded state,” said Qadura Fares, a senior Fatah member who leads an advocacy group for Palestinian political prisoners. “There’s no love for Hamas. But anyone who makes the Israelis afraid, he’s a hero for us.”

That was evident in al-Amari camp, on the outskirts of Ramallah. Khadier, the teen, proudly showed off the marks on his shoulder and ankle where he said he had been grazed by Israeli fire during last month’s demonstrations. His arm in a sling, he boasted of a muscle torn while hurling rocks at soldiers.

He verbally cast stones at his own government: Abbas, he said, was “a collaborator. A dog.”

At a nearby barbershop, the views among four men in their 20s were no less scathing. “We are Fatah,” said Waleed, 28. “But Fatah has disappeared.”

Like the others, Waleed spoke on the condition that his last name be withheld because, he said, he had served time in an Israeli prison — and feared going back. All said they were committed to confronting Israel’s occupation, and cheered Hamas’s willingness to do the same.

“Whatever Hamas says, they deliver,” said 23-year-old Khalil as the barber worked a straightedge razor down his skull. “It’s not only words. It’s also deeds.”

Loveday Morris in Gaza City and Steve Hendrix in Jerusalem contributed to this report.

UN agency withdraws director after threats from outside the Temple Walls: Revelation 11

Matthias Schmale, UNRWA's director in Gaza, speaks during a news conference in front of the UNRWA headquarters in Gaza City, Wednesday, May 19, 2021.

UN agency withdraws directory fyt Edgar Hitj care rom Gaza after threats

Updated: June 4, 2021 2:57 p.m.

1of8Matthias Schmale, UNRWA’s director in Gaza, speaks during a news conference in front of the UNRWA headquarters in Gaza City, Wednesday, May 19, 2021.Adel Hana/AP

JERUSALEM (AP) — The U.N. agency for Palestinian refugees says it has recalled its Gaza director after he faced threats over remarks in which he appeared to praise Israel’s “huge sophistication” in carrying out precision strikes during last month’s Gaza war.

UNRWA, which provides essential health, education and other services in the territory, said late on Thursday that it was “seriously concerned” about the threats, including a “very large protest” outside its Gaza headquarters on Monday.

It said Gaza director Matthias Schmale and his deputy have been recalled to UNRWA’s headquarters in east Jerusalem for “consultations.” The agency cited media reports that “Palestinian factions” had declared Schmale and his deputy persona non grata in Gaza but said it received no formal notification to that effect.

In an interview with Israel’s Channel 12 TV last month, Schmale was asked about Israeli officials’ assertions that airstrikes carried out during the 11-day war with the territory’s militant Hamas rulers were “very precise.”

“I’m not a military expert but I would not dispute that,” Schmale replied, adding that there was “huge sophistication” in how Israel struck targets. But he also said colleagues told him the strikes were “much more vicious in their impact” than in the 2014 Gaza war.

Schmale later expressed regret over the remarks and said any civilian deaths were unacceptable.

“Many people were killed or have been severely injured by direct strikes or collateral damage from strikes,” he tweeted. “In a place as densely populated as Gaza, any strike will have huge damaging effects on people and buildings.”

His original remarks were widely circulated in Israeli media and online, where they were seized upon by Israel’s supporters as an endorsement of its conduct and provoked outrage among Palestinians.

Israel carried out hundreds of airstrikes on Gaza during the 11-day war, in which Hamas and other militant groups fired more than 4,000 rockets at Israel. At least 254 people were killed in Gaza, including 67 children and 39 women. according to the Gaza health ministry. Hamas has acknowledged the deaths of 80 militants. Twelve civilians, including two children, were killed in Israel, along with one soldier.

UNRWA provides essential services to some 5.7 million refugees in the occupied West Bank, Gaza, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria. They include Palestinians who fled or were driven out of what is now Israel during the 1948 war surrounding its creation and their descendants.

It provides food aid and other vital services in Gaza, which has been under a crippling Israeli-Egyptian blockade since Hamas seized power from rival Palestinian forces in 2007. Most of Gaza’s population of 2 million are registered refugees. At the height of the war, some 70,000 Gazans sheltered in UNRWA schools.

Meanwhile, an Egyptian convoy crossed into Gaza with heavy equipment to take part in rubble removal ahead of preparations for rebuilding of thousands of houses and businesses destroyed or damaged during the latest Gaza war.

