The emotional consequences of living under terrorist rocket fire, especially for children, is a major concern of the Israel Trauma Coalition.
Roni Lior, the Coalition’s project coordinator for Sderot and the Gaza region, points out that Gaza border communities have suffered 14 years of constant exposure to Qassams and other deadly rockets.
“In these communities, every child under the age of 14 has spent all of his life like this,” she says. “The effects vary, from avoidance of specific activities — like refusing to walk to school along a route where a rocket once fell — to intrusive thoughts where you feel like you’re re-experiencing the
traumatic event; and hyper-vigilance, where everything makes you jump.”
She notes that before a Code Red alarm there is a sound like a microphone being turned on. “If you walk around big malls, you’ll see people getting agitated by the PA system because it sounds exactly like the beginning of a Code Red.”
Usually, trauma is treated in a safe place when the ordeal is over. That is not the case in Sderot and surrounding towns.
“Here, you cannot tell the person ‘You’re safe and the trauma is not going to reoccur.’ On the contrary, you know it will happen again,” says Lior. “The person is not really safe, and we have to address this by giving them very useful, practical tools to cope with the current situation on their own.”
She emphasizes, however, that Sderot and other Gaza border towns are extraordinarily resilient. “This is a very strong community and they support each other. The first thing that happens when the siren sounds is you open your front door in case somebody walking by needs a safe room. Only then do you go to a shelter.”
The organization has resilience centers in the south where people can come for help with anxiety, and recently opened additional stress treatment sites. Hundreds have been treated one-on-one and in group settings since the beginning of the current conflict. Just in Sderot, on a single Thursday there were 12 emotional support groups running for parents, children, teachers and the elderly.