Although news reports have frequently described the situation in Sderot as back to normal—with real estate having gone up 20 to 30 percent, 1,400 new homes approved for construction, and families returning to the city—behind the headlines the impact of last year’s rocket war is still hammering away at the population.
Hila Barzilai, the director of the Sderot Resilience Center (Merkaz Hosen) recently told Sderot Media Center that in the past six months following Operation Cast Lead, hundreds of Sderot children have turned to the resilience center for therapy treatment.
“These kids come to us with their parents to seek therapy for the trauma built up from years of rocket attacks,” says Barzilai. “These problems did not just begin post-Operation Cast Lead. We are talking about eight years of constant rocket attacks whose psychological effects are now emerging during this period of calm.”
Over 364 new patients arrived to the resilience center six months after Operation Cast Lead, according to Barzilai.
“We do everything possible to limit the long-lasting affects of these rocket attacks but it is a long and drawn-out process.”
The average recovery period for a child can take up to eight months or more, said Barzilai. One of the challenges of trauma patients face in the recovery process are the sporadic rocket attacks that still continue to hit Sderot and the western Negev region.
Barzilai notes in frustration that “it takes one rocket attack to destroy any progress in the patient’s therapy. The siren alert will trigger the flashbacks of terror and fear in the child or adult, which means that the therapy process has to start over again.”
The over 20 Gaza rockets fired in early January 2010, bought on a new wave of trauma patients to the center according to Barzilai, who also stated that this was the resilience center’s final year of operation due to financial issues.
Barzilai is not the only health professional in Sderot who has seen a sharp increase in the number of patients suffering from health issues during the calm.
Orna Hurwitz, the director of the Sderot Bon Tone Hearing Institute, told Sderot Media Center on Monday that hearing loss has become an ailment unique to Sderot and Gaza-border residents.
“The hearing impairments suffered by residents of Sderot are akin to the hearing loss that soldiers experience during war. The repeated blasts of the rocket explosions harm the ear drum to the point that many residents have to be treated for hearing loss, dizziness, tinnitus, and/or central auditory processing disorders,” says Hurwitz.
“Many of these victims do not seek out treatment for such internal injuries immediately. After a rocket attack, the first things that are treated are the physical injuries and the shock. Less noticeable are the internal injuries. Many victims therefore fail to realize that their hearing may have also been impaired.”
“It is during the calm and quiet—like this third ceasefire with Hamas—that residents are discovering that they have been injured in other ways.”
“Hearing loss is an especially sensitive subject,” said Horowitz. “It takes time for people to process that they have a hearing problem and many are embarrassed to seek help—especially the younger victims.”
The expensive cost for the treatment is another reason why Sderot residents do not get the necessary assistance. According to Horowitz, many low-income residents simply do not have the budget to purchase a hearing aid, which can cost anywhere from $1,000 to $5,000, or seek more professional care.
“In Sderot, we have over 200 residents with hearing impairments as a result of rocket explosions. Most cannot afford the treatment that they need to get better.”
Horowitz says that although the city appears to be returning to some semblance of normalcy, “the beautiful new parks and playgrounds do nothing to address the real health issues of residents.”
“Hearing is one of the five basic senses that human beings need to live and enjoy life to the fullest. Although things may look normal on the outside at this moment, there are many residents here who continue to suffer in silence,” she says.
“Hearing loss among my patients has led to loss of jobs, depression, and strained family ties. It’s a never-ending battle that I see Sderot residents struggle with in my office every day.”
Anav Silverman is the international correspondent at Sderot Media Center, SderotMedia.com, a social media organization dedicated to bringing the voices of Sderot residents to the attention of the global community.