Tag Archives: Gaza Under Attack

Gaza’s Mental-Health Crisis and the Trauma of Permanent War

Dear friends,

Below, please find an excerpt and link to my recent feature piece in The Nation, about the impact (especially on children) of chronic war in Gaza, published at the one-year anniversary of the 2014 assault.

I hope you will read, share, and look forward to hearing your thoughts, responses.

All the best,

Jen Marlowe


Gaza’s Mental-Health Crisis and the Trauma of Permanent War:
“The Jews shot me.” I was eating breakfast with 3-year-old Ibrahim Awajah in February 2015, in the northern Gaza town of Beit Lahia, when he made this proclamation. His father, Kamal Awajah, saw the surprise on my face.
“No, no, you’re the second Ibrahim,” Kamal quickly corrected the small, sandy-haired boy. “It was your brother who was shot, not you.”
The first Ibrahim, 9 years old, had been shot and killed by an Israeli soldier during the 2009 attack on Gaza, which the Israeli military named Operation Cast Lead. His parents and siblings witnessed the killing, along with the demolition of their home. The second Ibrahim, born in 2011, was named after his martyred brother. He has already lived through two massive military campaigns. He has also lived most of his young life in tent-like structures, first while his family’s house was being rebuilt after Operation Cast Lead, and then after it was destroyed again during the summer 2014 war.
Read the rest here.

Kids playing in the rubble of the destroyed home in Beit Lahiya, Gaza

Kids playing in the rubble of the destroyed home in Beit Lahiya, Gaza

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Rays of Hope: Israeli and Palestinian Groups Building Peace

Sami Al Jundi, a Palestinian former militant-turned-peacemaker whose story I chronicle in The Hour of Sunlight, once boiled down for me his vision of a peaceful future in the Middle East: Israeli children will only know safety and security when Palestinian children’s rights and needs are secured; and Palestinian children will only know safety and security when Israeli children’s rights and needs are secured.

Today, it is children who are paying the highest price of the current horrifying violence. A report released on July 22 by OCHA, the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, states that in the two previous days, one child was killed in Gaza every two hours—and that there have been more children killed in Gaza than militants killed.

On July 28, at least eight children in Gaza were killed when a playground was shelled. Entire extended families—children included—have been literally wiped out.  According to Save the Children, one-third of those injured in Gaza are children and tens of thousands more have been displaced from their homes, or have lost homes that were damaged or destroyed. Children in Israel know fear and insecurity as rockets are fired from Gaza. Rockets, however crude and ineffective they may be, are nonetheless indiscriminately targeting population centers.

In the midst of this terrifying escalation, what hope is there that Sami’s vision will ever come to fruition? Who on the ground in Israel and Palestine is doing the work to dismantle the structures of violence, injustice, and oppression and replace them with structures of true equality; structures where every human life is accorded equal value and every child’s rights and needs and fears are given equal weight? It is only under those circumstances that we can begin to talk about a just and durable peace between Palestinians and Israelis.

The reality has never been so grim. And yet, in the midst of this darkness, there are Israelis and Palestinians who are working tirelessly for an end to bloodshed, and to all forms of violence—including the structural violence of the occupation/siege.

To read the rest, please click through to Yes! Magazine


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Message from a 12-year-old girl in Gaza

As terrifying statistics come out, such as OCHA’s report that one child has been killed in Gaza every hour for the past two days, and that more children have been killed in Gaza than fighters, I bring you these words from a 12 year old girl in Gaza:

My life, a story from Gaza by: Nadeen Abu-Ramadan, 12 yrs. old school student
I well remember that day, it was  July 10, 2014, when the war started, as some people call it, for me it was not a war it was just bombings of Gaza.

I thank God every day because I’m not scared of these bombings, but to be honest on the second night of the “war,” I stayed awake the whole night thinking about images of people and children who died, or lost their homes. I kept thinking of sad things about them, I thought what if this war stayed for longer time? What if my house was bombed like the others? What will I do? Will I cry or will I become mad? I couldn’t imagine myself without a home or a family!, a home where I keep all my memories, a family to hug me warmly, and calm me down when I’m scared. I could not imagine myself without my new room, that I was flying of happiness when it finished, without my new clothes that mom brought me, without my favorite brand of shoes that dad brought me from abroad, and without my favorite teddy bear that my brother bought me 10 years ago.

