- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 10, 2002

JERUSALEM Seventy percent of Palestinian and 30 percent of Israeli teen-agers in "high risk areas" suffer from post-traumatic stress syndrome as a result of exposure to violence, according to a Tel Aviv University survey.

The symptoms ranged from nightmares and hyper-arousal to emotional numbness and apathy, according to the survey based on questionnaires answered by 1,300 Jewish and Arab youths.

"The conflict has exposed children on both sides to tragic, long-lasting violence," says Tamar Lavi, of Tel Aviv University's psychology department, who conducted the study.

Almost 200 children under 15 have been killed on both sides since the Palestinian intifada, or uprising, broke out 21 months ago but the violence has scarred many times that number psychologically.

While both Palestinian and Israeli children have been affected, the finding that 70 percent of the Palestinian children reported post-traumatic syndrome was startling.

"A prevalence of 70 percent is quite high and not common," Ms.Lavi said.

She said that a similar figure was recorded in a survey among Kuwaiti subjects aged 8 to 21 five months after the Iraqi withdrawal in the Gulf war.

Another surprising finding in the survey was that 50 percent of Israeli Arab youths also showed post-traumatic stress symptoms, even though they have been largely spared both the conflict within the Palestinian territories and the suicide bombings carried out against Jewish targets in Israel.

Ms. Lavi attributed this to the sense among Israeli Arabs that Israeli Jews are more hostile to them than in the past and possibly to a heightened sense of identification with the plight of Palestinian Arabs.

The survey was not based on psychological interviews with the respondents but on questionnaires filled out by the children themselves.

Ms. Lavi was assisted by Palestinian social workers who distributed the forms in "high-risk" areas on the West Bank.

The actual questionnaires were filled out last summer, before the phenomenon of suicide bombings reached the current level and before Israeli incursions were as extensive as they are now.

This suggests that a similar survey today would result in even higher percentages.

The children were asked to indicate whether they suffered from a range of symptoms and to grade the intensity of these symptoms from "doubtful" to "very severe".

The symptoms include "re-experiencing" traumatic events, whether in nightmares, flashbacks or even by hearing voices; avoidance, which could mean avoiding places or people associated with certain events, fear of leaving home or emotional numbness; or anxiety, ranging from nervousness and poor school performance to feelings of rage.

Mr. Lavi said it was difficult to gauge the long-term affect of post-traumatic stress syndrome. "We do know there is spontaneous recovery after times of tranquility," she said.

A Palestinian survey carried out in the Gaza Strip before and after the Oslo accords, which opened the way to peace, revealed such a recovery among youngsters, she said.

Ms. Lavi added, however, that chronic exposure to violence has a cumulative effect.

"Children who were previously exposed to a traumatic event may be at a high risk if subsequently exposed," she said.

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