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Forty Percent of Sderot Children Suffer from PTSD

July 13, 2015

“You whom I have taken from the ends of the earth, And called from its remotest parts and said to you, ‘You are My servant, I have chosen you and not rejected you.’  Do not fear, for I am with you;  Do not anxiously look about you, for I am your God.  I will strengthen you, surely I will help you, surely I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.”  (Isaiah 41:9–10)

It is now a year after last summer’s war, and Israeli communities are bouncing back while most of Gaza still lies in ruin regardless of how much money is pumped into it. Even so, some Israelis suffer from the invisible scars of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

The Israeli city of Sderot, located along the border with the Gaza Strip, received a constant barrage of rockets from terrorist groups in Gaza last year, and still children and adults occasionally have to run for the bomb shelter as sporadic bombing and shelling continue. 

Two Sderot policemen put a Kassam rocket inside a bag, moments after landing and moments before moving it to the Kassam museum.

Two Sderot police men put a Kassam rocket inside a bag, moments after landing and moments before moving it to the Kassam museum.

A siren called Condition Red warns residents of incoming missiles after which they have less than a minute to find shelter.  Many of the rockets are intercepted by the lifesaving Iron Dome anti-rocket system, but some still get through, causing excessive damage and sometimes death.

This has resulted in the children of the community of Sderot and surrounding communities suffering post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) at a rate three to four times that of children from the rest of the country.

While the rate of PTSD among children in Sderot stands at 40%, the rate for the rest of the country’s children is much lower.  Even during times of war the rate of PTSD affecting children nationwide is between 7 and 10% says Professor Ruth Pat-Horenczyk, director of the child and adolescent clinical services unit at the Israel Center for the Treatment of Psychotrauma, at Jerusalem’s Herzog Memorial Hospital.  (JPost)

Hamas_Rocket attack_Kassam_Quassam rocket_9-years-old_Osher_Twito_Sderot_Israel

Israeli Osher Twito, 9, copes with the loss of his leg after a Palestinian Qassam rocket exploded next to him in the city of Sderot.

The professor said that diagnosing PTSD in children is difficult.

“Children don’t always say things verbally.  They don’t always speak about their fears directly.  They show it through behavior and their developmental progress,” Pat-Horenczyk said.

“What’s important, first and foremost, is to notice if there is a change in the child’s behavior,” she explained.

Pat-Horenczyk describes regressive behavior as a first sign of stress, with children reverting to the behavior of a younger child.  Examples are toilet-trained children having accidents, reverting to use of a bottle or diaper, or beginning to speak like a baby again.

There can also be manifestation of fears that didn’t exist before, separation anxiety that didn’t occur before, difficulty sleeping, and anger issues.

A similar study recently released by the University of Haifa together with Israel’s Trauma Center for Victims of Terror and War (NATAL) revealed that 14% of those over the age of 18 living in communities in the vicinity of the Gaza Strip demonstrate signs of PTSD.

Monitoring of reactions to the stress caused by rocket attacks began during the Protective Edge war and continued for four months following the conflict.

As many as 40% of those participating in the study at some point demonstrated symptoms of PTSD for at least a few hours during the war.  This alone does not predict PTSD following the conflict but does indicate an increased risk of experiencing such symptoms following the war.

Sderot mother

An injured Sderot mother comforts her daughter after a Gazan rocket attack.

Two months following the war, the study examined those who had formerly experienced such symptoms and discovered that 45.7% of this group continued to experience symptoms related to PTSD or depression.  Four months following the war the figure has dropped to 35%, which represents about 19% of the total population.

“PTSD begins with minor symptoms, such as irritability, depression, negative thoughts and feelings, and more. We discovered that people who experienced these symptoms of the disorder for at least one day during the war, will be at increased risk of developing the disorder later on,” explained Professor Mark Gilkoff, director of the Research Unit in NATAL.  (jupdates)

Hagar Weiner, who directs the nursery and kindergarten at kibbutz Yad Mordechai which is near the Gaza border, explains that the children reflect the attitude of their parents.  

“If their parents are terrified, they are terrified.  If they are relaxed, they are relaxed,” Weiner said.  

She speaks from within the giant blast walls that have been built to protect her facility, a sight that has become common within communities along the border.  Shelters and blast walls have become a part of life for Israelis living near the Gaza Strip.  (Yahoo)

Hamas rockets-Sderot

A husband and wife stand amidst the shambles of their rocket-ruined home in Sderot.

War is a constant threat to these communities.   “We know that the next one will begin where the last one finished,” says 34-year-old Jehan Berman, who was wounded by mortar fire while celebrating his three-year-old son’s birthday at a kibbutz near the Gaza border during the war last year.  You never get used to it, he said.

Residents are confronted with a complete array of weapons, some as sophisticated as the Syrian built M-302s with a range of up to 100 miles (which could reach both Jerusalem and Tel Aviv) and the more common Qassams.  These are accompanied by basic mortar shells that send deadly pieces of shrapnel in a myriad of directions.

Shelters can be found everywhere.  The local farms have built small concrete shelters for workers painted with cows and pasture.  A soccer field near the border has a shelter with two players painted on the side along with the word “gooooaaal!”

A year following last summer’s war, the Israeli communities are bouncing back while most of Gaza still lies in ruin regardless of how much money is pumped into it.

Gadi Yarkoni was fixing electric lines near a cowshed with two of his friends in a kibbutz on the last day of the conflict when they were hit by mortar shells killing his friends and taking the legs from the 47-year-old father of three.  

Now, a year later, thanks to prosthetics, Yarkoni is walking again and has been elected the head of the Eshkol Regional council (a committee governing land north of Sderot between Ashkelon and Beersheba and bordered by Gaza) where he is helping to rebuild the hardest hit region of last year’s war.  (Yahoo)

Sderot rockes-Catherine Ashon

Catherine Ashton visits Sderot while serving as the EU’s High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy.

“We are wounded, we are damaged, but we only have two choices: either to fall back or to run forward,” Yarkoni said last Wednesday from his office near the Gaza border.  “I always look at the half glass [as half] full and maybe that is how I overcome my obstacles in life.”  (AP)

The Eshkol Council got the worst of last year’s conflict absorbing about a fifth of all rockets fired against Israel.  Of its 14,000 residents, over 2,000 are still receiving psychological treatment.  

These communities are also under a threat posed by the terrorist tunnels that are constantly popping up from under the border close to their homes with many claiming to hear digging sounds under the ground.

Last year the children were robbed of their summer vacation because of the conflict.  This year, explosions have been heard from across the border in the Sinai Peninsula where fighting rages between the Islamic State militants and Egyptian military forces.

“For some people, the war is not yet over,” says the head of the Eshkol Trauma Center, Merav Ben-Nissim.  “Before the war, kids would go sleep with their parents because they were afraid of rockets.  Now the parents want the kids to sleep with them because they are afraid of terrorists coming out of tunnels.”

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