(Proceedings of the conference on “Children and the Mediterranean: Health, Culture and Urban Settings,” held on January 7-9, 2004 in Genoa, Italy)
This paper describes how the arts can be employed to prepare the children of the Mediterranean region for a peaceful and creative future, and how the International Child Art Foundation (ICAF) is advancing this objective.
Consider one of the worst cases in the Mediterranean: Almost 50 percent of Israeli children caught in terror attacks suffer from symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), according to a study by Dr. Esti Galili-Weisstub, head of child psychology at Hadassah Hospital in Jerusalem where 280 children were treated after the 24 Jerusalem bombings in over three years of the Intifada. “I think there needs to be a far greater pressure put on the leaders not to assume that the children will cope,” said Dr. Galili-Weisstub. The Israeli findings were echoed in a similar comprehensive study carried out by Dr. Iyaad al-Saraj at the Gaza Mental Health Center, which found that among the 944 Palestinian youth between the ages of 10 and 19, the fondest desire of 25 percent is to die a martyr. Nearly 97.5 percent of the children in the study suffered from PTSD, 94.6 percent had attended a funeral, 83.2 percent had witnessed shooting accidents, 61.6 percent saw a relative killed or wounded, and 36.1 percent had been injured by tear gas. In an interview Dr. al-Saraj noted that the phenomenon of children unable to smile was rife, and that 13 percent of Palestinian children under the age of 15 are bed-wetters.1
Children are not only the prime victims, they are also the only hope. Linking peace with children, Mahatma Gandhi counseled: “If we are to teach real peace in this world, and if we are to carry on a real war against war, we shall have to begin with the children.”