Excavators, bulldozers and trucks entered Gaza through the Rafah border crossing with Egypt on Friday afternoon. Egypt’s state-run MENA news agency said it was part of “an Egyptian commitment to improve the living conditions” in Gaza.

Egypt brokered the cease-fire that ended the Israel-Hamas fighting.

Late Friday, the Palestinian Red Crescent said 23 runners were injured when Israeli police fired tear gas and stun grenades at an activist-organized marathon in solidarity with Palestinians in east Jerusalem threatened with evictions.

There was no immediate comment from the Israeli military.

The race had started from Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood, where dozens of Palestinians face evictions from their homes under a law allowing Jewish settlers to reclaim properties, and was to end in the nearby Silwan neighborhood.

One of the runners, Jalal Abu Khater, posted images of his bruised leg and tweeted: “I was beaten six times, attacked by Israeli forces, for running in my ancestral town & city.”

Hamas Preparing for More Rocket Attacks Outside the Temple Walls: Revelation 11

Hamas claims Iran already resupplying it with thousands of rockets

Gaza Strip’s Islamist rulers say, “This war will last forever”

The Iranian regime has reportedly begun to restock its Islamist proxy in the Gaza Strip – Hamas, which entirely controls the enclave – with the resources to produce thousands of new rockets, according to a report on Tehran state TV.

In the recent 11-day conflict, which ended last month and for which a fragile Egyptian-brokered ceasefire still holds, Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad fired more than 4,300 rockets toward Israel’s population centers. For nearly two weeks, Israel’s citizens were forced to sporadically seek refuge in bomb shelters as terrorists fired rockets indiscriminately.

Video poster

“With the end of the Israeli regime’s latest aggression, the Palestinian resistance has resumed the process of rocket production,” Fathi Hamad, a member of Hamas’ politburo, was quoted as saying over the Memorial Day weekend by Iran’s state-run Fars News Agency, reported The Washington Free BeaconI. 

“Our factories and workshops have restarted producing thousands of rockets to stop [Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu’s intransigence in Al-Quds [Jerusalem] and Tel Aviv.”

Hamas’ leaders also warned that despite the current period of calm, “This war will last forever,” which seems entirely in keeping with the organization’s charter.

The statement seemed to show that despite the Israel Defense Force’s (IDF) claim that it destroyed dozens of kilometers of attack and smuggling tunnels, much of the terrorist network remains intact.

Both Iranian and Hamas military leaders talked up the effects of the recent conflict, with variations on a theme that the Gaza Strip’s Islamist rulers surprised Israel with their weaponry and that they will eventually be victorious.

Intelligence emerged during the fighting that Hamas, Iran and Hezbollah coordinated the fighting in a joint war room.

Israel hits five Hamas commanders’ houses outside the Temple Walls: Revelation 11

Israel hits five Hamas commanders’ houses across Gaza Strip

The buildings were used as military headquarters, according to the press service of the Israel Defense Forces

© REUTERS/Suhaib Salem

TEL AVIV, May 17. /TASS/. Israel Defense Forces (IDF) planes and drones hit five houses of Hamas movement commanders in the Gaza Strip, used as military headquarters, the IDF press service said Monday.

Read alsoIsrael deals a strike against Hamas Internal Security Force center in Gaza

“The jets and drones attacks five houses of Hamas commanders across the entire Gaza Strip. The attacked houses were used as terrorist headquarters,” the Israeli military said. “The IDF attacks terrorist targets across the entire Gaza Strip and acts with all necessary force.”

The missile exchange between the IDF and Gaza militias has continued since May 10. According to the latest reports, at least 10 Israelis were killed and hundreds were injured, while over 200 Palestinians died and over 1,300 were injured.

The Israel-Hamas Conflict Outside the Temple Walls: Revelation 11

The Israel-Hamas Conflict: Truth and Reasonableness Lost

I am not as concerned about the rise of antisemitism as I am worried that Israel’s detractors in the West, particularly on the left, always find justification for Israel’s enemies’ actions.