People might think that these are just silly small things, but for me it is everything. I love every piece of my home and my life.

The third night, I woke up on a huge bomb sound, I got out of the bed, fearing the glass of the window to fall on me, but my parents who came quickly calmed me down and told me to stay strong because God is always with us.

My mom is the most one who fears the sound of bombs, Zeina (my sister) or I come second, in the last comes dad. Dad is really strong, he doesn’t fear anything, dad doesn’t fear things as mom does, he always makes sure that everything is ok; I took this thing from him.

I really thank God about everything, I thank Him for my home, family, and life, and most of all that I’m from Palestine, the holy land, the land of prophets, I’m really proud.

I really LOVE MY LIFE.

With prayers that Nadeen, her sister Zeina, and all Palestinian and Israeli children be able to still write, to still dream, to still love their lives.

May they be permitted to live.

Nadeen Abu Ramadan, a 12-year old student in Gaza

Nadeen Abu Ramadan, a 12-year old student in Gaza


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Each one is a world


We were sitting at Lincoln Park in West Seattle, with a handful of friends who had gathered for a picnic potluck, awaiting others who would be joining us shortly.

A Facebook message came through on my Smartphone from my friend Yousef Munayyer.

Hey Jen, just saw some news about a young man from the Shurrab family in khan yunis being the latest victim, Name is Tayseer. Have you heard from Amer recently?

Amer Shurrab was, as a matter of fact, sitting across the picnic table from me at that very moment.  He  had come for a few day visit from Monterrey, where he is finishing his MBA. Though we had planned the visit weeks before the shit hit the fan in Gaza, the timing of it felt oddly right. I think it felt somewhat comforting to Amer to be surrounded by people who had some notion of what he was going through, and the beautiful Pacific Northwest was allowing some respite from the obsessive news-checking and strangling stress that is inevitable when one’s family is under bombardment.

We had just returned to Seattle after spending the last two days in Olympia with Rachel Corrie’s family. In between deep acknowledgment of the horror of the situation in Gaza, some of it spoken and some of it silent, we spent several hours on Mt Rainier. Just a few hours earlier, Amer took his first ride in a kayak.

And then, as we were waiting for other Seattle friends and activists to come and meet Amer, which had been the impetus of organizing the picnic potluck, Yousef’s message came through over Facebook.

I walked around the picnic table where everyone was introducing themselves and gently touched Amer on the shoulder, asking him to step aside from the group with me. He did, and I showed him Yousef’s message.

“Is he a relative?” I asked.

Amer’s face instantly clouded with fear and worry. “It may be my cousin Mohammed Tayseer,” he answered. He immediately pulled out his phone, and walked up a path towards the woods so he could call his family with some measure of privacy. I stared at him for a moment as he sat on the railing of the path, head bowed down, cell phone pressed against his ear, and could think only about the incident that led to Amer and I re-connecting after many years of not having been in touch–the incident in January 2009 during Israel’s “Operation Cast Lead” when two of his brothers were killed and his father injured.    In the months and years since that horrific event, I had grown very close to Amer, holding him in my heart as family. I had visited his family in Khan Younis twice–the first visit is described in this blog post and the 2nd visit, tragically, just two days after his father passed unexpectedly, due at least in part to the grief and stress related to the murder of his sons.

And now. And now, here was Amer, on the phone to confirm if the most recent killing in Gaza was another member of his family.

Amer continued to sit on the rail, head down, but his arm with the phone was dropped limply by his side. I approached.

“Was it your cousin?”

It was.

I went back to the group at the picnic table. Amer needed a few minutes alone, he told me, and he would join us when he felt ready.

