In 2009, a seminar was held at Sapir College on the consequences of continuous exposure to the trauma of terrorism, among citizens in the settlements of Sderot and Gaza envelop. USA, the concerns are confirmed
The news was published on April 13, 20009 and has been updated somewhat now following the massacre in Otef, 7/10/2023
Researchers identify Israel as a natural laboratory for studying stress and its consequences in the context of war and terrorism. Exposure to acts of terrorism has been found to have severe consequences on mental health, by creating high levels of symptoms of distress and depression in the general population. Such exposure has also been found to be consistently associated with symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder. (PTSD) Post-traumatic syndrome or post-traumatic syndrome, is the same syndrome from which the person who was exposed to the life-threatening traumatic event suffers, and includes symptoms from three groups: Intrusiveness) symptoms that can include, among others: flashbacks of the traumatic event that appear in the person, who was exposed or injured, During the day and/or during the night, during normal dreams and/or during the day, and a feeling of distress as a result of exposure to events that remind of the traumatic event), avoidance) such as: refraining from participating in or performing any action that is related to or reminiscent of the traumatic event or another event similar to it , memory problems, attempts to suppress the traumatic event, a feeling of depression and detachment from society, indifference towards the environment, and difficulty in expressing emotions (and hyperarousal) such as: excessive irritability, low stimulation threshold, difficulty concentrating, insomnia, general anxiety, violent behavior towards the environment, etc. (.
The studies following the terrorist events of the Twin Towers on September 11, the terrorist attack in Madrid, and the incident in London, demonstrated that even people who were not exposed to the incident directly, but through the media, exhibit symptoms of various mental disorders including distress, stress and PTSD, but at a lower level than of those who were directly exposed to them.
At the same time, there are few studies that have investigated the issue of prolonged exposure to life-threatening terrorist events among the civilian population. Most of the research in the field has dealt with the consequences of terrorist events or other traumatic events, after they have ended. From this point of view, the events in Sderot and the surrounding Gaza settlements, which last for about 8 years, constitute a "rare and special" opportunity for research, in general, and psychological research in particular, in the field of prolonged exposure and examining its consequences, while it is happening. Recently, a large-scale research project led by Prof. Avi Baser from Sapir Academic College in collaboration with Prof. Beatrice Friel from Ben-Gurion University of the Negev and Prof. Yuval Neria from Columbia University in New York, USA, which dealt with the psychological consequences of continuous exposure to the trauma of terrorism, was completed Citizens in the settlements of Sderot and the Gaza Strip. In the series of studies, samples of citizens between the ages of 20-60, residents of Sderot and settlements surrounding Gaza within the range of the fall of the Qassams (kibbutzim and moshavim) who have lived in the settlement for at least the last 10 years, were compared with a sample of a comparison group from a remote area that was not previously exposed to terrorist incidents and is identical to the study group in all settlement characteristics (small town, kibbutzim and moshavim) and socio-demographers.
The findings of the series of studies show that the prolonged exposure of almost 8 years to life-threatening terrorist events has significant consequences for the mental health of the exposed residents. Among other things, it was found that compared to the indirect exposure group, residents of Sderot and the Gaza Strip reveal high and significant levels of all the symptoms of the post-traumatic syndrome (intrusiveness, avoidance, and hyperarousal) and that 27% of the sample of residents of Sderot and the Gaza Strip compared to only 3% of the comparison group sample reveal levels In addition, the studies demonstrate high and significant levels of mental distress among the study sample, which include high levels of general anxiety symptoms, general agitation, depression, hostility, anger, and various psychosomatic symptoms.
Examining the personal psychological factors involved in the development of these negative mental symptoms, reveals that personality factors related to the trait of dependency are a significant and decisive factor in explaining the vulnerability in the situation of exposure to continuous trauma in the settlements of Sderot and Gaza.
It was found that people with high levels of dependency (with a need for interpersonal relationships and manifestations of difficulty in conditions of abandonment) are the ones who report the highest levels of all negative mental symptoms. It was also found that compared to a sample that was not directly exposed to the terrorist events, in the settlements of Sderot and the Gaza Strip the respondents reported significantly lower levels of perceived social support available to them (both from family, friends, and significant others) as well as significantly lower levels of their life satisfaction. They also demonstrated significantly higher levels of a tendency to cope with the situation using ineffective psychological coping strategies Such as: rumination (the tendency to reflect negatively), catastrophizing (the tendency to intensify the negativity of the event), and blaming the other.
