For the past six months, I have been travelling, photographing people and recording stories for Legacy of War, an ongoing project documenting the long-term impact of conflict on communities and individuals around the world. Lebanon, Jordan, Northern Ireland, the United States, Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos and Gaza are just some of the places I’ve visited, with many more to come.
My work is not focused on the histories of war, the facts and figures; the political rhetoric and diatribes that fuel them; the divides, fears or greed that start them. Those are important to understand the causes, but my interests lie in the consequences and legacies. The commonalities that often scar those who have lived through conflict. There are few places that have seen more conflict in recent years than Gaza and the resulting psychological impact on the civilian population, especially on the young, has been well recorded. Less well covered, though, are the effects on the estimated 3,000 children with autism living in the region. There are also many others with learning disabilities and mental health issues. The war and ongoing embargo have affected support networks of schools and outreach programmes for these children. This has put extra strain not just on those living with disabilities, but also on their families.
I had worked for five years as a carer for children with autism and so I’ve been particularly interested in seeing how those who see the world differently cope with the incredible challenges of living in a war zone. The collapse of routine, loss of familiar settings and the death of loved ones sadly cause many children to suffer from mental health issues; for those with already heightened sensitivities, the effects can be far more acute.
Some have been shaped by the conflict in Gaza before they were even born. On 21 November 2006, as Asma and her family sheltered together in a downstairs room of their house, they listened to the familiar sounds of fighting around them. The family lived near Beit Lahia, a small town in Gaza, just a few miles from the Israeli border; a proximity that meant their home was always in the front line when war broke out. That summer, their house had been in the middle of some of the fiercest fighting between the Israel Defence Forces and Hamas. Now, after a period of relative calm, Israeli troops had once more crossed the border and fighting had resumed. The day before, the IDF entered Asma’s home, occupying it and forcing the family into a single room. Israeli snipers had taken up positions on the roof, meaning Hamas was now targeting them with rocket-propelled grenades.
Written by Giles Duley