The mood of the gathering shifted instantly. Where there had been casual, light conversation, there was now mostly silence laden with sadness, anger, dread,  and, overlaying it all, worry for Amer, who was now sitting on a log by the water’s edge, head still bowed. The only clear thought echoing through my mind in those next minutes: This is so unfair. This is so fucking, fucking unfair.

I saw a rather large group approach and walked towards them to see who was joining us. It was my friend Kara, and her husband Hakim, who is from Gaza. With them were Hakim’s six-year old sister Hiba and his mother, who he had been working on bringing to the U.S. from the Gaza strip for months but had managed to get out, in the end, just a day before the bombardment began. Other friends from Gaza, one from the same neighborhood that Amer is from, joined shortly afterwards.

I sent a quick prayer of thanks for the new arrivals. There were people here who shared Amer’s pain.

Hakim and his friends Anas and Mohammed lit coals on a barbeque and started to grill meat patties, chop peppers and tomatoes. Hiba found some sidewalk chalk and began to draw a stick figure of a smiling little girl under a big colorful tree, next to a house. Amer came back from his perch by the sea and soberly joined the group which had now trebled in size and had the Gazan dialect of Arabic chatter intermingling with English and the wafting odors of grilled meat prepared with Middle Eastern spices.

Hiba gave Amer a rock she had specially decorated for him with the sidewalk chalk. People began to eat.

In some way, we needed to directly confront, as a group, what had just happened to Amer’s cousin, what was happening to every family in Gaza. We had to find a way to hold space for the pain and the loss. And to honor those who had been killed these last 8 days, those that loved them, and those that were living in terror that they, or their family member, would be next.

And so, as the sun set and the mountains turned a deep purple, our group of 17 (6 of them from Gaza) gathered tightly together around the picnic table. Passing around a smartphone with the information loaded, we read aloud, one by one, the name and age of every one of the 194 human beings who had been killed in Gaza (as well as the one Israeli killed) since the assault began. A reminder that those killed are not numbers. They are people. Many of them children. Some of those children even younger than Hiba. Each one with a family. Each one an entire world.

The web-based list had not been updated in the last hour.  Amer’s cousin was not yet on it. But we didn’t need a website to know his name.

“Mohammed Tayseer Shurrab,” Amer said in a strong voice when the last name on the smartphone had been read.  Insha’allah ,he added, this would be the last name. Insha’allah, the list would grow no longer. Then, as the mountains deepened from purple to black, Amer led us in a prayer for the dead.

We held silence together for a moment.  Anas and Hakim spoke about what this simple act of solidarity meant to them.

Then, we shifted our circle from around the picnic table to around Hiba’s chalk drawing. It was by the narrowest of threads that the six-year-old girl was not, at that moment, shuddering under fierce explosions from bombs dropped by warplanes and drones.

The drawing: A smiling girl. A home. A tree.

What every child deserves to draw.

What every child deserves to know.

hiba drawing

Hiba’s chalk drawing




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Vehemently resisting dehumanization

Perhaps as much as the bombing, and  people fleeing their homes in northern Gaza in anticipation of a bloody invasion, I am frightened by the dehumanization of the very real humans in Gaza that I am bombarded with.

Whether it’s by people labeling them as “terrorists” or “Hamas supporters” or placidly suggesting that they are victimized only by Hamas using them as “human shields”…or by numbers and statistics, or people posting photos of small children with heads blown open, or limbs blown off, causing us to look at these children, not in their human childness, but as gory images…

I want to resist this dehumanization, if only for a moment, by describing the Palestinain human beings that I know in Gaza.

I know pharmacists in Gaza.

I know doctors.

I know people who work for the United Nations, who work for humanitarian organizations, who work for human rights organizations.

I know people who run youth programs and I know teachers.

I know mothers who love their children with a fierce protectiveness.

I know a father whose 9 year old son was executed while he was holding him in arms–and who then struggled with how to raise raise his surviving children without being surrounded by trauma and violence. I know a father who bought his little girls bunny rabbits so they would have something small and cuddlyto hold so his daughters could retain their own humanity and have a chance at growing up emotionally intact.

