In a recent study conducted by NATAL (Israel Trauma Center for Victims of Terror and War), researchers discovered that close to 56% 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 24, nearly half of Sderot’s population has been either physically or emotionally damaged 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 6 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, seeming paralyzed or even 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 the 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% of Sderot residents know someone who has been killed in a Palestinian rocket attack, while 65% personally know someone wounded in an attack. Over 90% of Sderot residents have experienced a Palestinian Qassam 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 socio-economic 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), and a family doctor than did Ofakim residents.
Dr. Roni Berger explained that there were several reasons why Sderot residents suffered from higher degrees of trauma than residents 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% of the Qassam rockets fired from the Gaza Strip target Sderot according to IDF 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% of children living in Gaza vicinity communities, ages 12-14 suffer from symptoms of PTSD compared to 86.6% 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 those Sderot residents who otherwise would 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 after eight years of Qassam fire are gradually becoming psychologically crippled by the constant trauma of Palestinan rocket attacks. One of the most ironic phenomenas is that the concept, post trauma is not even relevant to Sderot residents. The constant renewal of rocket attacks has not allowed Sderot children and families to recover from past Qassam barrages. This constant state panic and stress that plagues Sderot residents is a continuing ordeal that remains theirs alone.