“Israel is experiencing national trauma—one that is believed to signal long-lasting implications for the future.”
On October 7, Hamas launched a massive attack on southern Israel. The attack started in the early morning with the shooting of thousands of rockets into Israel and was followed by a triple attack by land, air, and sea, with terrorists attacking military installations and more than 20 Jewish settlements. They brutally murdered civilians, including babies, individuals with disabilities, and older adults; they raped women; they burned people alive; and they mutilated bodies.
The death toll among Israelis has exceeded 1300, including more than 120 soldiers. More than 200 Israeli hostages were also abducted into the Gaza Strip. Due to the large number of terrorists, it took hours before they were stopped by the Israeli military. Although Israel is well-acquainted with terror and wars, and research shows that its citizens are considered quite resilient, several aspects stand out compared to past events:
All these aspects point to the understanding that Israel is experiencing national trauma—one that is believed to signal long-lasting implications for the future. Aside from typical acute phase responses, such as anxiety, fear, and intrusiveness, recent events challenge the basic assumptions and beliefs of many Israelis.
The terrible sights from the massacre triggered memories of the trauma of the Holocaust, which is still alive for Jews and Israelis. Watching people being dragged away as they raise their hands in surrender or being shot at and burned is a memory Israelis never dreamed of seeing again as free citizens in their own country.
For many Israelis who fought for peace with the Palestinians, it is a moment of rupture and questioning assumptions. Other basic assumptions that were sincerely held and now questioned relate to the disappointment and loss of trust in the formal institutions, including the military, the police, and governmental bodies, for not being prepared and unavailable when most needed.
In addition, contrary to conflicting sentiments in previous terror attacks, there is widespread sentiment that the just response to the Hamas massacre would be a significant military operation that would ensure the safety of Israeli citizens. Evidence shows that ideology and values may serve as protective factors against posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which seems to be the case for most Israelis now. The majority views the planned operation as a necessary step.
The result of the above is that at this stage—2 weeks after the massacre, yet before Israel has initiated the full military response to it—Israelis feel a mixture of anxiety, grief responses, and pain, together with strength and determination. Israelis are exhibiting a high level of solidarity and support at this time.
Thousands are donating blood and money for the wounded individuals and communities, and volunteering to help with all the evacuees’ physical, bureaucratic, and psychological needs. Thousands of others returned from abroad to serve in the military reserves.
Although it is hard to predict what the coming weeks will bring, it seems that Israelis now show a mixture of pain, bereavement, and resilience at the same time.
Dr Tuval-Mashiach is a professor at Bar-Ilan University. She is also affiliated with Natal, the Israeli Center for National Trauma and Resilience.
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