Almost half of Sderot’s preteens suffer from signs of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), according to a study that was published this November in the Journal of Adolescent Health. Based on a questionnaire answered by 154 seventh and eighth grade students, it was found that 43.5 percent of the children demonstrated clinical signs of PTSD.
The survey, which was conducted in 2007-2008 during a time period when thousands of rockets had been fired towards Sderot, was directed by a team led by Dr. Rony Berger, a clinical psychologist at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev. Dr. Berger is also the community services director of NATAL, the Israel Trauma Center for Victims of Terror and War, which released a report in 2011 that 70% of all Sderot children suffer from at least one symptom of post-traumatic stress, and that 50% continue to relive rocket trauma.
Idan Bitton, a 25-year-old student at Sapir college, spoke with Tazpit News Agency this week, relating how life had changed for him when the rockets from Gaza began striking Sderot 10 years ago. “Suddenly, in the middle of class, we would hear a rocket explosion,” he explained. “There was no Code Red [rocket alarm system] then, so we had no idea when the rockets would land in our city.”
“I remember as a student in school, hearing an explosion, and then continuing on in class as if nothing happened. This was a mistake,” emphasized Bitton. “In a way, our passive reaction gave legitimacy that those rocket attacks against us were OK, even acceptable.” Bitton says that the rockets attack dramatically affected his friends. “Most of my friends from high school didn’t stay in Sderot or the south– they moved to Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. It was a kind of ‘flight’ reaction to the rockets,” he explains.
But Biton says that he learned in the army how to respond, and take on the ‘fight’ approach. “In the army when I trained to become an officer, I learned how to respond effectively in an emergency situation, and how to take on bad situations and turn them around.”
“It all begins with your attitude and approach,” he said.
But for Idan’s 12-year-old brother, the fear still remains. “My brother was born into the rockets, he doesn’t know anything else. He associates the color red with the rocket warning system.”
“Last week, when I brought my brother to school, he was trembling,” recalls Idan. “He was simply too scared to leave the car because of the rockets.”
“I feel lucky because I still got to enjoy my childhood until I was a teenager when the rocket strikes began—my brother never had one,” he said.
For 15-year-old Odaya of Sderot, the rocket attacks on her city hit very close to home, literally, this past Sunday, November 18, when Gaza rocket struck Odaya’s neighbor’s home. The soft-spoken teenager told Tazpit News Agency, that the rocket attack was “scary” and had left her in shock.
“I went into our family’s bomb shelter as soon as the Code Red siren went off,” she said. “And then as I was standing there, I heard the shriek of the rocket as it flew over our house, followed by a deafening explosion. I thought the rocket had fallen on our home.”
The rocket, which slammed into the roof of Odaya’s neighbors’ house, sent pieces of shrapnel and glass everywhere, reaching also Odaya’s home. The neighboring family was away at the time of the attack, but for Odaya, the experience was scarring.
Elsewhere in southern Israel, children continue to remain targets of Gaza rocket attacks.
In Ashkelon on Sunday, November 18, a group of Ethiopian children experienced a rocket attack on their apartment building, which left two residents wounded and a gaping hole in the ceiling and floor of two apartments.
“The roof exploded open,” six-year-old Eli triesto explain. “We all heard the rocket boom.” Eli and his teenage cousins, Eden and Stav, have been living in the public bomb shelter of their run-down apartment building for five days, since Wednesday, November 14. Beds, blankets, and canned foods pack their shelter. Their mothers’ faces are lined with worry.