Children Psychologically Scarred by Israeli Palestinian War


War is hell, and not just for the adults who typically fight it. A recent study notes that Palestinian and Israeli children are being psychologically scarred by the violence that surrounds them. “Violence is a contagious disease just like smallpox and typhoid, and children are particularly susceptible to catching it,” warns the project’s principal investigator, psychologist Rowell Huesmann.

Reports by the Children of War

Huesmann, who is director of the Research Center for Group Dynamics at the University of Michigan Institute for Social Research (ISR), highlights the findings of the study, which was presented earlier in summer 2010 at the International Society for Research on Aggression. He notes that “Palestinian children in particular are seeing extraordinary amounts of very disturbing violence in their daily lives.”

Nearly half of Palestinian children ages 11 to 14 report having seen injured or dead Palestinians on stretchers or lying on the ground after an Israeli attack within the past year. A similar number have seen other Palestinians upset because someone they knew or loved had been killed by Israelis.

Israeli children are affected as well, although the percentages are somewhat lower. More than one-quarter of Israeli Jewish children ages 11 to 14 said they had seen other Israelis upset because someone they knew or loved had been killed by Palestinians, and nearly 10 percent said within the past year they had personally seen other injured or dead Israelis who were the victims of Palestinian attacks.


Huesmann calls the exposure to such violence and death “very deleterious,” and as a result, these children are experiencing great psychological damage, including post-traumatic stress disorder and increases in aggressive behavior inflicted on their peers.

Impact of Violence on Children
Huesmann reports on the results of the first year of the three-year study, which includes 1,500 children ages 8 to 14. Children who witnessed the most violence also had the highest levels of anxiety, fear, nightmares, and incapacitating thoughts. More than 70 percent of Israeli Arab children who observed war-related violence, for example, had frequent nightmares.

Of great significance is the finding that among both Israeli and Palestinian children, those who witnessed the most violence were significantly more likely to physically harm or threaten their peers, including the use of knives and guns. Among children who were exposed to the lowest levels of violence, 51 percent reported committing at least one violent against another child during the past year, while the number rose to 71 percent among those who saw the most violence.

ISR psychologist Eric Dubow, a co-principle investigator of the project, notes that the more children are exposed to violence, “the more anxiety they experience and the more aggressively they behave.” Huesmann says that while some of their results are not surprising, “it is not well known that exposure to war violence committed against your own group by another group increases your aggressive behavior toward members of your own group.”

Huesmann warns that the children who have been psychologically scarred by the violence they witness from the Israeli Palestinian war are “infected,” because “violence is a contagious disease.” He points out that “the scar tissue from these infections may never go away, but new infections among children could be reduced if the Israelis and Arabs could only settle their conflict.” Yet one more reason, and an excellent one, to find a peaceful solution to the conflict.

University of Michigan