Mohammad was born in Nuseirat Refugee Camp, one of the most crowded camps of the Gaza Strip. He used to like going to school and playing football in the street. Mohammad has been involved with some of the activities of the Friday of Joy Initiative which is run by volunteers from the Palestine Trauma Centre (PTC-Gaza). These activities are organised every Friday afternoon in the streets of a refugee camp and provide outlets for the children’s energy with organised games, dancing and singing. It also gives extra psycho-social support to vulnerable children. In March 2014 a young British woman spent time helping Mohammad and other children during her visit to the Nuseirat Camp where the Friday of Joy Initiative was taking place.
On 28th July 2014, Mohammad and his family received a warning phone call from the Israeli forces, which told them to evacuate their house within five minutes. After the evacuation, the house was then destroyed by bombing. The family could not believe that within a few minutes their home had gone and now was only rubble and dust, under which all their dreams and possessions were buried. They all moved to another place as the war continued. Then the Israelis bombed the area they had escaped to. Mohammad’s family ran away to a second and then a third place where they remained till the bombardments stopped. They stayed for three weeks in three different places with an uncle, aunt and then other relatives.
Mohammad’s dad told us that his son before the war had been very obedient, playful and cooperative, but after the Israelis bombed his house he became violent and stopped listening to his parents and teachers. His mind and concentration seemed to be somewhere else.
“On the first day after the destruction of the house, we thought that Mohammad had lost his ability to talk; he seemed to be numb with shock. A few days later he found his voice back, but it was like he had been transformed into a different person. He was shouting most of the time, easily made angry and losing his emotional balance or control for no obvious reason.”
He would regularly return to the debris of his house and then come back to his family burning with anger and sadness. His dad tried to stop him going back to their old home, but Mohammad would not listen. He drastically altered the routine of his day. He stayed outside most of the time, playing with other kids in the camp and not coming back to his family until after dark. He seemed nervous, hyper-sensitive and increasingly aggressive. He even started to beat-up other kids very badly. At night he would wake up from bad nightmares about sudden death. One day, while listening to his grandparents tell the story of exile and uprooting in 1948, he asked his parents: “Is this another Nakba which I will tell my kids about in the future?”
On the morning of the first day of Eid, while preparing to celebrate Eid Al-Fitir like all the other children, Mohammad suddenly rushed in great panic out of the house where they were staying.
He raced back to the debris of his old home and started to pull at the rubble. He dug away until he found the wreckage of the place where his clothes, toys and books had been kept. There he found some of the fine clothes he would normally wear for Eid. His father had told him to stay away from the ruins of his home because it was a very dangerous place to go, but Mohammed could not bear the thought of his best clothes being beyond his reach for an Eid celebration. Resentfully he found them, put them on and returned in angry silence to his family.
Mohammad knew the PTC-Gaza team of Friday of Joy before the war. He used to join in the activities, but after the war, the team noticed his deep sadness and the way he kept himself silent and remote from other people. It was as if he did not care about anything. He refused to get involved again with the Friday of Joy activities. He said, “I do not want to play. I only want to stay alone”.
The team tried to encourage him several times in various ways until he reluctantly agreed to help the team in setting up Friday of Joy. The team gave him tasks which made him responsible for the preparation of activities for other children. This gave him a role on the same level as the adult organisers, blowing up the balloons and preparing the painting materials for other kids.
Gradually, Mohammad started to convert some of his anger and revenge into the motivation to help other kids who had lost their homes and many of their family members. Through his organisational involvement in these activities with Friday of Joy, he became less violent and more caring towards other children in his camp and school.
Mohammad now likes the idea of fighting the enemy through becoming well-educated, mature and helpful to his family and society. In order to encourage this development, Mohammad’s family received some guidance and psycho-education in how to deal with his mood swings and encourage his new path to recovery.