When Hamas bombed Israel after the latter withdrew from Gaza in 2005, the argument was that Israel still controlled the air space. When Hamas attacked, again and again, the rationale that justified it was that Israel had imposed a blockade on Gaza. What was not sufficiently mentioned was that Hamas used the territory from which Israel withdrew to attack Israelis or that Hamas’ charter calls for Israel’s destruction. The argument about the blockade recently recurred even though Israel, in an agreement with Qatar, allowed the passage of merchandise and funds for hundreds of millions of dollars from Israel to Gaza.

Shattered rooms show toll on children outside the Temple Walls: Revelation 11

AP PHOTOS: Shattered rooms show Gaza war’s toll on children

JOHN MINCHILLO , Associated Press

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip — The latest Gaza war is over, but its wreckage still litters the purple bedroom of 9-year-old Shrouq al-Masri and her 4-year-old sister, Razan.

Their toys are coated with gray dust, the ceiling is bent and buckled, and the cracks in the walls slice through the cartoons that decorated them.

The two girls survived the early morning airstrike that destroyed a nearby building on May 19, two days before a cease-fire ended the war. But like so many children in Gaza, they will carry the memory of its horrors and devastation.

The 11-day war was the fourth fought between Israel and Hamas, the Palestinian militant group that has ruled Gaza since 2007. It featured the same waves of predawn Israeli airstrikes, the same continuous rocket fire out of the impoverished territory, and the same lopsided casualty toll, with Palestinians making up the vast majority of the more than 250 killed.

And like the others, it took a heavy toll on children. At least 66 Palestinian children were killed, as well as a 5-year-old boy and a 16-year-old girl on the Israeli side. Countless more were awakened in the night by explosions.

In the Maghazi refugee camp in southern Gaza, an airstrike tore the roof off the bedroom that 4-year-old Anas Alhajahmed shared with his sister and left the floor covered in shattered glass. They survived as well.

It was the first war in his short life, but most Gazans vividly recall the others — including the most devastating, in 2014, which lasted several weeks. Even adolescents can point out homes destroyed in previous rounds of fighting.

Israel blames the destruction on Hamas, which fires imprecise rockets from civilian areas in Gaza in the general direction of civilian areas in Israel. The military says it makes every effort to avoid civilian casualties. Hamas says it is fighting a decades-old military occupation, using the only weapons it has against a far superior military power. It says 80 militants were among those killed.

Both sides say they have no choice, and no one expects this war to be the last. Meanwhile, the intractable conflict takes its toll on those with the least capacity to understand its cruel logic.

Mahmoud Al-Masri, 14, shared his room with six brothers. At 3 a.m., his family scrambled out of the building after the Israeli military warned them to evacuate. He didn’t think he would make it. The next morning, he was hesitant to return.

“I was afraid that after we returned we would be killed by a drone in another attack,” he said.

The survivors have even more hardship ahead as they struggle to rebuild. Israel and Egypt have imposed a crippling blockade on Gaza since Hamas seized power from rival Palestinian forces in 2007. Unemployment hovers around 50%.

Israel says the closure is needed to keep Hamas from re-arming, while the Palestinians and rights groups view it as a form of collective punishment.

Either way, it will be a long time before the children whose bedrooms were shattered return to somewhere that feels like home.

Iran’s Mullahs Want More Bloodshed Outside the Temple Walls: Revelation 11

Iran’s Mullahs Want More Bloodshed in Gaza, Why?

31st May 2021

The 11-day Gaza war

Almost everyone has welcomed news of the ceasefire in the Palestinian territories after days of intense fighting. That is, except the warmongering clerical regime in Iran.

In a message, the mullahs’ Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei called for distribution of more arms and finances to continue the fighting. His remarks are part of a broader regime strategy to export terrorism across the region.

Ismail Haniyeh, the head of Hamas’s political bureau, publicly praised the Iranian regime for its support in the bloody conflict. Tehran’s backing of Hamas led to the killing of more innocent civilians.

The Palestinian people and the head of the Palestinian Authority Mahmoud Abbas have condemned the violence, calling for peace instead.

While world powers continue negotiating with the Iranian regime over the revival of the nuclear deal, the regime is trying to cover up its incurable internal crises by waging war and conflict in the region.

Like Haniyeh, the Secretary General of the Lebanese Hezbollah, Hassan Nasrallah, has also publicly acknowledged that his organization is indebted to the regime for almost everything it has.

