Under fire again, South braces for more rockets

“Blood is easily photographed, but the soul cannot be captured by a camera lens," head of mental health clinic says.

gaza rocket 311 (photo credit: Eshkol Regional Council)
gaza rocket 311
(photo credit: Eshkol Regional Council)
On Tuesday evening, Michal Shaban-Kotzer, spokeswoman for the Sha’ar Hanegev Regional Council, sent a beeper message to journalists alerting them of yet another rocket fired from Gaza.
“A few minutes ago, a loud explosion was heard near a kibbutz in the council,” the message read. “The Color Red rocket siren failed to sound. No casualties or damages.”
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Since the end of Operation Cast Lead in January 2009, around 500 projectiles – rockets and mortar shells – have been fired by Palestinian terrorists from Gaza at civilian targets in southern Israel.
As Israel and the Palestinian Authority engage in direct negotiations, rocket launchers in the Hamas quasi-state have increased their attacks.
The vast majority fail to inflict casualties, and are therefore almost completely ignored by the international media.
Nevertheless, for many residents of Sderot and the farming communities of the Sha’ar Hanegev Regional Council, the Eshkol Regional Council, as well as in Ashkelon, the rockets are a terror that threaten their emotional well-being.
“Generally, the past year and a half has been relatively quiet,” Shaban-Kotzer told The Jerusalem Post. “There are always attacks, whether they come in the form of attempted infiltrations by gunmen, rocket fire, small arms fire – there is constant hostile activity.”
But compared to the era before Cast Lead, she added, things have improved – until the recent upsurge.
“Our population has grown – more than 105 families moved into our regional council since 2009. There are no more empty homes available for rent in the kibbutzim.
There are waiting lists. Our industrial zones are growing, and new factories are being added,” she said.
All of this progress is now under threat.
“The problem is that the antibiotic [Operation Cast Lead] has apparently passed its sell-by date. We’ve had 10 rockets since Rosh Hashana,” Shaban-Kotzer said.
Dr. Adriana Katz, who heads a Ministry of Health mental health clinic in Sderot, which has been showered with Kassam rockets for almost a decade, said the recent rise in attacks could undo years of work to rehabilitate the town’s 4,000 sufferers of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
It was easy for the media to ignore the tremendous amount of psychological damage suffered by residents from years of rocket attacks and shelling, she said.
“Blood is easily photographed, but the soul cannot be captured by a camera lens. Mental healing is a complex, long-term process which cannot be guaranteed. It’s difficult to describe the damage in words,” she said.
“The minute we bring a person back to a normative situation, as far as this is possible, something will occur to bring the person back to PTSD.
There are still people who are too frightened to leave their home, there are still youths who cannot leave their parents,” Katz added.
She recalled how a man selling watermelons wandered Sderot’s streets during the summer, shouting “red watermelons!” The man’s shouts reminded people of the Color Red rocket alert, triggering trauma and anxiety among some, and the municipality was asked by the clinic to get the man to stop shouting out during his rounds. “If it wasn’t so sad, it would be funny,” Katz said.
“Everything makes us jump. If we see our air force flying overhead, some people will become anxious. If our army shells in retaliation for the rockets, it also makes us jump.”
Katz’s clinic is desperately understaffed, with four fulltime employees and two parttime volunteers treating 6,500 people. Katz described the situation as “scandalous.”
David Mandel, a psychiatrist based in Jerusalem, arrives at the clinic in Sderot once a week to volunteer.
“What we are dealing with here is complex PTSD – a continuing trauma,” Mandel said.
“This is not like soldiers in war or victims of a terror attack, who deal with one incident. Here it’s ongoing. The stresser is not going away.”
He often hears patients say that their problems begin after they feel that “something gets inside of them.
They say, ‘Once it’s inside, it’s hard for me to get it out again.’” Unlike combat soldiers, who are prepared for entering a life-threatening situation, residents of Sderot are going about with their everyday routine when a rocket explodes near them.
“Here, they’re just living their lives when something comes along that can just take their life away. The sound of a Kassam exploding can shake you up, even if it doesn’t hurt anyone,” he said.
For children who grow up in Sderot, life under constant rocket threat is the only reality they know, he said. “I remember an elementary school teacher saying that she had taken kids on a bus trip to Tel Aviv. The first question they asked when they got off the bus was where the bomb shelters are. For them it’s such a basic assumption,” Mandel said.
Haim Yalin, head of the Eshkol Regional Council, said his main goal was to ensure that buildings in his jurisdiction receive rocket-proof reinforcement protection. He is preparing to petition the High Court of Justice along with other local authority heads to that end.
Yalin said that the Iron Dome anti-rocket shield, designed to shoot down Kassam rockets, can only effectively protect areas situated at least 7 kilometers from the Gaza Strip. While buildings situated up to 4.5 kilometers from the security fence have rocket-proof protection, structures located between 4.5 and seven kilometers from Gaza cannot benefit from the Iron Dome shield, and lack protective structures, leaving them exposed.
“We are facing a Hamas regime which does not recognize us and shells us indiscriminately. The question is, how do you maintain communities in this area?” Yalin asked.
“Communities here are strong. Residents are connected to their land.
“People don’t come to live here for cheap real estate. They come for the education and the warm community life. No one is alone here. We are close-knit communities of farmers. But we need government help,” he said.