In war-torn countries or areas of conflict, violence and aggression, unfortunately, take their toll on the civilian population. The gravity of the ensuing trauma depends on the level of exposure and the age of the person. Children in their formative years are the most fundamentally affected as the traumas of life situations are internalized and incorporated within their psyche. Children cannot avoid the negative psychological consequences of harassment, humiliations, and injuries to self or relatives to which they are constantly exposed.
Although this is true of the population of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip at large, this article will be confined to the psychological effects suffered by children as a result of the revocation of residency rights of Palestinian Jerusalemites.1 The existence of causality here is not immediately clear, yet the repercussions of this policy are quite dramatic as they represent a disruption in the children's basic sense of security. However, the policy of revocation of residency rights cannot be considered in isolation, but should be placed within the context of Israel's systematic policies and practices aimed at uprooting the population, causing them continuous stress, such as restrictions on building, demolition of houses, expropriation of land, and building of settlements.
It is the youngest and the seriously injured who are the most vulnerable. Israeli aggression has led to the manifestation of a number of anxiety-related problems and disorders in children, like bed-wetting, separation anxiety and lack of concentration, leading to poor school performance. These problems are caused by such factors as uprooting and threat to one's existence; absence of stability and security; continuous threat of separation and disruption of children's normal development.
The following two cases excerpted from the report Living in Jerusalem (Committee for the Defense of Jerusalem) illustrate some of the aspects of this policy and its effect on children.

Denial of Family Reunification

Ribhi Abu Al-Hummous is a resident of Issawiyah in Jerusalem. In 1990, he married Hijar, a resident of Qatanna in the West Bank. Six months after their marriage Ribhi applied for family reunification for his wife so that she would be able to reside legally in Jerusalem. His application was rejected. Upon inquiry, Ribhi was informed that the reason for the rejection was on security grounds, as Ribhi had been a political prisoner at some point in the past. In the meantime the couple had two sons: Ghassan (three years) and Ihsan (one year) and they continue to live in Issawiyah.
Since the imposition of the closure on Jerusalem in 1993, Hijar has not been able to obtain a permit allowing her to be in Jerusalem. She is often afraid to leave the house and she rarely visits her parents for fear of not being allowed back into Jerusalem. Hijar is a professional nurse for the handicapped, but she cannot find work because most institutions in Jerusalem hesitate to employ people with West Bank IDs. As a result, the family's economic situation has deteriorated since they are obliged to rely on one income only.
This case highlights some of the effects mentioned earlier: the lack of a sense of security and the fear of separation. The children are constantly worried that soldiers might come and arrest their mother or force her back to Qatanna, thus separating them from their father. The family cannot move around freely and the children are not able to wander about and explore their surroundings. Furthermore, the anxiety and tension the parents are suffering are reflected in their relationship with their children.

Poor Housing Conditions

Rabah Mohammad Bseiso, aged 85, is a widower who lives with his three children and several grandchildren (in total 15 people) in a two-room house in the Sa'diyeh neighborhood in the Old City of Jerusalem. Rabah has been living there since 1965. Although he pays his municipal tax (arnona) regularly, he does not receive any services from the municipality. The home is poorly ventilated and does not receive sunlight, and he was forced to convert the water well into a septic tank. The municipality has asked the family to move out, under the pretext that it was unable to extend services to them. The family refuses to leave. Why? Because they remember the families who were driven out by the Israeli authorities from the Magharbah Quarter (in 1967) and relocated in Al-Ezariyyah. This town, which used to be part of the Jerusalem district, is now in the West Bank and those living there risk losing their residency rights in Jerusalem. The Bseiso family prefers living in impossible conditions to being denied residency in Jerusalem. Otherwise, they will either be compelled to move to the West Bank or to rent an apartment outside the city walls where the rent has soared over the past years, and which the majority of Palestinian Jerusalemites can ill-afford.
However, the fact that the Bseiso family has opted to stay in their house has impacted negatively on the children. In the absence of municipal services (to which the family is legally entitled), the children are forced to live in squalid, cramped quarters where they are denied the freedom to play or to develop healthily, both physically and socially.
By all standards, the conditions described above are violations of people's basic rights and an attack on their dignity and integrity. The victims are not individuals, but entire households who are forced to live under continuous stress, the effects of which can manifest themselves in both physiological and psychological forms.
Research and scientific data have shown that, indeed, children living and growing up with violence are at risk of pathological development. Learning to trust is the infant's primary task during the first year of life. It provides the foundation for further development and forms the basis for self-confidence and self-esteem. The parent's ability to provide consistent care and respond to the infant's need for love and stimulation is crucial at this stage. This is compromised when the family lives in a situation characterized by insecurity and fear for its safety. How can parents give the child proper care when their energy is sapped by efforts to keep safe?
When infants reach toddlerhood and have an inner push to play and jump, they need to be outside and to have enough room to move around and explore their surroundings. Restrictions by adults disrupt the normal course of development. When they reach school, these children are at an age when they need to establish relationships, to socialize and romp in playgrounds with other kids. Instead, they are anxious about whom they meet and where they go. When children's energies are drained because they are defending themselves or warding off fears, they have learning difficulties, distorted memories and their cognitive functions can be compromised. To control their fears, children who are exposed to a continuous threat on their existence and security may repress feelings. This defensive maneuver takes its toll in their immediate lives and can lead to further pathological development in the future, such as their ability to relate to others in a meaningful way and to feel empathy. Children who cannot empathize with others are less likely to curb their own aggression, and more likely to become insensitive to brutality in general, leading to carelessness about their own lives and that of others.

Consequences of Trauma

Research conducted on victims of the Holocaust have shown that survivors of very different traumas share many acute and long-term sequelae. The term PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) was developed to describe the sequelae related to a wide variety of traumas, including both single and repeated events associated with a spectrum of such events as war, disaster, crime and accidents. The unifying theme is that the traumatic experience be "outside the range of usual human experience" (American Psychiatric Association, 1987). The experience of Palestinian children who are forced to separate from their parents or are forced to live in inhuman conditions or are in continuous threat of uprooting, are definitely going through an experience outside of "usual human experience."
A lot of Jerusalemite children are suffering from these problems. It is reflected in their low self-esteem, their pathological identification with the enemy, poor school performance and the spread of child labor. A survey conducted by the Society of Austro-Arab Relations (SAAR) in 1995/1996 on 210 households in the Old City of Jerusalem (The Socio-Economic and Health Profile of the Palestinian Arab Inhabitants of the Old City of Jerusalem), reveals that 35 percent of children drop out of school before the tenth grade and end up working inside Israel as unskilled workers. These constitute illegal child labor, without any rights.
It should be emphasized that all children do not react in the same manner to stressful or violent situations. Factors like resilience, age and family temperament might affect their response to stress. It is unfortunate that, while Israel recognizes the effects of trauma in other places and situations, it is quite oblivious to the impact its policies of aggression and humiliation can have on the psyche of Palestinians in the occupied territories, especially on children.


1. The violations of residency rights of Palestinians in Jerusalem include: lack of protection of residency status, denial of family reunification, exclusion from the 1967 census, denial of registration of children and revocation of residency rights.