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Op-Ed: Increasing Trauma in Sderot

A continuing, yet unrecognized, ordeal.
Published: Sunday, November 30, 2008 10:12 PM


In a recent study conducted by NATAL (Israel Trauma Center for Victims of Terror and War), researchers discovered that close to 56 percent of Sderot residents have suffered in some way from Palestinian rocket attacks. According to the report, presented by Natal Community Staff Director Dr. Roni Berger in Beersheva on November
One third of Sderot children, ages 13 to 18, have trauma-related learning disorders.
24, nearly half of Sderot's population has been either physically or emotionally harmed by Palestinian rocket fire.

Over 4, 000 Sderot residents are suffering from symptoms of post-traumatic-stress disorder (PTSD), while one third of Sderot children, ages 13 to 18, have trauma-related learning disorders.

PTSD is a severe and ongoing reaction to a terrifying ordeal that involved physical harm or the threat of physical harm to the person, according to the National Institute for Mental Health. People who develop PTSD may have witnessed a loved one who was harmed in a traumatic event or were victims themselves.

Symptoms of PTSD usually begin three months after the ordeal, but can also emerge years afterward. Some people can recover within six months, while others have symptoms that last for much longer. For some people, the condition becomes chronic.

"The initial symptoms of shock include an accelerated heart rate, dry mouth, limbs 'falling asleep,' a sense of fainting, or seeming [to be] paralyzed or emotionally detached," says Gabi Schreiber, Chief of Psychiatry at Ashkelon's Barzilai Hospital.

Dr. Adrianne Katz, head of the Sderot Mental Health Center says, that the shock impacts the victim's ability to function for months after experiencing a Palestinian rocket explosion. "Many rocket terror victims suffer from depression, sleepless nights, severe anxiety and have trouble going back to a regular routine," she says.

The NATAL study showed that almost 50 percent of Sderot residents know someone who has been killed in a Palestinian rocket attack, while 65 percent personally know someone wounded in an attack. Over 90 percent of Sderot residents have experienced a Palestinian Kassam explosion at some point - whether it be in a neighborhood, home, school, business or other residential setting.

Dr. Mina Zemach and the Dahaf Polling Institute conducted the research in order to compare Sderot to other communities outside of Palestinian missile range. Sderot residents made up the test group, while residents of Ofakim, a town of similar socioeconomic makeup to Sderot but not under rocket attack, served as the control group.

The study revealed that three times as many Sderot residents had gone to a spiritual counselor (such as a rabbi) or a family doctor than had Ofakim residents.

Dr. Roni Berger explained that there were several reasons why Sderot residents suffered from higher degrees of trauma than residents of other Israeli communities within rocket range: "The fortifications in Sderot are poorer, and the population is weaker as well. The social unity is smaller. It's a population who felt, and still feels, abandoned."

In addition, 45 percent of the Kassam rockets fired from the Gaza Strip target Sderot, according to IDF
65 percent personally know someone wounded in an attack.
intelligence.

Although adults in Sderot showed significantly higher levels of trauma and stress in the study than adults living in other Gaza-vicinity communities, children of Gaza-vicinity communities did not fair so differently from Sderot children. Close to 75 percent of children aged 12-14 living in Gaza-vicinity communities suffer from symptoms of PTSD, compared to 86.6 percent of Sderot children.

"Only a minority of those suffering from PTSD actually seek help," Dr. Roni Berger told Sderot Media Center. NATAL, a non-government organization seeks to reach out to those Sderot residents who otherwise would not receive help. "NATAL's staff has been going door to door for the past two years in our mobile units, visiting Sderot families and offering them social support," says Dr. Berger. "We teach these families how to cope with the stress and panic that result with each rocket attack.

"In a way, this is much more effective then simply providing residents with a psychological diagnosis," adds Dr. Berger. "NATAL health professionals give Sderot residents the skills to relax. One of the most important things is for the residents to learn to talk about their experiences [with rocket attacks].

"Unfortunately those residents who don't know how to cope, become worse," says Dr. Berger. "Those who do cope 'well' are also not immune to trauma symptoms. They also pay some sort of psychological price for living under Palestinian rockets and it may manifest itself in strained family relationships or tension at work."

The constant downplay of the psychological impact of Palestinian rocket fire in the international and Israeli media has unfortunately shifted important focus from the reality on the ground - Sderot residents are gradually becoming psychologically crippled by the constant trauma of Palestinian rocket attacks. There has been no post-trauma yet for Sderot victims, because there has not been a real calm that would allow Sderot children to rest and recover. With each rocket that is fired, another Sderot resident is sent into shock or panic - in a continuing ordeal that remains unknown to Israelis and to the international community.