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Two years later, scars of war linger

JERUSALEM — The trauma of the Second Lebanon War, which started exactly two years ago on July 12, is still fresh for many residents of northern communities that found themselves in the direct line of Hezbollah rocket attacks, according to Dr. Rony Berger, director of community services at Natal, the Israel trauma center for victims of war and terror.

“Many people were not properly treated at the time for PTSD [post-traumatic stress disorder] and we still see clients coming out of the woodwork to talk about their feelings related to this war,” Berger told the Jerusalem Post last week.

“There are still frightened children who are refusing to go to sleep on their own at night, and many in the North still jump when they hear a loud noise.”

Berger, who has been working over the past two years with numerous local authorities both Jewish and Arab in the North to help them prepare emotionally for any similar conflicts in the future, added that marking the second anniversary, combined with a prisoner swap with Hezbollah, could certainly trigger memories of what happened in the summer of 2006.

However, he added, for many people those feelings of fear and insecurity never really disappeared.

“I believe that there is an inner perception in Israel, especially among those in the North, that the government and the army let them down and did not properly protect [them] during the last war,” said Berger, who left Israel last week on a mission to provide PTSD training to professionals in the region of China hit recently by a deadly earthquake.

“The confidence in the government is at an all-time low, and many believe that their local municipality did little to take care of the home front. There is a strong sense among many people that they were deserted during that war.”

Berger also said that the sense of insecurity was heightened by the fact that the Second Lebanon War was perhaps the first conflict in Israel’s turbulent history that did not yield a victory.

“People see that Hezbollah and Hassan Nasrallah are still in power in southern Lebanon, and most believe it is only a matter of time before there is another round of fighting,” he said. “I see this all the time in Sderot, too. Even during the recent cease-fire there, residents said, ‘It’s only a matter of time before it all starts up again.’”

Among those hit hardest emotionally by the conflict with Hezbollah were Israel’s Arab population, highlighted Berger.

“They did not expect to be attacked by their own Arab brethren,” he pointed out. “The rockets, they believed, were supposed to be aimed at the Jews. This war was a very difficult and confusing time for them.”

That identity conflict, combined with the complete lack of municipal bomb shelters in their villages and of outreach services, has created a much higher number of PTSD cases among Israeli Arabs than among the Jewish population, according to Berger.

While the critique of Israel’s emotional preparedness during the last Lebanon war leaves a lot to be desired, Berger said that several steps have now been taken to ensure that if fighting does break out again, the municipalities, including health care and social work professionals, are ready to deal with a similar crisis.

“We have been working closely with most of the municipalities in the North to ensure that there are organized emergency procedures in place so professionals can continue working even during a war,” he said, adding that part of the problem last time was that the professionals found themselves torn between helping their public and protecting themselves.

“I can’t talk about whether all the bomb shelters in the North are ready should there be another attack,” finished Berger. “However, in terms of emotional care, we are much better prepared mentally and organizationally than last time.”

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