Southern Israel residents increasingly traumatized by Gaza rockets, group says
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Southern Israel residents increasingly traumatized by Gaza rockets, group says

Report cites 40% surge in calls to trauma helpline, with over 1,000 calls just during last week’s 2-day flareup

An Israeli child on May 6, 2019, looks at shattered glass at the entrance to a building damaged by a rocket strike from the Gaza Strip, in the southern Israeli city of Ashdod. (Jack Guez/AFP)
An Israeli child on May 6, 2019, looks at shattered glass at the entrance to a building damaged by a rocket strike from the Gaza Strip, in the southern Israeli city of Ashdod. (Jack Guez/AFP)

A new report has found that Israelis are increasingly suffering from symptoms of traumatic stress, particularly in the south, which is frequently targeted with rockets by Palestinian terrorists.

According to NATAL — Israel Trauma and Resiliency Center, which released the details Sunday, Israelis made more than 4,000 calls to its helpline during 2018, a 25 percent increase from the previous year. In addition, the helpline received more than 1,000 calls during this month’s two-day flareup in Gaza, in which almost 700 rockets were launched at Israeli cities and communities.

The findings, which were reported in the Yedioth Ahronoth daily on Sunday, described a gradual increase since the 2014 Gaza war in the number of residents of Gaza-adjacent communities seeking help for themselves or their children — from 780 in 2017 to 1,300 in 2018. Kids and teenagers from those areas account for roughly a quarter of all those seeking help.

A major factor in the increase, according to the report, has been the weekly March of Return protests and the often-violent Palestinian riots on the Israel-Gaza border, which began on March 30, 2018, and have at times seen the participation of tens of thousands of Palestinians.

Over 180 Palestinians have been killed in border violence, according to February figures from the UN Human Rights Council. Hamas has claimed dozens of the dead as members.

Women look at the damage caused by a rocket fired from Gaza that hit a house in a town in Israel near the border with Gaza, May 4, 2019. (AP/Tsafrir Abayov)

More than 1,000 rockets have been fired at Israeli communities over the past year — more than 20,000 have been launched since 2001 — and many incendiary balloons carrying arson devices have been launched into Israel and started fires that have destroyed large swaths of land.

The largest volume of calls to NATAL’s helpline were registered during occasional flareups marked by balloon and rocket launches, such as the lead-up to the March 30, 2018, mass riots and a June 5 incendiary balloon barrage that caused nine large brush fires in the south.

Civilians make up just 45% of those seeking help for trauma-related issues, according to data for 2018. Some 45% are discharged IDF soldiers between the ages of 21 and 34, and the remaining 10% are older army veterans suffering from PTSD.

Some 65% of the callers are residents of the south, far exceeding their proportion in Israel’s population. Twelve percent live in the north — which was also targeted with rocket by Lebanon’s Hezbollah terror group during the Second Lebanon War in 2006 — 10% in the Tel Aviv area, 8% in Jerusalem and 5% in the West Bank.

Israelis take cover in the southern Israeli town of Sderot on November 13, 2018, as rockets are fired from the Gaza Strip. (Jack Guez/AFP)

The report said that 27% of the callers sought help following a war or military operation, 24% due to their military service, 13% due to a flareup, and 9% following a terror attack.

NATAL said that 90% of the discharged soldiers it treats are not recognized by the Defense Ministry as suffering from PTSD or any other condition.

The NGO was founded in 1998 and says it has since treated more than 300,000 people in need of mental help.

“We need to bravely recognize and address the phenomenon whereby entire generations are living and growing up in the country under a continuous security threat,” said NATAL executive director Orly Gal. “The dramatic increase in the number of calls to our helpline reflects the mindset and mental state of Israel’s citizens.”

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