Coping with the situation
By Jessica Barry
article, the second of a two-part series covering humanitarian
issues from the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, focuses on the
assistance provided by the Magen David Adom in the wake of suicide
bombings and other attacks.
This article, the second of a two-part
series covering humanitarian issues from the Israeli-Palestinian
conflict, focuses on the medical rescue provided by the Magen
David Adom (MDA).
Three minutes after I left the cafeteria I heard the explosion,"
recalls Daniel Farahan, an American student of political science
at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. "I ran back and
into a nightmare. One girl died in front of me. I closed her
eyes and covered her up. It was madness." Sitting in
the shade, next to the cafeteria where a bomb exploded on
31 July, killing seven people, five of them foreign students,
and injuring more than 80, it was hard to believe that such
a quiet place had been a scene of carnage earlier in the year.
Outside the devastated building, beneath an olive tree, lay
a pile of withered wreaths and roses. Orange and red berries
provided the only glimpse of colour apart from some faded
pink geraniums. There were cards with messages of condolence
from the Japanese and South Korean embassies. And an Israeli
flag. On a nearby bench lay a box of matches beside dozens
of candles and night lights, some of them burnt to the wick.
Students wandered back and forth in the stillness of approaching
evening. "I try to come past here every day," Daniel
said in a quiet voice.
With so much attention focused on the plight of Palestinians
in the Occupied Territories, it is important to remember that
there is also deep suffering on the Israeli side caused, in
large measure, by indiscriminate bomb attacks against civilians,
and a growing climate of fear that encompasses, in different
ways, the whole of Israeli society.
People call it ha'matzav [the situation]."We are living
in denial," comments the Canadian-born wife of a Magen
David Adom (MDA) paramedic, and a mother-to-be. It is a term
that many people use. Others speak of feeling terrified.
The Israel Trauma Centre for Victims of Terror and War known
by its Hebrew acronym, NATAL, has received thousands of calls
on its telephone hotline since it was ?rst set up in 1998.
Its aim is to provide emotional and psychological support
to trauma victims. Since the start of the present intifada,
in September 2000, the number of calls per month has increased
to around 300.
Callers express a vast range of emotions, from fear of leaving
the house, to sleep problems and a revulsion at the smell
of roasting meat. Some are suffering latent reactions to attacks
they witnessed years ago, memories of which have been triggered
by the current violence. "If you have been traumatized
once, it doesn't take much to bring it back," remarks
Dr Ilan Kutz, a Tel Aviv psychiatrist and expert in the treatment
The NATAL hotline is manned by volunteers who undergo six
months of training. "A person has to know himself before
he can help others," explains Hannah, who joined NATAL
just after the intifada started. "You must look inside
yourself. It is not easy to be exposed to all these things."
The hotline's uniqueness lies in its policy of maintaining
regular contact with callers, thereby building up a support
mechanism based on trust and on concern for each individual's
problem. "Finding the energy to call for the first time
is not always easy," Hannah explains,"but for people
afraid to leave home, or concerned about the stigma of seeking
psychological support through public agencies, the hotline
may be their only source of support."
There is a growing recognition among many counsellors and
therapists that it is not only the direct victims of terror
attacks who may succumb to a condition known as post-traumatic
stress disorder (PTSD). Rescuers are also at risk, as are
policemen, ?re-fighters and bystanders, as well as those not
even directly involved in response, such as street sweepers
and window cleaners. Children are especially vulnerable. Dr
Rony Berger, director of NATAL's community services, runs
an outreach programme that aims to help prevent PTSD among
people regularly confronted with scenes of horror. It includes
workshops, lectures and seminars that use the participants'
experience of exposure to stress to strengthen their existing
coping mechanisms and to teach them new ones.
Rushing to the spot
At the forefront of any rescue effort are the MDA first responders.
MDA, a National Society with observer status within the Red
Cross Red Crescent Movement, is mandated by the Israeli government
to run the nation's blood bank and emergency medical services.
The ICRC is currently providing US$ 80,000 to MDA to help
meet the increased demand for blood bags.
The first responder unit was set up two-and-a-half years
ago, and comprises 1,600 volunteers stationed all over the
country, including 500 in Jerusalem. They remain on permanent
call, equipped with everything necessary to save lives and
ready to respond instantly when their "beeper" alarm
The men and women who volunteer for this "elite rescue
unit", as its Jerusalem coordinator, 27- year-old Dovie
Meisel, calls it, come from all walks of life. "Whenever
their pagers go off the responders who are closest to the
incident rush to the spot, often arriving before the ambulances."
"Theirs is a vital, life-saving role when seconds count,"
says Gilad Bock, a lawyer and first responder who has been
with MDA since his teens.
"In the aftermath of an attack, a rescuer's training
gives him a mantle of protection which ordinary citizens lack,"
comments Dr Ilan Kutz. But even hardened professionals are
sometimes overwhelmed, especially when the dead and injured
are known to them, or when children are involved.
Gathering the dead is sometimes harder to cope with than
caring for the living, especially in the event of a suicide
bombing when the victims' bodies are often torn to pieces.
Marti Goldstein is a business manager and medic. He is also
a member of Zaka, the ultra-orthodox Jewish group that gathers
body parts following suicide bombings or other incidents where
people are killed. "The first priority is to care for
the injured, and then for those in shock," he says. After
that, Zaka mobile units are deployed to recover all the limbs,
blood, tissue and other remnants. "You have to work fast,
and in a safe, good way," he explains, "so as to
get all the pieces and put them in the right order for burial."
This ensures that the directives of the Jewish religion, which
require that all human remains be buried, are observed.
For Marti, his belief that it is important to help people
gives him strength to do his job. Team spirit is also crucial.
"We understand each other and talk together afterwards.
You also have to know how to put things aside," he says.
After the attack at the Hebrew University, Daniel Farahan
recalled discussing with some friends what they should do.
"We agreed that being here is like being on the front
line of the world, but you have to get on with your life.
We all decided we would not leave."
Some days later Danny was asked to pay a tribute during a
memorial service for the victims. "I talked of the need
to be strong and not give in," he said, "because
we want peace between the Palestinians and ourselves."
Jessica Barry is ICRC commnication delegate in Gaza.
|See Red Cross, Red Crescent No. 3/2002, Lives
in ruins, pp. 10-11 for the first article.
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