The study demonstrated that the vulnerability of residents of Sderot and the Gaza Strip who are prone to dependency, distress symptoms and PTSD is related to experiences of a lack of social support, a tendency to ineffective psychological coping, and a tendency to increase the psychological experience of stress. It is evident that prolonged exposure harms the coping resources and depletes them and in addition produces a "pressure cooker" effect, in which the support factors such as family and friends are in the same situation and find it difficult to evacuate and support people with such a personal need that even intensifies in stressful and especially traumatic and prolonged situations.
Additional findings demonstrated that personality characteristics related to issues of insecurity in attachment, especially anxiety that arises in contexts of a need for connection and support, constitute a vulnerability to the experience of exposure to the trauma of terrorism in a continuous manner and is accompanied by harm at the community level. These experience high levels of stress and multiple psychological symptoms.
Finally, the study also examined differences between the Sderot and Gaza Strip sample and the comparison sample) of the indirect exposure (in negative discriminatory attitudes towards the enemy) such as hatred, contempt, loathing, hostility, superiority, and rejection, towards the Qassam launchers. (while the residents of Sderot and the Gaza Strip, as mentioned, show significantly high levels of all the factors of vulnerability: all the negative mental symptoms and ineffective psychological coping methods and significantly low levels of resilience factors) such as support and life satisfaction), no differences were found in the negative attitudes towards the enemy between the samples .
It seems that even those who were not directly exposed to the event show a "social desire" and "love to hate" the enemy. However, only in the Sderot and Gaza Strip sample were these negative attitudes associated with all the negative mental symptoms. Despite the identification with the "hatred of the enemy" it is not a "shared fate", since the enemy has negative consequences on the mental health of those who are exposed to his direct threat and influence on their fate. It is important to note that the fact that the residents of Sderot and the Gaza Strip report a low level of life satisfaction is not at all related to the development of discriminatory negative attitudes towards the enemy. This is probably a direct result of the severity of the mental symptoms associated with the traumatic events and not of "general frustration". In general, the findings of the studies in this project demonstrate the cumulative negative consequences as a result of prolonged exposure to terrorist events both in intrapersonal and interpersonal aspects, and have important implications both theoretically in the field of social-personality research and in terms of planning and implementing interventions in the individual clinical therapeutic field and in the systemic field communal.
A number of articles reporting on the findings of the project have long been in various stages of publication in leading scientific journals in the field of psychology. These days, some of them have been accepted for publication in important and leading journals in the field, such as the Journal of Traumatic Stress.
In the last few days, another research project was completed that examined and followed students in the first year of their studies at Sapir Academic College who were forced to evacuate the college due to Operation Cast Lead. The study followed students who returned to their homes which were supposed to be a safe place and found themselves in a stressful and threatening situation as a result of the expansion of the shooting range. Measurements during the war and two months after the ceasefire demonstrate the importance of the intrapersonal and interpersonal dimensions in the construction of perceptions and reactions to traumatic events and the long-term consequences at the level of mental health. The research findings were accepted for publication in the APA journal:
Psychological Trauma: Theory, Research, Practice, and Policy.
This is an excellent opportunity to thank the residents of Sderot and the settlements around Gaza and the residents of Eilat and the Arava Road settlements, who took part and participated in the study voluntarily. Also, many thanks to the students from the guided research, from the human resource management department at Sapir and those from Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, Eilat campus, who served as research assistants and assisted in data collection.
1. Besser, A., & Priel, B. (in press). Personality vulnerability, low social support, and maladaptive cognitive emotion regulation under ongoing exposure to terrorist attacks. Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology.
2. Besser, A., Neria, Y., & Haynes, M. (under review) Adult attachment, perceived stress, and PTSD among civilians continuously exposed to terrorism in southern Israel. Personality and Individual Differences.
3. Besser, A., Neria, Y. (in press). PTSD symptoms, satisfaction with life and prejudicial attitudes towards the adversary among Israelis exposed to ongoing terrorist attacks. Journal of Traumatic Stress.
4. Besser, A., & Neria, Y. (in press). When home isn't a safe haven: Insecure attachment, perceived social support, and PTSD symptoms among Israeli evacuees from a battlefront still under threat. Psychological Trauma: Theory, Research, Practice, and Policy.