The Effects of Chronic War Trauma among Palestinian Children

Mohamed Altawil, David Harrold, Muthanna Samara (2008). The effects of chronic war trauma among Palestinian children. In: Martin Parsons (Ed.) Children: The invisible victims of war – An interdisciplinary study. Peterborough-England: DSM Technical Publications.



Our recent study aimed to explore the long-term effects of war and occupation on the Palestinian children in the Gaza Strip. In our sample, 1,137 children aged between 10 and 18 years were randomly selected from all parts of the Gaza Strip to participate in the study. The participants completed a Checklist of Traumatic Experiences (CTE), a Symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder Scale (SPTSDS) and Personality Assessment Questionnaire (PAQ).

This research found that every child in Palestine had been exposed to at least three traumatic events. The most prevalent types of trauma exposure for Palestinian children were as follows: 99% of children had suffered humiliation (either to themselves or a family member); 97% had been exposed to the sound of explosions/bombs; 85% had witnessed a martyr’s funeral and 84% had witnessed shelling by tanks, artillery, or military planes.

Importantly, our recent study found that 41% of children suffered from Post Traumatic Stress Disorders (PTSD). Of the 41% of children with PTSD, the levels of symptoms were as follows: 20% (57,606) children suffered from an acute level of PTSD, 22% (67,531) suffered from moderate levels of PTSD, and 58% (180,058) suffered from low levels of PTSD.

Overall, the exposure to chronic traumatic experiences led to an increase in the symptoms of PTSD among Palestinian children in the Gaza Strip. The most prevalent types of PTSD were: cognitive symptoms, from which 25% of children suffered (e.g., a child might take a long time to get to sleep, or cannot stop thinking about the trauma he was exposed to, or feels everything around him is not safe); emotional symptoms from which 22% suffered (e.g, the child feeling alone, suffering from nightmares, easily getting tense and nervous, feeling sad and fearful, bedwetting); social behavioural disorders, from which 22% suffered (eg., aggressive and rude behaviour, rejecting a teacher’s or parent’s authority, having difficulty enjoying games and hobbies); academic behavioural disorders, from which 17% suffered (e.g., difficulty in concentrating on study, increasingly bad academic performance, difficulties in paying attention during school lessons, disruptive behaviour at school); somatic symptoms, from which 14% suffered (e.g., headaches, stomach-ache, hypochondriasis, somatization).

Children who belonged to families with low incomes suffered more than others. In Gaza, the poverty is very high indeed. Nearly 87% of the population live below the poverty line. This has increased the risk of psycho/social problems in children. In addition, our current study revealed that the support of family, friends, relatives, teachers, and spiritual leaders can be of great help. However, children whose parents had low educational levels received less support and therefore suffered more often than others from PTSD. Governmental and NGO institutions can also help to mitigate the effects of the difficult living conditions and chronic trauma suffered by the Palestinian children. In addition to this, positive traits of personality can reduce the effects of post-traumatic disorders.

We concluded that having a normal childhood in Palestine is unlikely in the current circumstances and the psychological well-being future of Palestinian children is at risk of being compromised by on-going traumatic experiences.

Children at WarDavid HarroldGazaMohamed AltawilMuthanna Samaratrauma