By Maya Robin
Until a recent ceasefire, the past few weeks consisted of a constant fear of rockets for the Jewish and Arab residents of Israel and Gaza. The 2021 rockets were not a first, and many similar instances have contributed to the mental health vulnerability of all members of Israeli society. A 2008 study compares the mental impact of terrorism in the region. “After 19 months of terrorist attacks, Arabs and Jewish Israelis reacted roughly similarly to the situation; however, after 44 months of terror, posttraumatic symptom disorder in the Arab population increased three-fold, posttraumatic symptomatology doubled and resiliency has almost disappeared” [Dr. Gelkopf, University of Haifa].
Warfare and terrorism have had a grave effect on all demographics throughout the region; however, children seem to show the most prominent displays of PTSD and mental health vulnerabilities. Children living in Gaza, under Hamas rule, exhibit high levels of abnormal behavior. Whether it be rockets or simply due to life under a terrorist regime, the prevalence of violence presents a commonness of mental health difficulties among the children of Gaza; they have issues with nail biting, bullying, and a common phobia of attending school [Eastern Mediterranean Health Journal, Vol. 7, No. 3, 2001].
While PTSD among Palestinian children living in Gaza is more widespread, PTSD among Israeli children is often dependent upon their geographical location. A study conducted by Lavi & Solomon (Tel Aviv University) found that children living in the territories or areas bordering Gaza or the West Bank have a similar PTSD prevalence rate as the Palestinian children living in the war zones. However, Israeli children living in areas with less conflict display much lower rates of prevalence.
Furthermore, the heated political climate in the area also contributes to the degree of resilience and coping mechanisms of those exposed to violence. In Gaza, there is a less stable governing body and, therefore, a less centralized approach to ending this mental health epidemic. The resources for psychiatric care favor heavy drug treatments rather than therapy, leaving the remainder of the mental health strategies in the hands of community centers, donors, and non-profit organizations [Washington Post, 2018].
To the contrary, in this heated time, Israel has issued state-wide guidelines on how to calm down after a rocket siren in order to take preventative measures against PTSD. Many different factors likely contribute to the contrasting rates of mental health problems, whether it be a genetic predisposition, the government’s strategic approaches, geographical location, or cultural resilience. Regardless of the causes, the epidemic of helplessness, anxiety, and fear is an on-going issue.
The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a multi-faceted, intense matter; however, the mental health epidemic in the region is not a socio-political, religious, or geographical issue. In these times, it is imperative to look at both Israelis and Palestinians as people who are so traumatized that mental health challenges are common.