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 percent of all Sderot children suffer from at least one symptom of post-traumatic stress, and that 50 percent 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.
Photo Credit: Tazpit News Agency / Description: Fifteen-year-old Odaya of Sderot after rocket attack on her neighbor's home, Sunday, November 18.
"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 tries to 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.
Photo: Noam Bedein, Sderot Media Center / Description: Ashkelon residents spend nights in bomb shelters.
With school cancelled due to the security situation, approximately 30,000 children in Ashkelon have little to occupy themselves with except to wait out the rocket strikes from Hamas, Islamic Jihad and other terror groups in Gaza. "Our family wants to move to Petach Tikvah until the rocket attacks are over," said Eden. "We have family there and it would be safer."
Photo: Tazpit News Agency / Description: Ethiopian children spend their fifth day in Ashkelon bomb shelter, Sunday, November 18.
For many Ashkelon children, the Iron Dome, which intercepts long-distance rockets with much more precision than short-distance rockets (like those fired at Sderot) has instilled a sense of security.
According to Dr. Asher Solomon, the Deputy Director of Ashkelon's Barzilai Medical Center, more than 70 percent of Ashkelon's kids will not be psychologically affected for the long-term because of the rocket attacks. However, according to Solomon in an interview on Jewish News One, 30 percent of Ashkelon children will show signs of PTSD.
Even for children and teenagers who haven't experienced a rocket attack in cities like Jerusalem, the experience of a rocket siren can be frightening. Four rockets have been fired towards the capital of Israel in the past five days, and all have landed south outside of the city.
Yaarit, a ninth grader in a Jerusalem school, told Tazpit News Agency that the siren alert on Friday evening, November 16, caught her and her mother as they were driving. "It was scary, because we didn't know what to do," she said. Other students described hearing the sirens blaring across Jerusalem, as stressful, and for others still, exciting.
But for six-and-half-year-old Dvir in southern Israel, the rockets spawn one main terror. According to his mom, Dvir recently told her that he fears he will never grow old.