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Monday, 18 November, 2002, 14:32 GMT
Jenin's traumatised children
Children of Jenin
Counsellors are helping the children

In the spartan bedroom she shares with her three brothers, 10-year-old Majdal Jaber reads aloud from her English textbook.

She reads fluently from the exercises at the beginning of the book but falters when she gets on to the more advanced lessons.

Like many children here in the West Bank town of Jenin, Majdal's studies have been affected by the repeated Israeli army incursions.

For much of the year, the military has been in complete control of the area, which it says has been a breeding ground for suicide bombers.

Crayon drawing by eight-year-old boy
Drawings depict guns and tanks

During a recent incursion last month, Majdal's home was taken over by the army for more than two weeks and used as a holding centre for suspected militants, some of whom Israel believes were planning devastating attacks.

Her mother Zekraiat says the family was confined to a single room and denied proper access to food and water for four days. Occupation has taken a heavy toll on the children.

Studies suffering

"For sure they are affected," Zekraiat explained.

"Their studies are suffering. My son was an honours student but now he's failing his exams. My daughter is the same. She's having to repeat a year at school. There was always a tank outside the school. She failed because of her fear."

"They took my husband and my 14-year-old son for interrogation," she claims.


Some of the main things we've found are bed-wetting, nightmares, sleep disturbances, anxiety and loss of concentration

Trauma counsellor Mohammed Mahajneh
"When they brought them back, my son couldn't walk for 10 days. He was paralyzed by fear."

At the YMCA's Jenin headquarters, I am shown a stack of crayon drawings. In one, a corpse surrounded by tanks, guns and missiles is carried away on a stretcher. It was drawn by an eight-year-old boy.

Trauma counsellor Mohammed Mahajneh says many of Jenin's youngsters are showing classic symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder - a psychiatric illness which can develop following life-threatening events.

"Some of the main things we've found are bed-wetting, nightmares, sleep disturbances, anxiety and a loss of concentration," he says.

"There are also physical symptoms; headaches, stomach aches, a lack of energy and other psychosomatic reactions."

Intensive counselling

With the help of the United Nations Children's Fund, Unicef, Mohammed Mahajneh's team of more than 20 therapists are providing counselling to help the children of Jenin come to terms with their experiences.

For some, simply being able to play with other children is enough. Others, though, need more intensive one-to-one counselling or referral for more long term treatment. 8,000 youngsters have come forward for help in the last three months alone.

Now that the Israeli army has pulled back from Jenin once more, Mohammed Mahajneh expects to see a new influx of cases. He says every fresh incursion revives old traumas - and even his own family has been affected.

"With my son I noticed that when the army re-entered the town all the symptoms which went away after the last incursion in April came back again.

"He suffered from a racing heart, he began to wet the bed again and he became withdrawn. All the time he was full of unanswered questions.

"He just wants to know why this is happening to him."

See also:

25 Oct 02 | Middle East
05 Jun 02 | TV and Radio reports
04 Nov 02 | Middle East
10 Nov 02 | Middle East
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