Tehran continues to fund international terrorism while the Iranian people reel in widespread poverty and struggle against the coronavirus pandemic. On January 8, 2021, Khamenei banned the import of American and British vaccines into Iran. This is while, according to independent opposition sources, the virus has taken 300,000 Iranian lives so far.

This week, even former firebrand president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad warned of the coming of an “impending flood” of social protests. “I warn you, there is a flood coming,” he said, drawing parallels with the 1979 revolution, which overthrew the Shah.

Ahmadinejad’s unfiltered warnings are a stark reflection of the growing realization within the regime that the society is on the verge of explosion. The massive uprisings in November 2019 shook the regime in its entirety and further consolidated that strong fear.

As the highest regime authority, Khamenei is more terrified of this situation than anyone else. Still, he has no other choice but to divert the national wealth to funding terrorism and regional violence. To escape internal crises, the mullahs have always opted to brew external ones.

In this regard, Ali Fadavi, who currently holds office as the second highest commander in the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, about the regime’s provocative, criminal, and war-mongering plan in Yemen on May 28, 2021 said: “We have all seen the divine promise in the Gaza war, and we will soon see it in Yemen. It is necessary to decide on an important task in these important days before the elections and on the eve of June 5th. (Mashregh News, May 26, 2021)

But regional tides are swiftly shifting against the regime. Calls are growing to curb the regime’s terrorism and missiles program. The more that the international community stands up to the weakening terrorist regime, the more it will back down because Tehran only understands the language of firmness. Appeasing a bully will only embolden it.

Within Iran, the disenchanted and severely impoverished population chants: “Neither Gaza nor Lebanon, I sacrifice my life for Iran,” and “Leave Syria, think about us instead.” The regime’s regional designs and meddling are roundly condemned by the Iranian people.

At the same time, internationally, the regime’s missile program and regional adventurism are under ever-increasing scrutiny. Khamenei could pay a heavy price for his remarks and plans.

All this means that the regime is, by definition, at a strategic impasse. It can neither continue the status quo nor find a suitable alterative path. So, the mullahs are gladly exploiting the willingness of its foreign interlocutors to negotiate and to avoid raising pressure on their faltering regime.

Western powers should instead make it clear to the Iranian regime that the era of extremism and terrorism is over. Otherwise, as its multiple attempts have demonstrated in recent years, the regime will breed more terrorism from Palestine to Paris, and from Baghdad to Washington, D.C.

Terrorist neutralized after infiltrating into Israel from outside the Temple Walls: Revelation 11

Terrorist neutralized after infiltrating into Israel from Gaza

An Israeli security officer sustained light wounds on Sunday after intercepting an armed Palestinian man who had infiltrated into the country from the Gaza Strip, according to the Israel Defense Forces.

The suspect was identified near moshav Sde Avraham in the Western Negev, near the borders with Gaza and Egypt, the military said. The security coordinator of the nearby town of Avshalom was alerted and engaged the suspect despite being unarmed, sustaining stab wounds to his stomach and hand. Another security officer arrived during the struggle and shot and neutralized the terrorist, according to Hebrew media reports.

Nir Sherman, a security coordinator for a nearby town who visited the scene, was quoted by Hebrew website 0404as saying, “I have no doubt that we could have seen an attack here like the horrific murder in Itamar,” referring to the March 11, 2011 attack in which five members of the same family were killed by terrorists.

“All indications are that [the terrorist] was prepared. The alertness of the security coordinator saved lives here and prevented a very major event,” said Sherman. “The security coordinators are the last line of defense for the residents. Their determination, professionalism and quick response to the events is what makes the difference between ending an incident successfully, or a bereaved family,” he added.

Questions have been raised in the Hebrew press regarding why the security officer was unarmed. According to the Israeli NGO Regavim, the officer’s weapon was impoundedfollowing a “spiteful, unfounded” complaint filed against him by Bedouin criminals he apprehended last year.

Hamas chief asks Islamic nations to come together outside the Temple Walls: Revelation 11

Hamasaki chief asks Islamic nations to come together to fight for ‘Muslim lands’

Photo: IANS

Hamas chief Ismail Haniyeh has urged the Islamic nations to forge strategic partnerships to fight for seizing control of Muslim lands across the world. 

