More of two million boys and girls live in Palestine under occupation, many of them are destined to be born in one of the 27 camps where they inherit the refugee status and the history of their parents. Their childhood is short, they become adults quickly when they take on too many responsibilities for their age and work at a young age to help their families. In the camps where they reside, the buildings are glued together to make the most of the space, so there are no safe green spaces to practice sports, play or run.
“Today I have come with my children to the park, although it is far away, but the children get tired of the house and there is no other place closer to play, only the street where we are afraid that they will be run over. That’s why they spend most of their time indoors, crying out of boredom or playing electronic games ”, Um Youssef tells us, in a public park, the conditions in which her eight sons and daughters live. “This causes us a lot psychological pressure, we suffer on the one hand the difficulties of life and, on the other, the lack of places available for children to play. We can’t come here often because of the distance and the entrance fee to the park ”.
In boys and girls, outdoor play is a basic need as it improves motor and physical growth, interaction and participation with other children and mental development. The alternatives, such as the use of electronic devices, have drawbacks that sometimes cause addiction and school dropout, or gambling on public roads, where they put their lives at risk.
Alaa Ballout, a psychologist from the Al-Far’a camp in the West Bank, knows closely the reality of refugee and refugee minors from Palestine: “Play is a space for learning concepts and values, and when they are deprived of space confident, they turn to other things that give them pleasure, such as spending more time on electronic games, something that among psychologists opens a debate on the addiction and its damage to mental and physical health”.
The case of the children of Palestine is even more particular, since they live under occupation and are constantly exposed to the violation of their rights. “There is no doubt that the political violence continues. The inability to anticipate traumatic events and the children’s exposure to loss is brutal. The psychological impact is greater on them, since they cannot understand what is happening. There are many studies that show that incidence of post-traumatic stress disorder among Palestinian boys and girls is over 40%, because the traumas are consecutive and do not stop, “says the psychologist.
Most of the camps are located in areas in contact with the danger of Israeli occupation. The Qalandia camp, for example, is very close to a military checkpoint and the UNRWA schools, in the Jalazone camp, are located opposite the Israeli settlement of Beit El, constantly putting the lives of the soldiers at risk. boys and girls and exposure to Israeli bullying. Several of these children were killed by Israeli forces as a result of the schools’ proximity to the settlement.
The Secretary of the People’s Committee of the Jalazoun Palestine Refugee Camp, Thaer Nakhleh, explains that the lack of public parks and safe spaces lies in the narrow nature of the camps and houses adjacent to each other. In this camp there is only the “Palestinian Children’s Club”, which has some games, but whose space is not enough for the hundreds who live there.
In the midst of this conflict, although UNRWA provides play spaces in its schools, there are still not enough spaces to cover the simplest right that can be granted to a minor: a safe and free play space close to residential communities. Nakhle explains that from time to time there are activities aimed at minors, but not on a sustained basis but on the occasion of a specific holiday.
“We must bear in mind that the psychological resilience is high in our society and not all individuals are affected in the same way. But there is no doubt that the context in which we live is full of pressures that children are forced to deal with, ”says psychologist Ballout. In order to support these children, we must provide them with sources of support and places where they can vent and express their situation, feelings, and struggles. Whether playing in the park, in the sand or through drawing and music. In the end, play is the language they master, it is their space for expression. And they are stealing it too.