Every Friday for the last year, tens of thousands of Palestinian men, women, and children, have taken to the fence separating the Gaza Strip from Israel, to demand the right of return for refugees and the end of the illegal Israeli blockade.
While the Great March of Return has continued to be largely nonviolent, as of March 2019, Israeli forces have killed 195 Palestinians (including 41 children, 13 of whom attended UNRWA schools) and injured nearly 29,000 people (including over 7,000 shot with live ammunition, 227 of whom are UNRWA students).
Behind these shocking and tragic numbers are stories of lives curtailed or limited in some way. Through their own experiences and through supporting others, UNRWA counselors witness firsthand the physical and psychological trauma this violence has left.
One UNRWA counselor, who requested he remain anonymous shares his heartfelt and heartbreaking words:
“I’ve been working as a psychological counselor for nearly 10 years. I work at an UNRWA boys’ school and the Great March of Return has had a huge impact on our students many of whom have attended the demonstrations. I think we have to stress what makes our students participate: it's the blockade.
These kids don’t have hope, they don’t have dignity, they cannot leave Gaza, they have no employment opportunities, there’s no electricity, they lack money…the poverty, the economic pressure; it’s severe. Students here have a very difficult life.
We have around 20 students in my school who have been injured in the marches, they are mostly 14-15 years old. They have been injured in a variety of ways: live ammunition, shrapnel, tear gas canisters, and rubber bullets...The injuries have a huge impact – especially on those with permanent disabilities who can’t participate in sports, who can’t live normal lives. They become isolated socially. I see the psychological impact. These boys become withdrawn, they aren’t able to focus and concentrate in class, and they have nightmares about what happened.
And then there are the students who have lost family members. One student lost his father who was shot in the head during the demonstrations. Others have had their fathers or brothers injured. There are two cases where the father has undergone amputation. The students are so affected by this. Their behavior changes; they have problems with teachers and other students.”