Pakistani newspapers reported that in a recorded speech played in a Jamaat-i-Islami rally in Peshawar on Sunday, Haniyeh urged the Prime Minister Imran Khan-led Pakistan government to support the Palestinian cause with concrete actions. The rally was organised in support of Hamas and Palestine. 

Jamaat chief Sirajul Haq and other senior leaders of the party also addressed the rally where the participants chanted slogans of “Death to Israel” and “We are ready to sacrifice our lives to liberate Al-Aqsa Mosque”, the Dawn newspaper reported.”I hope Prime Minister Imran Khan would take practical steps for supporting the cause of Palestine,” Haniyeh said, urging the Muslim countries to establish strategic partnerships to get complete control over Al-Quds in Jerusalem. 

In response to Haniyeh’s appeal, Jamaat chief Sirajul Haq endorsed him and said that the “existing circumstances have proved that the issue of Palestine and Kashmir could not be resolved through resolutions”. 

“Time has come to move forward to liberate Palestine and Kashmir from the clutches of Israel and India,” Haq said. 

“A small group of Afghan Talibans defeated the US allied forces in Afghanistan while the Muslim countries, including Pakistan, Turkey, Iran and Saudi Arabia having a 7.4 million strong army, are unable to deter the Israeli aggression,” Dawn quoted Haq as saying at the rally. – IANS

‘Wake up screaming’: Gaza’s children traumatised outside the Temple Walls: Revelation 11

‘Wake up screaming’: Gaza’s children traumatised by Israeli war

Thousands of children in Gaza suffer from trauma in the aftermath of the 11-day Israeli onslaught on the besieged enclave.

30 May 2021

As Gaza tries to recover from the deadly 11-day Israeli attack, mothers and mental health workers have raised concerns that the psychological effects of the violence will long linger among the children in the Strip.

Hala Shehada, a 28-year-old mother from northern Gaza’s Beit Hanoun area, told Al Jazeera when the air strikes started hitting Gaza earlier this month she found herself reliving the tragic memories of the 2014 Israeli offensiveas if it were “yesterday”.

“The latest offensive on Gaza took me back to the darkest memories from six years ago when my husband was killed,” said Shehada.

“But this time was even worse. My six-year-old daughter Toleen, who was born five months after her father was killed, was horrified during the offensive.”

Young people were among the most affected groups during the latest Israeli operation on the besieged coastal enclave. Israeli air and artillery attacks killed 253 Palestinians, including 66 children, and left more than 1,900 people wounded.

Two children were among 12 people killed in Israel by rockets fired by Hamas and other armed groups from Gaza during the same period.

The Israeli onslaught also completely destroyed 1,800 residential units in Gaza and partially demolished at least 14,300 others. Tens of thousands of Palestinians have been forced to take shelter in UN-run schools.

Although a ceasefire was reached between Israel and Hamas on May 21, many families continue to suffer. The majority were already traumatised by the 51-day Israeli bombing campaign of Gaza in 2014. That offensive killed more than 2,200 Palestinians, including 500 children.

Reliving trauma

Shehada was newly married at the time and four months pregnant when her husband, journalist Khaled Hamad, was killed by Israeli attacks on the Al-Shuja’iya neighbourhood on July 20, 2014.

At least 67 Palestinians were killed and hundreds more wounded in a night of intense Israeli attacks that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas described as a “massacre” at the time.

Shehada described her experience of both wars. “Living in Gaza means having to relive trauma time and time again. War is the ugliest thing in the world. And the real war is the one you have to live with your memories of it.”

Constant nightmares

The worst part of the latest offensive was “being a mother who should be able to calm her daughter” while not being able to, Shehada said.

“It’s very hard to be a mum in Gaza. I was terrified myself. My daughter’s mental state deteriorated severely during the offensive. She was crying hysterically when she heard the bombs,” said Shehada.

“Even now with the ceasefire, Toleen suffers from nightmares. She wakes up screaming in the middle of the night. I try my best to comfort her, but it kills me to see her like this,” she added, sobbing.

Like many mothers in Gaza, Shehada said both her and her daughter need psychological rehabilitation. “Whatever I managed to overcome in the 2014 offensive has come back to haunt me,” she said.

But without many mental health support services available in Gaza, Shehada said most people in the Strip deal with the trauma alone.

“The suffering of my child makes me wonder how many children in Gaza have been suffering throughout their lifetime from the trauma of wars.”

