By Abigail Hauslohner
The Washington Post
GAZA CITY — Fatima still dreams about Ahmed. Sometimes, they're playing with toys as they used to do. But in other dreams, she's looking over the edge of the balcony at her brother's smashed and bloodied body, her father screaming through his tears.
Ahmed was 7 when he was killed by an Israeli airstrike during the 2008 Israeli invasion of Gaza. Fatima was 8 years old at the time — but "old enough to remember," said her father, Osama Mohamed Qurtan.
Four years later, Fatima has been through therapy. She has taken what her father calls "strong" medications to manage the flashbacks. The new apartment is darker and more cramped than the old one, but the Qurtans needed to get away from the scene of the trauma, the doctors said.
Fatima's listlessness and aggression had started to improve, Qurtan said — until war struck again in November.
This time, the explosions felt just as personal as they did the last, the possibility of death just as likely. When Israeli airstrikes rattled the buildings for a week during the Jewish state's latest confrontation with Hamas, the eight surviving Qurtan children hid in the stairwell, as Gaza schools have taught children to do.
Gazans often talk about the inescapability of war and the symptoms of their suffering. They cast Gaza as a prison — one physical and psychological, where Israeli bombardment comes every so often, and there is little to do but bear it.
There are few places in the Arab world where psychology and trauma are as openly discussed as they are in Gaza. But health professionals here argue that there are few places in the region that contain a population so traumatized, a youth so obsessed with conflict.
Every day on his return home from school, Ahmed Qurtan's cousin and best friend Zohair sees a banner bearing a portrait of himself, bloodied and bandaged. Hanging next to it, on a wall in the entryway to the family's building, is a similar portrait of Ahmed in his funeral shroud. Zohair used to be much smarter and more active before suffering a head injury in the same airstrike, said his father, Alaa Mohamed Qurtan.
"He's not normal now," the man said.
Psychologists say that few in Gaza would qualify as "normal." The cramped territory has operated under an Israeli-enforced blockade that has limited the flow of goods and people since the militant group Hamas won an election in 2006. The enclave's 1.7 million people, half of whom are under the age of 18, have endured two wars in the span of four years. Nearly everyone in Gaza knows someone who has died a violent death.
No one in Gaza wants a return to occupation. But the absence of interaction between Gazans and Israelis has left the younger generation with a different perspective.
Issam Younis, director of the Al-Mezan Center for Human Rights in Gaza City, says he and his peers still have some Israeli friends. "We still speak Hebrew," he said.
"But those young guys, they're a little bit different from their parents. And the Israelis created them that way," Younis said. "Those guys — the people under 20 — their only engagement with the Israelis is through the Apache and the F-16."
Fatah rally in Gaza looks toward unity with Hamas
GAZA CITY, gaza strip — Tens of thousands of Fatah supporters rallied in the Hamas stronghold of Gaza on Friday for the first time since they were routed from power in the territory by the Islamist militants in 2007.
The rally, approved by Gaza's Hamas rulers, marks a renewed attempt by the rival Palestinian factions to show unity after a fierce Hamas battle with Israel in November and Fatah's subsequent recognition bid at the United Nations.
But many obstacles remain before the sides can settle their differences. Several rounds of reconciliation talks over recent years centered on finding ways to share power haven't yielded results.
Still, both sides expressed optimism after Friday's unprecedented Fatah show of strength that included hours of waving their yellow flags, dancing in the streets and chanting party slogans. For years, Fatah loyalists in Gaza faced retribution from the Hamas regime, which banned them from gathering.
"We feel like birds freed from our cage today," said Fadwa Taleb, 46, who worked as a police officer for Fatah before the Hamas takeover and attended Friday's rally with her family. "We are happy and feel powerful again."
Top Fatah officials arrived in Gaza for the first time since they were violently ousted. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who rules the West Bank, did not attend the event, but he addressed the crowd on a large screen, telling them, "There is no substitute for national unity."
Ihab al-Ghussian, the chief spokesman for the Hamas government in Gaza, said the sides would "work toward the consolidation of national unity." Egyptian officials say a first such meeting in months between the factions is scheduled for next week in Cairo. The Associated Press