Almost two weeks after disengagement, many of the evacuees and evacuators have not succeeded in recovering. It is doubtful whether they will succeed to do so in the future. A soldier who fell apart emotionally after she portrayed a bereaved mother during an exercise, a settler who is still incapable of sleeping at night, a policeman who took the cries of Nazi personally and evacuees who do not stop crying, all these are part of a wider phenomenon: a post-traumatic reaction on both sides of the evacuation.
A long time before the disengagement process began, health officials were concerned about post-traumatic phenomena such as those following terror attacks or wars. And this concern turned out to be valid. Reports have accumulated in the health system of late regarding more than 50 people who have already utilized psychiatric services at the Soroka medical center in Beer Sheva in the wake of disengagement.
Dr. Tzahi Ben-Zion, deputy director of the psychiatric department and deputy director of the hospital, has confirmed the reports: “Several dozen evacuees have come to us. People with real distress: depression, anxiety, a feeling of having been betrayed by the state, the authorities, and the leaders.” Furthermore, several security force personnel have also arrived at the hospital. [.]
However, Dr. Ben-Zion said that Soroka hospital anticipated, and still anticipates, the arrival of many more cases from among the evacuators: “The emotional preparation and processing performed by the mental health professionals before and during disengagement are laudable. The evacuees touched very sensitive nerves when interacting with the soldiers. It is very hard for a soldier to have someone shouting at him that he will remember him in his dreams and that he is a Nazi, and I believe that we are now seeing only the tip of the iceberg. I assume that in the coming years we will see more cases that could arise of situations of distress and crisis.”
“The majority of the people whom we saw from among the evacuees arrived with responses that one can see in any person who has undergone a dramatic event. There are people here who are being evacuated from their homes for a second time, and a home represents far more than a mere physical structure. A home is a place that provides a lot of security, calm and tranquility. Home is a type of anchor; there is a real reason people feel better after returning home. When you have no place like this to connect with, this could be a problem,” he explained.
Dr. Ben-Zion added: [.] People feel that they have been uprooted from [.] everything that is familiar and comforting and that they are headed for an unknown destination. What intensified the effect with those people is the fact that they believed with all their heart that [disengagement] wouldn’t take place and for political reasons they did not prepare for the evacuation. Thus, from the emotional perspective, disengagement came to them as a sort of surprise that led to a crisis of faith and identity.”
Not all the emotional assistance is being carried within the hospital. Mental health teams, including psychiatrists, nurses and social workers, accompanied the evacuation in the field as well and encountered harsh responses. During the events in Kfar Darom, for instance, the settlers sprayed a corrosive substance onto the eye of a policeman who actually identified strongly with their battle. The policemen had lifted his helmet visor in an attempt to talk with one of the settlers, and then the settler sprayed the material onto his eye. “The policeman took it very hard, mainly because he identified with them, but as a policeman he had to do his job. We sat with him, calmed him down and explained to him that it was not personal. The settler did not spray the material onto his eye because he was against him, but because from the settler’s perspective, the policeman represented the state,” related the doctor.
An additional case was that of a hilltop youth who was brought to the hospital in an acute psychotic state. “We suspect that he had used a large amount of cannabis while in the Gaza Strip and stopped taking the drug suddenly because of the evacuation,” related the doctor. “In addition, he did not drink or eat, and the combination of thirst, hunger and drugs that were suddenly stopped, led to a very agitated psychotic state. [.] He stayed with us overnight and was released for treatment in the community. As a psychiatrist I was very surprised to discover that there was a tale of drugs in this sector as well.”
This piece ran in Maariv on September 4th, 2005