15 February 2016

Hebron violence takes a toll on children

Violence, arrests, and restrictions on free movement in Hebron and other Israeli-occupied Palestinian areas have a grave impact on school children. Photographer: SOS Archives, 2015

Children in the SOS Palestine family strengthening programme are among those injured, traumatised and kept from attending classes, as result of heightened violence and checkpoints in Israeli-occupied West Bank.

Violence, arrests, and restrictions on free movement in Hebron and other Israeli-occupied Palestinian areas continue to have a grave impact on school children.
 
Children have been hit by rubber bullets and tear gas, including an 11-year-old girl who participates in the SOS Children’s Villages family strengthening programme in Hebron, which is supported by the Danish International Development Agency (DANIDA).
 

An 11-year-old girl who participates in the SOS Children’s Villages family strengthening programme in Hebron was wounded when a tear gas canister struck her leg. Photo: SOS Children's Villages Palestine
This 11-year-old girl was wounded when a tear gas canister struck her leg. Photo: SOS Children's Villages Palestine

She was leaving her house in Hebron old city (H2), one of the most dangerous areas in the West Bank, when a tear gas canister hit the girl in the leg, injuring her and causing painful suffocation from tear gas.
 
Her leg healed and she was able to walk again three days later. More damaging, however, is the trauma; she is now afraid to leave home and attend classes.

Trauma itself has become a significant problem for children in Hebron, Bethlehem, Beit Ummar, Dura and Saer, all areas that have seen increased violence and clashes between Palestinians and Israeli settlers and the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) since the Duma village arson attack in July 2015.
 
A vicious cycle of violent reprisals ensued, with the IDF installing a system of checkpoints and roadblocks, as well as numbering of Palestinian families, house arrests, and more. 
 
Movement in and out of Hebron city and the surrounding villages is restricted. Roads are blocked, and residents must queue up to go to work and school. Some schools have been closed.
 
The UN reported in December 2015 that 4,200 children in Hebron were being forced to pass through armed checkpoints to get to school. According to teachers, the children “are unable to concentrate and show signs of psychosocial distress.”
 
Children from some of the vulnerable families in the SOS family strengthening programme have seen their fathers and older brothers arrested by the IDF. A few have even seen relatives or friends killed.
 
This month a senior UN official condemned Israel’s detention of more than 525 Palestinians, including several under the age of 18.
 
SOS Children’s Villages family strengthening work in the area, including classes, counselling and educational support for children, have been hampered by the violence and checkpoints. However, the work continues in areas where movement is possible and relatively safe.
 
SOS family strengthening teams are putting special emphasis on psychological counselling to help Hebron children and parents cope with the stress and trauma of living under daily threat of violence.

Timeline

31 July 2015 – Duma village arson attack on a house  kills a Palestinian mother, father and child.  A four-year-old boy survived, with burns over 60% of his body. According to SOS co-workers, this boy is the nephew of an SOS aunt.
 
October 2015 - MSF reports a five-fold increase in violent injuries among patients in Hebron.
 
January 2016 - The UN’s Special Rapporteur on human rights in Palestine resigned, citing obstruction by Israeli authorities who, since 2014, had not allowed him access to areas he was assigned to monitor.
 

About the SOS family strengthening programme in Palestine

The family strengthening programme in Hebron is supported in part by Danish International Development Agency (DANIDA). The three-year project focuses on building the capacities of community-based organisations in Hebron, supporting children through extra tutoring and classes, and improving the psychological and social well-being of at-risk children.
 
The programme is currently working with 398 at-risk children from 81 families in these areas:
 
Hebron old city - 25 families with 142 children
Hebron Bab ilzawie - 7 families with 25 children
Beit Ummar village - 9 families with 41 children
Saer village - 17 families with 83 children
Dura village - 14 families with 70 children
Bethlehem, Ayda camp - 9 families with 27 children

Read more stories from Palestine.