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Israelis Still Traumatized After Arab-Jewish Violence

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Given the deluge of news developments in Israel since the brief war with Hamas in May — a new prime minister and government, an unexpected resurgence of COVID-19 — the 11-day conflict could easily be forgotten.

But two months later, many Israelis are suffering continued trauma – both from the more than 4,000 rockets and mortar shells fired from Gaza and from the eruption of internal violence that sparked the conflict between Arabs and Jews in Israel.

In many cases, trauma symptoms manifest many weeks after the end of hostilities.

There are children who refuse to leave the safe rooms in their homes, or to shower or sleep alone. Others have developed tics or refuse to attend school. Many young people are angry or withdrawn. Adults also suffer from anxiety symptoms such as insomnia, hypervigilance and avoidance.

“We were dealing with entirely new realities,” said Debra Slonim, director of international relations for the Israel Trauma Coalition. “This time was very different, and it all came on the heels of an extremely difficult year from COVID.”

Founded in 2002 by the UJA Federation of New York, the Israel Trauma Coalition works with government agencies, nonprofit organizations, and academic and health institutions to provide psychosocial care to individuals and communities before, during, and after traumatic events.

The organization operates Resilience Centers throughout Israel, especially in communities near Gaza. It also provides emergency preparedness training to first responders, caregivers, and educators so they can identify people in psychological distress and provide appropriate assistance.

“The war is not over,” said Yonatan Shoshan, manager of the Resilience Centers in southern Israel, who has monitored the continuous and frequent increase in mental health care requests and referrals.

“As an example, in Ashkelon alone, 535 people turned to us for help in the five weeks after the operation ended, compared to 92 in the five weeks prior to the start,” Shoshan said.

In response to the dramatic increase, the Trauma Coalition has recruited and trained new professional mental health professionals to offer treatment in the Resilience Centers or in people’s homes if needed.

Dafna Shengras, director of the Ashkelon Resilience Center, said the unprecedented number of rockets fired at Ashkelon increased the anxiety levels of many children they couldn’t handle. Psychological and physical symptoms resulting from the stress are more severe than in the past.

“Parents don’t recognize their children,” Shengras said.

Gitty Peles, a mother of five, runs a Chabad center in Ashkelon with her rabbi husband and runs a daycare center. She considers herself fortunate to have started a series of 24 family therapy sessions offered free of charge at her local resilience center in January.

“In September 2020, a rocket siren went off and one of my sons was in the shower and couldn’t get into our safe room within 40 seconds. He was hysterical for hours after that,” Peles said.

A school counselor acknowledged that he and other children in the family suffered from anxiety and referred them to the Resilience Center.”

“Our family has been taught tools to deal with it, including breathing techniques,” Peles said. “The children have become more resilient. We had the chance to test things out in May, and it was clear that we were in a much better place. Our kids can now handle the sirens and thumps.”

The shaky relationship between Israel’s disparate communities poses another major challenge to a country sharply divided between Arabs and Jews, Orthodox and secular, right and left.

Co.Lab, a program launched in 2015 by UJA-Federation of New York and still running today, focuses on building bridges. An annual cohort of 20 Co.Lab fellows of diverse ethnic and religious identities who are leaders in various fields learn in-depth about each other’s communities. It is an effort to deepen relationships and collaborate on initiatives to promote a better Israeli society.

“These are people who already have vision and are in leadership positions,” said Rebecca Katz-White, planning director for the Jewish Life division of the UJA Federation of New York. “We are using this to create a stronger Israeli future.”

Despite the relationships formed by the Co.Lab participants, the events surrounding the conflict in May were fraught.

“Going through this event together was complicated, but it also forced us not to take extreme positions,” said Yael Bialer Rahamim, vice president of resource development, marketing and partnerships at Desert Star, a nonprofit organization that focuses on the development of young Bedouins. Arab leaders.

The current Co.Lab cohort was set to come together for a week of meetings just as hostilities began in May. The meetings were moved to a week after the end of the war.

“The conversation was very challenging and complex,” said Dafna Dor, director of Co.Lab. “But people listened to each other.”

Clearly, a few talks cannot repair the damage done by the days of civil unrest during the recent conflict. But the idea, Dor said, is for participants to take what they gain from Co.Lab and bring it back to their families, communities and workplaces.

“We see it has a ripple effect,” she said.

Co.Lab colleague Orna Heilinger, a manager at the Israel Internet Association, said her experience with Arab cohort fellows helped her talk to fellow Jews about Israeli-Arab perspectives.

“I’ve had quite a few opportunities to express the voice of Arab society in conversations where it wasn’t discussed, both in private discussions and on social media,” Heilinger said.

Nizar Daaka, who comes from Israel’s ethnic Druze minority and is a teacher of educational leadership at Kinneret Academic College, said Co.Lab “let us bring our identity without censorship.”

After attaining the rank of lieutenant colonel in the Israeli Defense Forces, Daaka is currently working on an initiative to introduce coexistence education into the Israeli public school system, starting with a pilot project in northern Israel.

The idea is to cultivate empathy and respect for those who are different from you.

“Even when the discussion is difficult, we talk politely with each other,” Daaka said. “I’ve never seen this happen in any other box I’ve been in.”

This story was sponsored and produced in conjunction with the UJA Federation of New York, which cares for Jews everywhere and New Yorkers of all backgrounds, responds to crises near home and far, and shapes the Jewish future. This article was produced by JTA’s native content team.

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