While the world is undoubtedly full of tragedy and despair, it can be easy to be jaded by all the bad news. With videos of ISIS beheadings in Syria and police shootings in the US easily accessible and available; with yet another Middle Eastern country being bombed (and this time, primarily by its neighbors); with mass murders throughout Africa barely registering in international news, it's easy to become desensitized. You simply can't feel it all- you would suffocate from all the pain. At some point, it becomes just another sad news story to mull over on your way to work.
But some things, well, they just get to you. The quote in the headline was not said by a militia fighter or a family escaping Yarmouk; it was said by a 12 year old boy in Gaza, Montasser Abu Bakr, who saw four of his young family members, including his 10 year old brother, killed by an Israeli shell while playing soccer during the height of the Gaza War this past summer. This incident- and the multiple pictures capturing it- rocked even the most hardened news watcher. It even made the cover of the New York Times, and ever so slightly shifted the international conversation about what we were seeing in Gaza. Surely, no one could mistake these four tiny boys for Hamas members. They even ran away from an initial shelling, only to be overtaken by another. It's one of those tragedies that sticks with you, and reminds you how ugly this world can be.
But for most of us, we were fortunate enough to be able to move on. We were not there on that beach, and for most news outlets, the story ended there. Not so for Montasser. Almost a year later, he is traumatized, has attempted suicide, and is on antipsychotic drugs. He is one of the thousands of children in Gaza with PTSD, as painfully but necessarily described by on article on Foreign Policy, written by Bel Trew. Most of us have the luxury to forget, but these children like Montasser, who lost siblings, parents, and other family members, often before their very eyes, among the most traumatic and stressful environments that a human being can experience, don't have that luxury. They also don't have the luxury of access to stable mental health care to help them at least begin to cope with their pain and loss, and many are left suffering from mental disorders while also being homeless, impoverished, and orphaned. So much human suffering packed into one tiny little territory- and as Bel Trew argues, no one expects last summer's war to be the last.
A lot of my research focuses on this- what war can do to people, physically and mentally. The Palestinian Territories has regularly reported high levels of PTSD, stress disorders, anxiety, and stress-induced chronic disease among it's citizens in numerous studies (check out articles by Abu-Rmeileh, Giacaman, and Khamis, for a start). Rates and reasons differ between the West Bank and Gaza, of course, but no one is left unscathed. Even the most privileged have to go through checkpoints, know someone who has been unjustly arrested, and see IDF presence in every corner of their lives. But something about those children in Gaza- it just gets to me. And I'm of course not discounting the pain of children facing similar circumstances in Syria, Ukraine, Somalia, now Yemen, etc...too many countries to name.
I've referred to this quote by Frederick Douglass here before: "It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men." I just love this quote, and it seems more pertinent now than ever before. We can make worldwide peace tomorrow, but we are still leaving broken children in our wake. And what will they grow to become? Are we capable of helping them in the ways they need? As a society, we need to wrestle with these questions, because the future of these nations depends on the answers.