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Jewish Journal

One million Israelis under rocket fire

Mental health professionals cite cumulative trauma

by Linda Gradstein, The Media Line

November 13, 2012 | 9:36 am

A damaged home in Sderot on Nov. 12. Photo by Amir Cohen/Reuters

A damaged home in Sderot on Nov. 12. Photo by Amir Cohen/Reuters

Adele Raimer lives on Kibbutz Nirim less than a mile from the Gaza Strip. She’s a high school English teacher, a teacher trainer, a volunteer medical clown and the mother of four children aged 22 – 32. She’s spent much of the past four days running to safe rooms and shelters in her home and school.

“They say you have 15 seconds to get to the safe room, but we’re so close to Gaza that we really have less than that,” she told The Media Line. “I do a lot of work at home, and I sometimes feel like a “Jack-in-the-box,” hopping up and down and running back and forth to the reinforced room. It makes it hard to concentrate.”

In the latest wave of violence, 115 rockets and mortars have been fired from Gaza into southern Israel. Israeli army figures say eight Israelis were slightly wounded from rocket fire, and property in several towns was damaged. At least six Palestinians have been killed and dozens wounded in Israeli airstrikes on Gaza.

But there are fewer statistics on psychological trauma. The Eran Association for Emotional First Aid reports a 22-percent increase in the number of Israelis living in the south who have contacted the organization for psychological help over the past few days.

Dr. Adriana Katz, director of the Sderot Regional Mental Health Center, says her center treats some 3,000 patients suffering from trauma from the rocket attacks.

“Every time the rockets start again, the trauma comes back,” she told The Media Line. “As a mental health professional it’s very frustrating. We can work with people and think we’re making progress, and then any gains we have are wiped out every time the siren sounds.”

She says even professionals, herself included, are affected by the rockets.

“I live in Ashkelon, and every time I drive here [about a half-hour drive] I have to deal with the bombs – day and night,” she said. “Every single person who lives here has been affected.”

Raimer agrees. She says that every time her two dogs hear the siren announcing an incoming rocket, they start to shake. She says her family has also been affected.

“Everyone who lives here has been affected in some way,” she says. “One of my kids is in therapy because it’s just too much for one person to handle. Every time the siren goes off, it’s like I go into “fight or flight” mode. I don’t have time to think. I just grab the dogs and run to the reinforced room.”

Things were even worse, she says, before the reinforced rooms were built two years ago. Now at least she has a place to run to.

The rockets have also affected her daily life. She says she had to go to Tel Aviv for work this week, and had planned to put in a stint as a medical clown at a hospital there. But that would have meant coming home after dark, so she skipped the clowning and came home early. As she was walking her dogs, she saw the Iron Dome anti-missile system firing to bring down a nearby rocket. “It’s like fireworks, but it’s real,” she said.

Dr. Katz says that children are especially vulnerable to psychological damage. A recent study found that 75 percent of children who lived in areas under rocket fire showed symptoms of post-traumatic stress.

“There are a lot of children wetting their beds even at an advanced age and sleeping in their parents’ beds,” she said. “And if a parent suffers from anxiety, so will the children.”

Neither of these women sees any end in sight to the rocket fire. It comes in waves, they say. For a few months there will be quiet, with only occasional rocket fire. Then, suddenly, like this week, they find themselves under a heavy barrage.

“We now have a generation of Qassam children – they have grown up with this and they live with this,” Dr. Katz said, referring to the type of rocket most frequently fired from Gaza. “Even if the rocket fire ended today, the effects won’t go away for a very long time.”

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