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Last Updated: Thursday, 20 May, 2004, 10:24 GMT 11:24 UK
Palestinian trauma over demolitions
A Palestinian girl among the rubble of a destroyed home in Rafah
Children in particular suffer from losing their homes

Human rights groups say Israeli forces have torn down more than 3,000 Palestinian homes during the three years of the intifada.

Israel also recently announced plans to demolish hundreds more in Rafah refugee camp in Gaza.

Palestinian psychiatrist Eyad al-Sarraj, chairman of Gaza's community health programme, examines the effect the demolitions is having on Palestinian families.


For children, seeing their houses being demolished has a very severe impact.

According to our research, the worst kind of trauma children can receive is losing the father or losing the home, because both represent security for children and a feeling of stability in their own environment.

And this category of severe trauma has been played out over and over again, because Israel has not only demolished homes in Rafah but throughout the Palestinian areas.

The first reaction is usually a reaction of shock and bewilderment, which rapidly becomes a state of depression, deepening particularly in children around the age of 10.

Cardboard replica

I will never forget the case in which I treated a child in Khan Younis whose house had been demolished.

This little girl insisted every night on leaving the tent that was given to the family by the UN and sleeping in her own bed in the house that was demolished.

Her family would have to wait until she was fast asleep before they could take her back to the tent.

For Palestinian children, it is exactly what their grandparents tell them happened to them in Palestine in 1948 when Israel was created
Palestinian psychiatrist Eyad al-Sarraj
She was also building a small house inside the tent - a replica of her own house - out of cardboard.

That was a severe case and I continued to treat that case for over a year, with little success.

Cycle of destruction

For adults, the cycle of the Palestinian life is usually destruction, killing and the state of shock and bewilderment, going into depression and then a state of helplessness.

This is particularly true on the part of fathers, who feel that they are impotent and unable to protect their own families. That helplessness goes gradually into a state of anger.

Anger can become a state of defiance and then rebellion.

This rebellion goes out in the streets and also in other forms of militant action, because there is a deep sense there that they are facing an enemy - Israel - that has no morality and they have to take revenge.

And then the call for revenge becomes so tribal - as you have seen it in the last three years of this intifada, where some Palestinians have blown themselves up and Israelis around them in the markets of Israel and the cafes and the public squares of Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.

Repeat of history

People never get over the kind of severe trauma of losing their homes.

And for Palestinian children, it is exactly what their grandparents tell them happened to them in Palestine in 1948 when Israel was created.

And now it is happening again in the West Bank and Gaza where we built homes and Israel destroys them.

The message we get here is that we have no place in our country, we have to leave.

But our people, of course, we insist that this is home, we want to live and we want to die in our homes.

Dr Sarraj was interviewed by the World Today programme on BBC World Service.

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