IN 30 years' time, I predict a shortage of peacemakers in Gaza -
and here is the reason why.
Israel insists that it does not target civilians, and maybe this
is so; Hamas denies using civilians as human shields, which
possibly is true. But none of these assurances reassures anyone on
the Gaza Strip - an overcrowded slice of land of nearly two million
souls, where the children have nowhere to hide.
The UN reported recently that a child was dying in Gaza every
hour. This statistic of death is shocking; but, in time, those
children left alive may prove more so. Uniquely among mammals, the
human brain forms in successive interactions with the environment
around it. So how will these young brains be handling life in 30
Whether we are born in Grantham or Gaza, our early experiences
are the bones of our emotional life. They are the times that the
neuroscientist Doug Watt refers to as "unrememberable but
unforgettable". We cannot consciously remember any of these things,
and yet they are held in our bodies, which will react in their own
way down the years.
In Gaza, there is no safe place for the child; and the fear
experienced will be extreme. The child's brain will respond to
these feelings of powerlessness by flooding the body with the
"biochemical of fear", cortisol. This will focus on the immediate
stress, while putting other bodily systems on hold until the danger
is dealt with.
Where there is a care-giver to calm the child's fear, the
cortisol levels will be reduced. But war often denies this
possibility by murdering the care-giver. Probably the most
stressful experience for a baby or toddler is to be separated from
this figure; and if bomb or bullet removes him or her, the child,
already in fear, is dropped into a deeper hell, with lasting
As the psychotherapist Sue Gerhardt reminds us, the Romanian
orphans who had virtually no mothering have brains much less able
to cope with stress. They had no one to help them regulate their
feelings when small; so, in adult life, they will find it hard to
resolve difficult feelings by talking. They will either withdraw or
fight. For this reason, every war kills its own peace process,
creating a generation ill-equipped for negotiation.
In a study of 41 murderers' brains, compared with 41 "controls"
of similar age and sex, all the murderers were found to have
dysfunctional pre-frontal cortexes. The parts of the brain normally
used for social responses, empathy, and self-control were invisibly
handicapped by experiences from their early years. They therefore
had to rely on more primitive responses to get what they
So we won't expect many young survivors in Gaza to become