Parents try to stay strong

Reem Jarjour, 30, a social worker and mother of three, told Al Jazeera she has been struggling to stay strong and steady for her kids since the Israeli attacks.

“The children get seriously affected by the mental health of their parents, so my husband and I have been trying hard to hide our trauma in front of them,” Jarjour, who has a six- and a five-year-old, and a five-month-old baby, said.

“I was trying to apply what I learned as a social worker by keeping them busy with activities like drawing and painting,” but it has not worked, she explained.

When Al-Jawhara tower where her father lived was targeted by Israeli attacks on May 11, she “was totally devastated”, she said.

“I was crying and weeping as I thought about my family and where they were going to go,” she recounted. “I wasn’t even able to contact them because of all the chaos at the time.

“But what forced me to stop was seeing my kids watch me as I cried. I felt I needed to be strong for them,” said Jarjour.

Jarjour and her husband decided to sleep in the same room with their kids throughout the offensive to try to comfort and reassure them.

“I never left them alone. But I knew by looking into their eyes that they were afraid. Children know everything happening around them,” she said.

Many mothers in Gaza complain that symptoms of trauma have started to appear in their children as well, Jarjour said.

“My friends were telling me that their kids lost their appetites, while others have problems including speech disorders and bedwetting,” she explained.

“Everyone lost their strength in this war, including the parents. The children were the weakest link. It has been cruel,” said Jarjour, who hopes specialised mental healthcare programmes will soon be launched across Gaza to help support children and their parents.

Trauma ‘not new’

Ghada Redwan, a psychotherapist at the Palestine Trauma Centre UK, said several families in Gaza contacted the centre during the offensive asking for mental health support for their kids.

Redwan offers focus-based training widely used by mental health experts to heal trauma and post-traumatic stress disorder. She provides families and children with techniques to help them change the way they relive ongoing trauma.

“There are a number of cases suffering from severe panic and intense fear. There are also children whose psychological symptoms are showing up in strong emotions and vomiting,” Redwan told Al Jazeera.

She said they advised mothers to try and remain calm in front of their kids, especially during the bombing, something obviously easier said than done.

Redwan said while dealing with trauma in the aftermath of the Israeli attacks was not new in Gaza, the capacity to help was limited while the need for care was huge.

Sharing her own experience as a mother of two girls aged six and three, Redwan told Al Jazeera it was really hard to get past the experience of the offensive.

“I kept my kids away from the news, watching cartoons and doing activities suited to their age. Whenever they were frightened by the bombs, I would hold them to calm them down,” she said.

“It was a daunting task for me and my husband, but we tried. I was slightly lucky to have experience in mental health therapy, which helped me support my kids. But what about the thousands of families who didn’t?”

Huge gap in services’

According to the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC), 12 of the 66 children killed by Israeli air attacks were participants in its programme aiming to help Gaza’s children overcome trauma from previous wars.

The children who survived the offensive are likely to relive the experience of the bombing nightly, NRC said in a recent statement, adding children in Gaza have five nightmares a week on average.

Hozayfa Yazji, Gaza area manager at the NRC, said the statistics highlight the extent of the distress the latest 11-day attack on Gaza has caused many children.

According to Yazji, the NRC has worked with 118 schools, providing support for 75,000 kids since it launched trauma therapy services for children in Gaza in 2012.

“But we now face a huge gap in psychological support services after the recent aggression,” he said. “The number of children needing psychotherapy is expected to triple.”

An urgent need’

Yazji said the grave humanitarian conditions experienced by children in the Gaza Strip exacerbate their mental health conditions, but the military attacks have the worst effect on children.

The 14-year-long Israeli-imposed siege on the coastal enclave, rising poverty levels that stand at 50 percent of the population, an unemployment rate of 55 percent, and a dilapidated healthcare system all make the children’s suffering worse, he said.

Children under 18 years of age constitute 45 percent of the population in the Gaza Strip. “This makes the intervention of psychological first aid programmes an urgent need,” Yazji told Al Jazeera.

He said at least 90 percent of Gaza residents are in need of mental health support and treatment because of the repeated military attacks and devastating humanitarian conditions in the Strip.

“The need is beyond our capacity. We are working with several governmental and international organisations to scale up our programmes,” said Yazji, adding the council hopes to train more people who can provide mental health support across Gaza.