I know accountants.

I know taxi drivers who have invited me to their home for lunch and introduced me to their families, who I have dodged bullets with and brought cigarettes to during long months of siege.

I know small children who, while living in tents in horrible conditions, wake up in the morning and have their faces scrubbed clean by their big sister and the sand brushed out of their hair with what little water there is so that they can go to school looking fresh and have a chance at learning.

I have friends who are new mothers and new fathers, just figuring out how to meet their infants’ needs.

Many of the young men and women I know I remember as teenagers, when we used to gather at pizza restaurants in Gaza, and in later years gathered at beach-side cafes and smoked arghillas, reminiscing, talking, laughing…

This post will not do anything to end the horrible madness. But my God–if we don’t insist on holding people–all people–in their humanity and reminding ourselves of that every moment of every day–what chance do any of us have?


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And, here we go again…

It’s so hard to find any adequate words to describe the current nightmare in Palestine/Israel, or to describe my feelings about it. Instead, I offer that which I wrote in November 2012–the last viewing of this horror show. Cut and paste a few terms (for example, “Operation Protective Edge” instead of “Operation Pillar of Defense” and changes the references to “last time this happened” to “two times ago when this happened” and everything below is still, tragically, maddeningly, completely relevant. Because we’re seeing the same thing all over again. And again. What’s easy to lost sight of: the human lives impacted in “Round 3” are every bit as precious as they were in November 2012. And December/January 2008/9. 

November 16, 2012
My cell phone rang at 2am this morning. It was my friend Munir, calling me from Gaza.
“Jen, can you hear the bombs?” he asked me.
I could.

As the madness in Gaza and Israel descends into more and more bloody horror, I know that I need to say something, yet am left wordless.

All I can do is to try to hold up a reminder of what should be so clear: that the human lives on the receiving end of the bombs and the rockets matter—all of them.

I know and I love Israelis who live within rocket range (and that number of people grows as rockets hit places previously unreachable, like Tel Aviv and near Jerusalem) and I know and I love Palestinians in the Gaza Strip who are huddling in their homes as hundreds of missiles and bombs explode around them, with worse expected to come.

I am making no claims of parity, as power and military capability is grossly imbalanced, and the context is one of decades-long occupation and on-going siege. Terrifying as I imagine it is in Ashkelon, I know that the horror that children in Gaza are enduring and have endured overwhelms the imagination.

I am, however, unequivocally stating this: My friends’ children in Tel Aviv are not safer, but less safe, because of Operation “Pillar of Defense”, and the precious toddlers that I recently visited in the Gaza Strip are no closer to living in security, freedom and dignity because rockets are shot into Israeli cities. The children who are being traumatized (and, in the case of children in Gaza, severely re-traumatized) are all, every one of them, innocent—and there is no justification for what they are being forced to endure. Unequal though the situation is, I insist on holding them all in my worry, because they are all under attack, and all their lives matter—equally.

So—without new words to write, I can offer instead only endeavors I have made in the past: to illustrate the humanity that is so often dehumanized, and to expose the unjustifiable devastation that is always the consequence of military action replacing a true effort to seek peace with dignity and equality for all.

With that in mind, here is a short film that I made about one family’s story during the last onslaught in Gaza:



Here is a blog post I wrote about visiting my friend Amer Shurrab’s family in Khan Younis, a few months after his brothers were killed.

Here is an article I wrote about my friend Abeer, who went into labor with her first baby the last time bombs rained down on Gaza with this kind of fury.

And here are two articles, Gaza Under Hamas, Gaza Under Siege, and In Gaza, Circles of Hell, that hopefully serve as a reminder of the dehumanizing conditions that Palestinians in Gaza have been living under for years.

My colleague and dear friend Sami Al Jundi said best what I want most to say:
“My children will be safe only when your children know safetly, and your children will be safe only when my children know safety.”

But then, Sami corrected himself:
“Actually, there’s no such thing as my children and your children. There’s only our children.”

With fear for all our children,
Jen Marlowe



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