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September 10, 2015 6:21 am

Approaching Rosh Hashanah, Israelis Near Gaza Border Still Traumatized by Last Summer’s War

avatar by Michael Bachner / Tazpit News Agency

An Iron Dome battery intercepting rockets from Gaza. Photo: Wikipedia.

An Iron Dome battery intercepting rockets from Gaza. Photo: Nehemia Gershuni-Aylho CC-BY-SA-3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

One year after the end of Operation Protective Edge, Israeli communities near the Gaza Strip are still reeling from the rocket fire and the terrible impact of the Gaza war. Children and adults in the area still face attack — and are uncertain and nervous about their future.

“I live in Kibbutz Alumim, the closest community in the region to the Gaza border,” Rafi Babayan, head of security for the Sdot Negev Regional Council, told Tazpit. “My community ‘had the honor’ of receiving more red alerts than any other community in Israel during the operation. Those were tough days.”

Babayan added, “During the war, [more than] 90% of the population remained in shelters all the time. Our informal education system held activities for children in reinforced structures, so they wouldn’t wander around outdoors. We also took thousands of kids to see shows beyond the danger zone.”

During the 50-day operation, 4,564 rockets and mortars were fired at Israel by armed groups in Gaza, killing six civilians and wounding 261. Many of the rockets were fired at major cities.

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“Hamas tries to terrorize people, and they understand that firing at big cities causes more fear in the country,” said Yair Abelson, a father-of-three from Beersheva, the biggest city in southern Israel. “Every missile landing close to us shook the house and startled my kids. They are between the ages of 6 and 11, and trying to explain to them why we’re getting shot at is not easy.While in the shelte r, we tried to make a game out of guessing if the explosion was a rocket hitting the ground or an Iron Dome interception. The Iron Dome system did a terrific job and reduced the fear in adults and children alike.”

However, hundreds of thousands of Israelis live in constant fear — many of them remaining traumatized to this day, a full year after the operation ended.

“Every time we see on the news that a rocket was fired at Israel, my 11-year-old daughter stops whatever she’s doing and rushes to her room. That’s PTSD [post traumatic stress disorder] for you,” said Abelson. “After Operation Cast Lead in 2008, it took her over a year until she managed to sleep an entire night in her own bed. Any sound resembling a siren caused her to run to the shelter.”

Babayan added, “Our welfare department has been going house-to-house treating residents, mainly children, who still suffer from trauma symptoms caused by the operation. We once had a practice alarm, and even teenagers got very stressed and anxious, despite being told it wasn’t a real alarm.”

As for the future, it is surrounded by a cloud of uncertainty. Nobody knows when the next outburst of violence will be, after three armed conflicts in just five years.

“When the operation ended, we told the kids that we won and that the bad people won’t fire at us again,” said Abelson. “This worked for my youngest son, who was five at the time, but my older daughters get the drift of things and this explanation isn’t enough for them.”

“I’m trying to be optimistic, but I’m also realistic,” he said. “It’s just a matter of time until we have another operation; history has taught us that we have to be ready. We still have spare mattresses and supplies in the shelter.”

Babayan concluded: “The challenges we’re facing aren’t simple, and we’re preparing for the future, both physically and mentally. We are ready for any escalation, but in the meantime we’re focusing on resuming normal life.”

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