GAZA CITY, Palestine: It didn’t take Osama al-Attar, a Palestinian child, much thought before he decided to draw a warplane firing rockets, a home in ruins and the bodies of dead children.
He quickly chose the suitable colors before drawing the objects on a small sheet of paper.
“I draw the things I experience and see,” Osama, clad in blue, said as he sat beside a group of other children at a school run by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees.
Osama, along with many other Palestinian children, has recently joined a psychological rehabilitation program offered by UNRWA for the children of Palestinians who have fled to its schools in the Gaza Strip in hopes of escaping Israel’s weekslong onslaught.
When given paper, the children could think of nothing to draw except scenes of death, destruction and mayhem – all of which have become commonplace in the embattled coastal enclave.
Here in the UNRWA-run Banat al-Shatie preparatory school’s playground, the children formed a circle on the ground and began depicting the scenes with which their memories have been scarred.
Osama, 10, said he and other members of his family had fled their home in the city of Beit Hanoun in the northern Gaza Strip late at night.
“I was shaking in fear; I can’t forget the scenes I witnessed,” Osama recalled. “That’s why I like to draw – to depict what I saw.”
Osama’s sister Yasmin sat beside him in the circle. She took a white piece of paper on which she wrote the words: “Gaza is in danger.”
“We hope the world saves us before we’re killed,” Yasmin said. “We feel so afraid.”
Despite this fear and the horrific memories that haunt them, Osama said the activities at the UNRWA school serve to cheer him and the other children up.
To some extent, he explained, he had forgotten the suffering he experienced over the past 40 days, since he first came to the school fleeing unrelenting Israeli bombardments.
The UNRWA’s psychological rehabilitation program provides activities for refugee children, along with other family members.
Some 460,000 Gazans have had to leave their homes and seek shelter in U.N. schools and other places as a result of Israel’s weekslong onslaught, according to the Geneva-based EuroMed Observatory for Human Rights.
The Palestinian Center for Human Rights estimates the number of Palestinians displaced by Israel’s offensive at some half a million.
Most of the displaced have reportedly sought shelter at UNRWA schools or at the homes of relatives who live in other parts of the beleaguered enclave.
Joy occasionally passes over the faces of the children at these shelter-cum-schools, despite the suffering they have recently gone through.
They laugh, play and run, leaving their cares – and their uncertain futures – behind them.
Most of the girls who sat on the ground in another circle were barefoot. Wearing unclean but beautiful clothes, they repeated a song after their counselor, frequently bursting into laughter and applause.
Fatma Abu Asi, a counselor at the school, was struck by the artistic beauty of many of the children’s drawings – even though most of the works portrayed scenes of death and destruction.
“The children were in a state of extreme fear, sometimes crying,” Abu Asi said. “Some could not even part with their parents.”
Abu Asi said the children’s psychological condition had greatly improved as they became more involved in the activities.
But some had shown signs of becoming more aggressive and hyperactive, she added.
“The suffering these children are going through now is a mere reflection of the experiences they underwent during the war,” she said. “It will take a long time for them to get over these traumatic experiences.”